It's been only 10 months since the original launched, but Dell has already refreshed the XPS 13 ultrabook. Revealed alongside a new XPS 15 and the XPS 12 2-in-1, the updated XPS 13 adds Intel Skylake processors, more storage, extra memory and a Thunderbolt 3 connector to the so-called "smallest 13in laptop in the world".
We had to chance to try some of these upgrades for ourselves at a recent hands-on event.
The XPS 13's claim to moderate fame was, and still is, that it squeezes a 13.3in display into an 11in-sized body thanks to the screen's minuscule bezels. This hasn't changed, and the new XPS 13 still looks distinctly classy while being slightly more satchel-friendly than most 13in laptops.
However, we're not sure why the screen is touch-enabled; this isn't a convertible and dangling our hands over the keyboard and trackpad felt pretty silly, as well as uncomfortable. Luckily, the touchscreen is optional, and the keyboard itself is wonderful, with tactile, nicely spaced keys and a bright backlight.
This is a very well built laptop in general. It includes the same matte materials and attractive carbon fibre-lookalike finish as the previous XPS 13, and the entire bottom half feels sturdy and strong. The screen can flex very slightly if enough force is applied to the corners, but this is an acceptable price for its being so thin.
As for connectivity, it's equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and a newly added Thunderbolt 3 connector. Based on the USB-C platform, the Thunderbolt 3 port can be used to charge the XPS 13 and transfer data faster - theoretically, anyway - than USB 3.0. We didn't get to test this, but overall that's a very decent combination of connectivity options.
One benefit of the touchscreen option is that at 2560x1440, it's much higher-res than the 1920x1080 standard screen.
Indeed, we had no complaints about the XPS 13's sharpness. The clarity of text makes for some extremely wide viewing angles, and images and videos look excellent - helped in no small part by the spot-on colour accuracy that isn't bland or oversaturated. Blacks are deep and rich, too.
Operating system and software
Windows 10 Home is missing some useful security features from Windows 10 Pro, but it's still a good choice of OS for the XPS 13. The return to a more desktop-focused UI, complete with a traditional Start menu, makes it much better suited to laptops than Windows 8/8.1 was. Things like the Action Centre - a combination of notifications tray and quick settings menu - and the general shift towards a more frequent update model also make us glad that Dell has gone for this up-to-date OS.
Dell has, however, seen fit to pre-install a number of applications. Some of these don't make much sense - if you buy a £1,000+ laptop to play Candy Crush Saga you've done something wrong - but the good news is that they're relatively few in number. In fact, not all of them are entirely unwelcome. Dell Command Power Manager, for example, offers a more in-depth tool for tweaking battery use than Windows 10 Home does by itself.
Despite its size, the XPS 13 put in the kind of benchmark scores we'd expect on a hulking gaming laptop: 110.2ms in Sunspider and 1,038.4ms in Kraken.
That's seriously fast, and can be attributed to the high-end Intel Core i7-6600U processor with 8GB of RAM. That's not even the most powerful configuration - Dell announced models with 16GB of RAM, as well as titanic 32GB editions coming later.
Of course, the headlining hardware here is the Intel chip, a 2.6GHz dual-core from the latest Skylake line. These 6th-generation processors offer minor performance gains and better power efficiency than the previous Broadwell generation. We can't speak for all Skylake-powered devices, but the XPS 13 certainly coped well with every task we gave it. Applications open incredibly quickly, and multitasking doesn't seem to slow it down one bit.
We'd like to have tried the 1TB SDD model, but sadly the demo unit contained only a 256GB drive. This turned out to be more of a 215GB drive as that's how much free space was useable.
The XPS 13 should have a bit more room to work with at launch, as this one seemed to include a few files and programs for the sake of demonstration. Still, 256GB isn't a great deal of storage space for a premium laptop, especially considering how tablets like the Surface Pro 4 have not only caught up with, but surpassed such capacities. However, even a small SSD will fetch data and boot Windows faster than an HDD, so there is that.
Dell said that the new XPS range, including the refreshed XPS 13, is built for "prosumers", i.e. those who produce and consume. Normally we'd have thought this would warrant, say, a dedicated graphics processor to drive video and image editing.
Nonetheless, the sheer speed of the XPS 13's shiny new Skylake chip is very encouraging. Combined with the great screen and a highly mobile form factor, this looks like it could be a very good choice for mobility-inclined professionals.
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