"The Dell XPS 13 has been the best laptop you can buy for years, and it will continue to do so in 2020."
Higher 16:10 screen
Almost frameless frame
Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
Larger keyboard and touchpad
Two designs have defined the past decade in laptops. The first ten years were all about the MacBook Air, which dominated the first half of the 2010s and inspired a sea of doubles. The second half, however, was all about Dell's XPS 13. A trend that is ubiquitous today began with the original laptop with a thin front panel and a small footprint.
However, after four years of iteration, Dell invented something new. Something fresh. Something that takes everything I've loved about the design to a new era.
Don't call it a restart. This is the endgame of the laptop.
Design and display
More of what matters. That has always been the motto of the XPS team, but here it is more obvious than ever. It starts with the screen, which is now 13.4 inches in an aspect ratio of 16:10 and a little closer to the square than the traditional 16: 9. It is only 0.1 inches larger than previous versions, but it feels like it more on. The 16:10 ratio means extra rows in my Word document, more rows in my spreadsheet, and fewer scrolls on a web page.
This results in black bars on most videos, which are usually formatted for 16: 9. However, for the person who spends most of their time with a laptop in work mode, this is a worthy compromise.
The 16:10 screen is the same one used on the XPS 13 2-in-1, which was already the leader in the class. It offers 500 nits of brightness, one of the best contrasts I've ever seen, and excellent color accuracy.
It's sharp too. The resolution is 1,920 x 1,200, which means more pixels than on a typical 1080p screen. You will not select any pixels on it. So if you're not an image editor, you shouldn't have to choose the higher-resolution panel. The advantage of the 4K + screen is more than just the number of pixels – it also offers a wider range of colors.
It is not just the panel itself that matters. In this way, the screen is also framed by the lack of frames. The top and sides are as small as ever, but now the lower bezel can join in. Dell uses a unique drop hinge that barely sits under the surface of the keyboard deck. A part of this bezel, which was already small, cannot be seen. It's a little trick to make the bezel look so much thinner. For the white model I tested, I made the decision to change the bezel color to black instead of white. It makes it less pronounced.
Despite the slim bezel, Dell pushed its 720p camera module up and the nose cam is a thing of the past. It's not a great webcam, but it is enough if necessary. To use the space even better, there is now an IR camera for easy Windows Hello face recognition.
Keyboard and touchpad
When moving from the screen to the keyboard deck, the design continues to follow the philosophy "more of what counts". Not a millimeter of space was left on the keyboard deck.
The look of the keyboard can be inspired by the XPS 13 2-in-1 – if not in terms of feel. The keycaps are larger and each have less space. They now extend to the sides of the keyboard deck.
The power switch (and the integrated fingerprint reader), which used to be on the right next to the layout, is now integrated in the top right, as with MacBooks. Another small change to the layout that I really appreciate is the full-size arrow keys left and right. Earlier XPS keyboards contained half-sized keys, with Page Up and Page Down filling in the gaps. This often resulted in the page being accidentally skipped.
It quickly became one of my favorite laptop keyboards to type on.
Part of the keyboard that I'm glad Dell didn't redesign it is the actual feel of the key press. Instead of following the path of the butterfly mechanisms (like the XPS 13 2-in-1), they still have 1 mm of travel and a snappy mechanism. Since we saw that even Apple moved away from its own butterfly keyboards, Dell made the right choice here. It quickly became one of my favorite laptop keyboards to type on.
The same applies to the touchpad, whose overall size has grown compared to the previous year. Dell has also worked to dampen the click mechanism to make it quieter. I would still prefer it to be softer, but the tracking and gesture support is excellent as always.
Ports and build quality
You will find major changes to the pages if you are familiar with the older XPS 13. Due to the nature of this edge-to-edge keyboard, there is no more space for connections next to it. There are only a few and they are now pressed as close to the back as possible. On the right side there is a Thunderbolt 3 port and the headphone jack. On the left side there is another Thunderbolt 3 port and a microSD card slot.
This is a USB-C less than the previous model, which is shit. Dell is now at the Apple level of port selection and fits the MacBook Air in the USB ports. Unlike this device, I prefer a Thunderbolt 3 port on each side rather than together. This makes charging easier, regardless of which side the socket is on. The HP Specter x360 swaps the additional Thunderbolt 3 port for USB-A to support older accessories.
Despite the overall stiffer feel of the XPS 13, opening is now easier.
The sides are now clad with diamond-cut aluminum, which gives the frame a little shine and gives the workmanship overall a more stable feel. A thin layer of polycarbonate fibers covers the wrist-rest with its unique weave structure. Aside from the unibody aluminum design of the MacBook Pro, this model is well built as laptops come.
The extra aluminum adds only the slightest amount of extra weight, which is now 2.8 pounds. This corresponds to the weight of the MacBook Air and the HP Specter x360 13. At 0.58 inches, however, it is somewhat thinner than these two laptops.
Despite the robust feel of the XPS 13, opening is now smoother. What a relief. For years it was one of the few premium laptops that couldn't be opened with just one finger. Opening it with a finger is now easy, although I wish there was a lip to make it even easier.
It's easy to look at a laptop's processor and call it good. However, the performance offers more than just a data sheet. The XPS 13 makes that clear. Despite using the same parts as other laptops, Dell has consistently worked to improve the performance of its components.
The same tricks play a role here, for example strips of Gore material with which the heat is dissipated. The processor is now upgraded to the latest 10th generation Intel Core Ice Chips.
Dell continues to raise the bar for performance.
That's not all that exciting in 2020, but again, the XPS 13 beats its competition in terms of single-core performance in Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R20. Even the 16 GB of RAM that was included in my test device was overkill for what most people will do with this laptop. (The Core i7 model I tested costs $ 1,250, but there will also be a Core i3 option starting at $ 999.)
This is one of the most powerful quad-core laptops you can buy, and it even shows the muscles in HandBrake video encoding. At the end of last year, Dell released an XPS 13 with a six-core processor, but this new model is only 7% slower in HandBrake. Impressive.
Yes, Dell continues to raise the bar for performance. When you upgrade to the 4K + model, you have a premium photo editing laptop. That doesn't mean you should buy this laptop for 3D rendering or video editing, but for most tasks, you won't find a faster laptop of this size.
It should be noted that the Core i3 is also available for $ 999 with 4 GB of RAM (although it is not currently for sale). This dual-core processor doesn't have nearly the same performance, although I haven't tested it myself. However, if you only need a laptop to surf the Internet, Microsoft Word and watch movies, the Core i3 is more than sufficient.
Intel's discrete graphics have improved significantly with Ice Lake so the XPS can play 13 games. Type of.
Dell still pulls better frame rates out of these components than its rivals, but that doesn't mean it's a gaming laptop. Fortnite can be played in 1080p if you lower all settings. However, you need to cut it down to 720p to get smoother gameplay. Casual and less demanding games can be played well enough, but the Razer Blade Stealth 13 with an Nvidia GTX 1650 offers better performance.
I have high expectations for the battery life of expensive laptops. Somehow the XPS 13 surpassed them. In our test for easy surfing on the Internet, it took over 11.5 hours. Laptops such as the MacBook Air, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Surface Pro 7 were destroyed. It doesn't outperform the best of the best like the HP Specter x360 or ZenBook 13 UX333, but it's not far behind either.
Battery life always depends on what you use it for. At one extreme, the XPS 13 can take up to 14.5 hours to play video locally or 5 hours to do more difficult tasks. Consistent use throughout an entire working day should not be a problem for the average person.
If you buy the 4K + model, you can expect these results to drop by a few hours. This also makes this 1080p + model the ideal solution for most people.
The Dell XPS 13 is the best laptop you can buy. This has been true for several years and also in 2020. It is not an easy task when you make so many changes to an iconic design. The XPS 13 has slowly become a little more expensive over the years, but if you are that good, premium branding has been earned.
There's a good choice if you want to spend less than $ 1,000. For everyone else, the XPS 13 should be your next PC.
Are there alternatives?
There are some very close competitors to the XPS 13. If you are looking for a laptop with a 360 degree hinge, I recommend the HP Specter x360. It's small and nifty like the XPS and a little cheaper.
Another great option is the new MacBook Air. With quad-core processors and a better keyboard, it has regained the respect of previous Mac generations. However, it probably can't keep up with battery life, and performance still lags somewhat.
The Surface Laptop 3 from Microsoft is another interesting option at an affordable price, a tight thickness and a tight weight. It also offers a larger 3: 2 screen with a higher pixel density as long as you can carry the large frames.
How long it will take?
Thanks to its modern components and robust build quality, the XPS 13 is designed for durability. The standard one-year warranty is nothing special, but this laptop should last at least three or four years.
Should you buy it
Yes. It is the best laptop you can buy.