Dell XPS 13 9310 review: Tiger Lake perfects perfection
"The XPS 13 9310 with Tiger Lake isn't so much faster than the Ivy Lake version that you'll be forced to upgrade, but it solidifies the XPS 13 as the best there is."
Tiny bezels all around
16:10 display increases productivity
The keyboard and touchpad are larger and excellent
Solid productivity performance
Connectivity is limited
The battery life has been downgraded
I've checked many laptops for digital trends over the past few years and it has been great. There was a loophole in my experience though – I'd never had the chance to review a Dell XPS laptop, which was pretty disappointing. So imagine my excitement when I was assigned the Tiger Lake upgrade of the Dell XPS 13 for review.
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I got a fairly high-quality configuration of the XPS 13 9310 for $ 1,550 – the base price is $ 1,150 – with an 11th generation quad-core Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe -Solid-state drive (SSD) and a 13.4-inch full HD display in the new 16:10 aspect ratio from Dell. I know that my editor Luke Larsen loves the XPS 13 and has consistently rated it as the best notebook on the market. I asked myself: would I feel the same way?
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
OK, after spending some time with the new XPS 13, I get it. The latest versions are really well designed laptops. I say this because I haven't had a chance to spend much time with one until my test unit arrived, and while I trust Luke to do a thorough and accurate review, it's the rare laptop I believe will earned the perfect score he assigned the last version.
From a design point of view, it's perfectly proportioned and just enough aesthetic elements are mixed in to enhance the otherwise simple design. Compared to the HP Specter x360 13 (in my opinion the strongest competitor of the XPS 13) with its gem-carved design and outstanding color schemes, the XPS 13 looks serious. While I love the HP and actually consider it one of my favorites, I can appreciate what Dell has done with the XPS 13 as well. There is no unnecessary line or angle on the case of the laptop – it just looks right. My test device is the arctic white model with a woven fiberglass palm rest that is not only comfortable but also looks good. The new aluminum strips on the sides add a little flair, and the tiny bezels that wrap around the display thanks to the 16:10 aspect ratio are as modern as possible.
And yes, the build quality is excellent. The laptop feels just like a premium laptop – although it's made from different materials like glass, metal, and fiberglass, it's all somehow fused into one cohesive whole. There's nowhere to bend, twist, or bend. Other laptops, like the Specter x360 13 and competitive Asus laptops, can boast the same thing, but there's no doubt that the XPS 13 is firmly anchored among the best of the group. That includes you, MacBook Pro.
Dell has also gone to some extra effort to ensure durability, such as: B. by double dipping the aluminum on the side during anodizing so that you don't scratch the surface every time you connect a peripheral device. The hinge can be easily opened with one hand and then tightened at the right moment to hold the display firmly in place.
Compared to the previous XPS 13 (not the last version, but the previous one), the laptop is 0.58 "thinner than 0.62", which is significantly thinner than the 0.67 "of the Specter x360 13. It comes with 2.8 pounds versus 2.7 pounds the smallest bit heavier than the previous generation, and the Specter x360 13 outperforms both at 2.88 pounds. To be honest, these are tiny differences. If you hold the XPS 13 next to the Specter x360 13, you'll find that it's only the smallest bit deeper and the smallest bit less wide. In practice, they are essentially the same in how small they feel when you carry them around and use them on your lap.
I'm going to criticize the XPS 13 a bit for its connectivity, which only includes two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support (in the Tiger Lake manifestation) and a microSD card reader. The Specter x360 13 also offers you two Thunderbolt 4 ports (in the latest version) and a USB-A 3.1 port for your older devices. Make sure you carry around the included USB-C to USB-A dongle, which Dell throws in the box. Of course, there is also Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 to make sure your wireless connection is as up-to-date as possible.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Will Tiger Lake Make the XPS 13 a Faster Laptop? The answer is of course yes. How much faster? That is the more important question.
Starting with Geekbench 5, the XPS 13 equipped with a Core i7-1165G7 achieved 1,540 points in the single-core test and 5,432 points in the multi-core test. This is comparable to the Ivy Lake Core i7-1065G7 version with 1,329 and 4,862. So this is a significant leap. The Specter x360 13 with its Core i7-1065G7 only managed 1,164 and 3,981 and was therefore significantly slower. Note that you can use the HP Command Center utility to enable performance mode. This affects the performance of the Specter x360 13. HP has been a bit conservative in tuning the thermals to ensure the 2-in-1 stays cool and quiet.
It took the Tiger Lake XPS 13 a little over three minutes to complete the test with the older version of the handbrake that we used to test the Ivy Lake XPS 13, which only required a handbrake test that included a 420MB video encoded as H.265 eight seconds. Switch to Dell's performance mode and you'll save 10 seconds less than Tiger Lake. The Specter x360 13 took a full 5.86 minutes in normal mode and 3.9 minutes in performance mode. If we examine the results of the Tiger Lake XPS 13 on the newer version of Handbrake, it's faster than 10th generation CPUs.
While the XPS 13 in this version took 3.35 minutes to complete the process in this version, the Surface Book 3 13 with the Core i7-1065G7 took almost four minutes. The XPS 13 also beat some other Tiger Lake laptops, like the Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA, which took four minutes longer in normal mode and 30 seconds longer in performance mode than the XPS 13 in performance mode, which took a little over three minutes to complete. The Acer Swift 5 was only three seconds slower in normal mode than the XPS 13 in performance mode (the Acer utility's performance mode actually made things slower). In summary: The Tiger Lake XPS 13 was fast in our handbrake test, but not the fastest and not much faster than the Ivy Lake version.
I also ran Cinebench 20 on the Tiger Lake XPS 13, which we didn't run in the previous version. Here it scored 518 in single-core mode and 1,921 in multi-core mode (the increase was marginal in performance mode). This is a bit behind the Acer Swift 5, which manages 542 and 2,091, and just behind the faster Intel reference laptop we tested with the higher-clocked Core i7-1185G7. However, the XPS 13 was much faster than the ZenBook 14 UX425EA, which reached 498 and 1766 in performance mode – despite the ZenBook's thicker case and theoretically better thermals.
In short, the Tiger Lake XPS 13 is an absolute performance upgrade, if not enough to upgrade if you are happy with the performance of your Ivy Lake XPS 13. If you choose among the current Tiger Lake laptops, however, the XPS 13's performance is so good that you don't have to sacrifice speed just to get the fantastic design of the laptop.
Of course, we should mention gaming because here is one area where the Tiger Lake model surpasses its Ivy Lake predecessor. For example, adding Intel Iris Xe graphics made a difference in 3DMark Time Spy, where the new XPS 13 scores 1,589 points compared to the old XPS 13 with 968. That's not exactly twice as much, but it's close. On the XPS 13 9310, Civilization VI would not run for some reason and crash immediately after the splash screen. With Dell figured this out, expect around 50 frames per second in 1080p and medium graphics. You should play that title there. I ran Fortnite and managed 29 frames per second (FPS) with high graphics (in performance mode) which was a little less than the Acer Swift 5 at 31 FPS. We didn't bother testing the Iris Plus GPU in this game as the results would honestly not have been playable. Note that with a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX350 GPU, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 hits 37 FPS, which means the Intel Iris Xe GPU is approaching entry-level GPU speeds.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
One of the biggest changes to this iteration of the XPS 13, both the Ivy Lake and Tiger Lake versions, was the transition to a 16:10 aspect ratio from the usual 16: 9. The value of such movement is triple. First, you get a bigger display that shows more information with less scrolling, albeit with the trade-off between a little bit of letterboxing in the video. Second, you can fill an entire ad with actual screen real estate, leaving little or no chin under. Third, if you get it right, you can increase the amount of palm rest, which is always good.
In the case of the XPS 13, all of these things are true. The way I used it, I liked the larger display just as much as I did when I used Microsoft's Surface devices with an even larger 3: 2 aspect ratio. Is it a deal breaker for me? Not really – the difference isn't that big. The XPS 13 certainly has the smallest bezels you'll find, and that includes the chin, which is just as small as the other three sides. Third, the XPS 13 has larger palm rests and a slightly larger touchpad, both of which are very welcome changes.
My test device was equipped with a Full HD + display (1,920 x 1,200), which was a bit of a disappointment for me given my preference for high resolutions. I've also found that most Full HD displays (or something like that) are of significantly lower quality than the 4K displays that companies like Dell build into their laptops. So I wasn't expecting the best news from my colorimeter.
As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, the display is very bright at 458 nits and approaches the display's 500 nits rating. The contrast ratio is also high at 1350: 1. That's a lot better than most of the Full HD displays you'll find, like the Acer Swift 5's 14-inch, 327-nit, 950: 1 contrast ratio, Full HD display. I won't go with that Compare the Specter x360 13, because the version we tested used an OLED display that blows the Dell display out of the water.
The color support was average for a premium Full HD display. The panel covered 98% of sRGB and 75% of AdobeRGB. Both are great results, but don't come close to any of the better 4K displays you can buy. For example, choose the XPS 13 4K display and you will likely get a little north of 90% AdobeRGB, which makes creatives happy. The color accuracy was good with a DeltaE of 1.36 – less than 1.0 cannot be differentiated with the human eye and is the standard for professional displays.
In real use, the display was a pleasure. The brightness and contrast made black text pop off the page, which is incredibly important to me as a writer. I found the colors natural and more than vivid enough, but then again, I don't edit photos and videos. If you do, the 4K display will make you happier. Finally, watching Netflix was a great experience thanks to the support of Dolby Vision which continues to provide the best HDR experience in a laptop.
Audio was a nice surprise too, with lots of volume coming from the down-facing speakers and no distortion. The mids and highs were fine, and there was even a hint of bass. You won't be using the internal speakers to share Netflix with friends, but that's enough for solo sessions.
Keyboard and touchpad
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Dell has integrated a keyboard with larger keycaps and better spacing between the keys in the new XPS 13 and has retained the same travel as the older keyboard. For these reasons alone, I liked it better. But I also liked the switches, which provided a snappy feel and comfortable floor movement. Finally, another Windows 10 keyboard catches up with the HP Specter keyboard as my favorite – it's a virtual connection. Only Apple's Magic Keyboard on the latest MacBooks is better.
The touchpad is also slightly larger and has a convenient glass cover. The buttons click quieter than before and, like all Microsoft Precision touchpads, are responsive and precise. There's also a touch display, which like all touch panels today, works well and made me happy (I hate non-touch displays after getting used to tapping and swiping over the display).
Windows 10 Hello support is provided in two ways. First, a fingerprint reader is built into the (strangely unlabeled) power button on the top right of the keyboard. It was quick and responsive, and I prefer fingerprint readers built into the power button. Second, a very slim infrared camera is built into the tiny bezel above the display, which detects my face with absolute reliability.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
There is one area where the Tiger Lake XPS 13 lags behind its Ivy Lake predecessor: battery life. I can't explain why – I didn't conclude that Tiger Lake had poor battery life, but then again, our database of 11th generation machines remains quite small. Although the XPS 13 9310 has the same battery capacity as the 9300, namely 52 watt hours, the 9310 fell significantly behind in the tests we were able to run.
As with every other Tiger Lake laptop I've tested, the XPS 13 wouldn't complete the Basemark web benchmark test, which is our biggest claim. Instead, I ran PCMark 10's gaming battery test, which put a strain on the CPU and GPU, and found it lasted almost four hours. The Acer Swift 5, the other Tiger Lake machine I tested with PCMark, lasted just under two hours. The XPS 13 beats at least one Tiger Lake rival when stressed.
The Tiger Lake XPS 13 lasted 8.5 hours and has now moved on to our web benchmark, which serves as the best estimate of battery life productivity. This corresponds to Intel's Evo certification requirement of nine hours of battery life in practice. With the right mix of tasks, you might be in the right place. The Ivy Lake XPS 13 lasted 11.5 hours and the Acer Swift 5 fell 35 minutes behind the XPS 13 9310.
Next, I ran the XPS 13 through our video loop test, which played a Full HD Avengers trailer until the battery ran out. It took 12 hours, well behind the 14.3 hours of the Ivy Lake XPS 13 and ahead of the 11.5 hours of the Swift 5. I won't bother including the Specter x360 13 in this comparison – the OLED display is incredible hungry for performance and cannot keep up with these Full HD laptops.
Ultimately, the XPS 13 9310 will likely get you through a full day of work and it is close to meeting Intel's nine-hour Evo certification requirements. As always, when you squeeze the CPU and / or GPU you get less, but for general productivity tasks, I rate the battery life as good, not great.
The Dell XPS 13 9310 with Tiger Lake remains the best laptop you can buy, despite the shorter battery life. It's just as good as its predecessor in terms of design, input options, and general usability, while also being a bit faster.
It's not the cheapest laptop, and as we found in the XPS 13 9300 review, you can find some great alternatives if you're on less than $ 1,000. However, if you are looking for a 13-inch clamshell laptop, the XPS 13 9310 is your best bet.
Are there alternatives?
The HP Specter x360 13 remains a strong competitor to the XPS 13 and is now available in the same tiny and eye-catching package with Tiger Lake. You'll also save hundreds of dollars over the equivalent XPS 13. You can also consider the Specter x360 14, which uses an even more productivity-friendly 3: 2 aspect ratio for its display and outfits Tiger Lake components for roughly the same price as the one XPS 13.
We recommended the MacBook Air as an alternative, but that's now made more difficult by Apple's migration to its own Apple Silicon M1 CPU, which completely changes the game. We'll check that out soon. So hold on to see if it's a viable alternative to the XPS 13.
Finally, Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 is a laptop to consider because of its similar price, weight, and thickness. It uses the 3: 2 aspect ratio, making it more productive. And it's a great looking laptop to boot into.
How long it will take?
The XPS 13 9310 has an impressive build quality that inspires confidence in years of reliable service. The components are up to date and should be able to keep up the hum. The one-year warranty is industry standard and, as usual, is disappointing. However, you can always purchase an extended warranty if you are concerned about long term coverage.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The XPS 13 9310 is still the best laptop out there.