Along with the MacBook Air, the Dell XPS 13 is the only other consumer model in this list. However, Dell does offer it with Windows 8.1 Professional factory installed, and is marketing it as a business Ultrabook for users who want an ultra-portable notebook that is a little more stylish than the average corporate machine. It is important though to be aware that its missing many business-class features like docking and vPro for enterprise manageability.
The XPS 13 is very compact for a 13-inch Ultrabook and has a minimal amount of bezel around its 13-inch display. In fact, it’s not much bigger than the 12-inch Dell E7240, and quite a bit thinner. Like the E7240, it is made from premium materials and looks very slick with its carbon fibre underside and matte aluminum lid. The insides have a matte black soft-touch finish the resists fingerprints and marks. The metal parts of the chassis are cut from a single block of aluminum, so the XPS 13 does feel sturdy, though, unlike the Dell Latitude series, the XPS is not MIL-STD tested, so there are no guarantees of durability.
It has a gorgeous ‘edge-to-edge’ FHD (1902 x 1080) IPS touchscreen display that is bright, has great viewing angles, and is covered in Gorilla Glass for scratch resistance. On the other hand, it is very glossy and very reflective, which may be an issue in brighter working environments.
The XPS 13 has nicely sized and spaced island-style concave keys with good travel The keyboard is backlit, of course, and spill-resistant. The glass touchpad has a very nice smooth glass finish, and performs very well, which isn’t always the case with touchpads on Windows notebooks. It supports a full range of Windows 8.1 gestures, so your hands don’t have to leave the keyboard when navigating Windows 8.1’s Modern UI. Sadly, like so many of the touchpads on other notebooks in this list, there are no physical mouse buttons, which we do think are nice to have. Notebook designers seem to want to remove them purely for aesthetics, rather than for any practical reason.
Since the XPS is not a true business-class Ultrabook, it lacks in a few important areas. It has a minimal amount of ports – just two USB 3.0 and a mini DisplayPort for video-out. There isn’t an SD card reader, or any dongles included to add additional video outputs or Ethernet. It also doesn’t have any docking functionality. The CPU options available for the XPS 13 are all models without vPro – so this notebook isn’t going to be the right choice for all business users, especially if your company does more sophisticated device management. Also, since the XPS 13 is only available with a touchscreen, Windows 8.1 Pro is standard. You cannot get it with Windows 7 installed from the factory, so if you need to use that OS, you will need to manually downgrade it.
Like the MacBook Air, the XPS 13 is not user-upgradeable in any way. It is only available with 8 GB of RAM, and the only customization you can do is when you order it is limited to being able to choose the CPU and SSD capacity. The battery is also non-removable, but at least provides the XPS 13 with great battery life – tests have shown that it can run for 8.5 hours with general mixed use.
The XPS 13 only has a 1-year warranty (which, of course, can be upgraded at an additional cost), and is a little pricey, especially considering some of its limitations. The Core-i5 model with 8 GB or RAM and a 128 GB SSD is almost $1400, which is quite a bit more than the comparable MacBook Air. Nevertheless, the base-model XPS 13 does have a much better screen and more RAM than the base-model Air, which does offset the $282 difference to a degree.
Dell XPS 13 (2014) Specs
- 13.3″ IPS touchscreen FHD display (1920 x 1080)
- 1.7 GHz Core i5-4210U CPU (no vPro) – 2.0 GHz Core i7-4510U CPU (no vPro)
- Intel HD Graphics 4400
- 8 GB of DDR3 RAM • 128 GB – 256 GB SSD
- Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- 31.6 x 20.5 x 1.8 cm (12.4 x 8.1 x 0.7 in)
- 1.37 kg (3.03 lb)
- Windows 8.1 Pro 64
- 1-year warranty
- Models from $1,382 – $1,682