Every time a new XPS 13 comes out, the question is always the same: is it still the best Windows thin-and-light laptop? I will spare you the tension here: the answer is yes.
If there is one thing that Dell is great at, it's not major innovations that change what we expect from a laptop (at least not with its XPS line). It's about figuring out what needs to be fixed and tackling problems methodically without harming anything else. Two years ago it was the godly nosecam. Last year it was the little touchpad and 16: 9 screen. These were simple fixes that Dell fixed. The result is a laptop that isn't perfect – but does most things almost perfectly. Configurations on the Dell website currently start at $ 1,199. The configuration I tested cost $ 1,749.
The most noticeable change from last year's XPS is the ad. No, your eyes don't deceive you: the 16: 9 screen is (finally!) No longer. Dell shaved a large chunk of the lower bezel – it rose from 19.5 mm to 4.6 mm. (There's also a dropped hinge that hides some of it under the keyboard deck.)
Dell also downsized the top and side bezels, resulting in a 16:10 display that's 6.8 percent larger than its predecessor. The company claims a 91.5 percent screen-to-body ratio. It's a lot of pixels – almost a million more than last year's 1080p panel. And a few extra millimeters make a big difference; I felt like I had more space than I normally do on 16: 9 panels and didn't normally have to zoom out to work comfortably in two windows side by side.
- Nice, robust design
- Frameless 16:10 display
- Outstanding keyboard and touchpad
- Integrated graphics can process some games
- The keyboard gets hot under load
- Limited port selection
- Bad webcam
The almost frameless design gives the entire device a new premium aesthetic. When the logo and the white plastic bumpers are gone, no space is wasted in combination with the extended keyboard and touchpad (more on that later). It's 2.8 pounds, the same weight as the MacBook Air, but a little thinner at 0.58 inches. I feel like I am looking at and holding a very nice computer.
The screen gets so bright (up to 500 nits) that I was uncomfortable using more than 30 percent while surfing indoors. The Alien: Covenant trailer looked great, with deep and vibrant colors and minimal glare to distract from dark interior scenes. Not to say, there was a bit of a blue tinge to everything that a little bit neutralized but didn't fix turning off the laptop's ambient light sensor. This is unlikely to affect a casual user's viewing experience.
As usual, Dell offers a number of configurations of the XPS 13 on its website. I have the $ 1,749 that includes a Core i7-1065G7, 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and a 1920 x 1200 touchscreen.
The $ 1,199 base model has a Core i5-1035G1, 8 GB RAM, a 256 GB SSD and a non-contact display. At $ 1,299, you get this configuration with a touchscreen. This information should be sufficient for anyone who just wants to browse. When planning games, you may need more memory and RAM.
The 4K model starts at $ 1,549. That also buys 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage and a Core i5. And you can get the most out of an i7, 2TB SSD, 16GB RAM, 3840×2400 touch display, and Windows 10 Pro for $ 2,309. (There is also a $ 999 model with a Core i3 and 4 GB of RAM that is in circulation somewhere, but is not currently listed on the Dell website.)
I haven't been able to test a 4K model yet, but the 1920 x 1200 touchscreen looks good enough that anyone who doesn't do creative work is unlikely to have to pay an extra for the higher-resolution panel. In addition, the lower resolution model continues to offer a touchscreen option, which was not the case with older models where you had to sign up for a 4K screen in order to only have touch functions. This is more than sufficient for gaming and Netflix viewing, and other reviews show that the 4K model is weaker and is likely to reduce battery life to below acceptable levels.
There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack and a microSD slot (and the laptop comes with a USB-A adapter). It's nice to have USB-C on each side, and I know older ports are going out of style, but I would personally trade one of the Thunderbolts for a built-in USB-A. I still have some older peripherals that I hope can be used better – maybe not, but a more diverse port selection means that none of us need a dongle.
Now for this new processor. You are not alone when you are confused by the huge mess of 10th generation Intel chips. So here is the TL; DR. The XPS 13 from late 2019 is powered by a Core i7-10710U, a Comet Lake chip with six cores and 12 threads. This XPS has an i7-1065G7, an Ice Lake processor – four cores and eight threads. This may look like a downgrade on paper, but it depends on what you're trying to do. Additional cores offer you an advantage in arithmetic tasks – cracking numbers, compiling code, working things out in Excel. Thanks to Iris Plus, its far superior integrated graphics in Gen 11, Ice Lake is more suitable for tasks where a GPU (games, photo and video work, etc.) could be used.
Iris Plus may have delivered the best gaming performance I've seen from an integrated GPU. The XPS blew through League of Legends, averaged frame rates in the low 160s and never dropped below 110, and hit a constant 70 fps with a low of 41 in the Rocket League at maximum settings.Overwatch was playable and hovered even in ultra settings in the low 40s with a low of 21. (With epic settings it delivered in the mid 30s. With medium, low 50s). This is comparable to the performance of the Razer Blade Stealth from last year, which used a discrete MX150 graphics card. I can now say that if you want to play light games, you no longer have to deal with a low-tier MX chip. This system did the job well.
Of course, the XPS is by no means a gaming rig. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was not playable and stumbled with an average of 17 fps at the lowest settings. It wasn't just a stuttering experience. It was like watching a flip book. I am aware that running Tomb Raider on this computer is too much of a good thing. Anyone who wants to play does not buy an XPS 13 with integrated graphics as the primary device. I only mention such a graphics-intensive task because at this point the limits become visible.
The XPS did my daily multitasking – switching between 15 to 20 Chrome tabs, Slack and Spotify, often with background downloads – without any stuttering. Multitasking caused some heat, especially in the keyboard area. Outside of playing, the device was never uncomfortable in my lap, but my fingers could often feel the heat under the keycaps when I only operated eight tabs – and the keyboard was extremely hot during games (even in the league). The good news is that the XPS keeps the CPU cool. I've never seen throttling before and the i7 stayed fairly constant in my high 60s and low 70s during my 30 minute Tomb Raider session. The fans were meanwhile audible, but not disturbingly loud.
The heat is my only major complaint about this device; everything else ranges from reasonable to exceptional. For example, the battery life isn't the best in this category, but it's still very good. The XPS handled my typical workload (as described above) at 50 percent brightness (brighter than I normally need indoors, as mentioned earlier) and held the battery saving profile for seven hours and 20 minutes (which did not slow down). That should almost get you through a working day, and the screen is bright enough that you can easily browse at 30 or 40 percent if you need more juice.
I was also able to finish a 90 minute film with maximum brightness, with about 80 percent still in the tank. Even playing with the battery was decent; I have three hours of League of Legends in performance mode at full brightness. The game was playable most of the time and fell below acceptable thresholds at around 15 percent.
The XPS did my daily multitasking without jerking
Last year, the keyboard and touchpad of the XPS 13 were my favorite keyboard and my favorite touchpad on the market. Their 2020 variants continue to deserve their stripes. Dell has not ported the XPS 2-in-1's butterfly keys. These keys have a travel of 1 mm and are snappy, satisfactory and not too loud. My fingers flew and I made fewer mistakes than usual. The keyboard is now from edge to edge and the keycaps are 9 percent larger. That doesn't seem like much, but I can feel the difference. The touchpad is also 17 percent larger than the previous year. The surface is wonderfully smooth and the click is effortless.
The audio isn't what you get from a competent external speaker, but it's still pretty much everything I've ever heard of a laptop. The bass was not strong, but the percussion was a bit pep and the speakers mounted below filled a room of decent size. The sound was somewhat distorted at maximum volume, but crystal clear at 90.
If the XPS 13 has a real weakness, it's the webcam. The 2.25mm 720p shooter delivers an almost weirdly grainy picture – my hair looked like a blurry spot and my background was either washed out or very dark with no middle ground. Miraculously, however, Windows Hello worked perfectly and immediately recognized me in various settings and conditions. And Dell deserves credit for pushing a working camera into such a tiny bezel – really, I'm going to take everything away from nosecam in recent years. (If face recognition isn't your speed, a fingerprint reader is also reliable.)
For a flagship product, this was a boring assessment. But that's a good thing, because I really don't have much to say. The XPS 13 speaks for itself. This is not a laptop that is trying to push boundaries or rewrite the rules. It only gives users what they want. I would take a better webcam, I would take better cooling, I would take a USB-A and I would take a slightly more accurate screen. However, none of these errors is an obvious mistake because it does not significantly affect the user experience. And in the areas that matter most – structure, display, keyboard, touchpad, battery life, performance – the XPS 13 not only activates all check boxes. It blows the boxes from the side.
The XPS 13 speaks for itself
Dell is still charging a price premium for this package, and you pay a little more for the XPS 13 than for some of its direct competitors (other than Apple). But most people will be happy with the mid-size model for $ 1,299, and I don't think anyone will feel like they are getting their money's worth with this laptop.
There are a number of laptops that do almost everything right. However, most of them have at least one area of serious concern where the XPS will clear them out of the way. On the HP Specter x360, this is the 16: 9 screen. The Surface Laptop 3 lacks Thunderbolt. With the Surface Pro 7, it's the outdated design. On the MacBook Air, this is the battery life. To be the best laptop you can buy, the XPS 13 doesn't have to do everything perfectly. it just has to make everything a little bit better. And for another year already.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge
Vox Media maintains partner partnerships. These have no impact on the editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find more information in our Ethics Policy.