Dell's XPS 13 is one of the few available ultrabooks that seems to live up to Intel's original vision for the brand, with a clean minimalist look, lightweight design, and styling more reminiscent of Apple's consumer products than a typical Windows laptop.
However, this design also limits the flexibility of the XPS 13, especially in the area of connectivity and I/O, which is virtually non-existent beyond the standard wireless interfaces, making this slimline ultrabook more suitable for consumers and the style-conscious rather than business or professional users.
The fact that the XPS 13 does not include Intel's vPro technology and ships with Windows 7 Home Premium by default also shows that this system is not really aimed at businesses.
First announced at the CES show in January and shipping in the UK since March, the XPS 13 is clearly influenced by the design of Apple products such as the MacBook Air and iPad, with its brushed aluminium exterior, rounded edges, and display that extends almost edge-to-edge inside the lid.
Dell's system is a very thin wedge shape, just 18mm thick at the rear and tapering to 6mm at the front, making it similar in size and shape to the 13in MacBook Air, and also weighing about the same at 1.36Kg.
Despite its slender design, the XPS 13 feels rugged enough to stand up to everyday use, even being lugged around in a briefcase or a satchel, thanks to its machined aluminium and carbon fibre construction. The toughened Corning Gorilla Glass protecting the 13.3in HD display adds to the sense of sturdiness.
Opening up the XPS 13 reinforces the similarities to Apple's ultra-portable, with Dell adopting a chiclet-style keyboard that fills about half the space between the front of the case and the screen hinge, plus a larger-than-average touchpad controller with integrated buttons taking up the rest of the space.
In use, we found that the light weight of the XPS 13 made it convenient to carry around as well as use on your lap, and with Intel's Rapid Start technology, it boots up even from cold in under 20 seconds.
The backlit keys make it easier to type in low light conditions, and we also found that the keyboard layout makes for comfortable typing, without too many accidental palm brushes against the touchpad that we have experienced on other laptops.
Dell's 13.3in screen gives a good quality 1366 x 768 image that we were very pleased with, save that the Gorilla Glass reflects overhead lights to an irksome degree when the laptop is used in an office environment.
The XPS 13 is available with either a 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M or 1.7GHz Core i7-2637M processor, both dual-core chips with hyper-threading, with 4GB DDR3 memory and solid-state disk (SSD) storage up to 256GB.
This specification makes for a decent level of performance, and the Windows Experience Index (WEI) scores reported on our test system were all above average, with the Flash SSD hard drive achieving a maximum subsystem score of 7.9. However, the Intel integrated graphics held back the overall score to 5.8.