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Dell’s XPS 13 line has been getting rave reviews for years, and 2020 is no different.
Dell’s thin-and-light laptop still shines for its premium and lightweight design, vibrant-edge-to-edge screen, and comfortable keyboard. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The XPS 13 is the right combination of performance, features, and portability for most people.
The XPS 13 comes in a variety of different configuration options, with the newest version powered by Intel’s 11th-generation processors starts at $979.99.
It’s almost impossible to find something bad to say about the Dell XPS 13, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The webcam is low-quality, a common gripe with modern laptops but an important one nonetheless. Apple’s new M1-powered MacBook Air is also a formidable new challenger to the Dell XPS 13 for those who aren’t partial to Windows.
There isn’t much selection when it comes to ports either. That may not matter for everyone, but it could be more important now that many people are working from home and might need to connect more peripherals for their home office setup.
All told, the XPS 13 is a smart choice for Windows fans that need a laptop for working from home, getting schoolwork done, watching
, and just generally browsing the web.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) specifications (as reviewed)
Design and display
The Dell XPS 13’s design is one of its most compelling characteristics.The model I’ve been reviewing weighs 2.8 pounds, but that could vary slightly depending on the configuration. That means it’s about the same weight as the HP Envy 13 and Apple MacBook Air.
But it’s really the Dell XPS 13’s stunning screen that makes it stand out in terms of design. Dell’s XPS 13 comes with a super-slim border framing its screen that feels like it’s barely there, a design element that’s defined the lineup for years.
This is part of what makes the Dell XPS 13 feel so compact, even more so than other similarly-sized laptops, and it gives the XPS 13 a sleeker look compared to many of its rivals. Even Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which were recently upgraded with Apple’s fast new M1 chips, still have noticeably thick borders surrounding their displays.
Dell offers the XPS 13 in a couple of display options. The cheapest configuration comes with a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution screen, but you can upgrade to a touch screen and opt for a higher-resolution 3,840 x 2,400 display.
The configuration I’ve been testing comes with an impressive 1,920 x 1,200 resolution touchscreen, which I imagine will be more than enough for most shoppers. Colors looked vivid and rich with crisp detail, and skin tones looked vibrant and true-to-life. It’s exactly what you would expect from a premium laptop.
In my experience, image quality on the Dell XPS 13 was similar to that of the Apple MacBook Air (M1), which has a 2,560 x 1,600 Retina display with the company’s True Tone tech. The colorful cakes and baked goods on “The Great British Baking Show” looked just as vibrant (and appetizing) on both laptops, with very minor and barely noticeable differences between the two.
The Dell XPS 13 comes with two
ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot. That’s probably enough for most people, but the lack of selection could be a drawback for anyone looking to use older accessories without a hub or adapter.
The Dell XPS 13 is more than capable of breezing through everyday tasks with ease, as I learned after using it as my primary work machine. My review configuration includes an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 processor with 16GB of memory (RAM) and 512GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, a system that currently cost $1,469.99.
My workload usually consists of running a web browser with dozens of tabs open and occasionally using photo editing software, tasks that are no problem for a notebook like the XPS 13. It was able to export a 15,000 x 12,000 image file in a little more than 10 seconds in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, making it a hair faster than the M1-powered MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and considerably speedier than the older XPS 13 powered by Intel’s 10th-generation chip.
The fans did become audible when using the
browser with more than 20 tabs open, downloading a large video game from Steam, and running Adobe Lightroom all at once. But they never got close to feeling overwhelmingly loud, and there was no slowdown in the system’s performance.
The Dell XPS 13 performed about average on benchmarking tests, with results that were nearly the same as those from the HP Envy 13 and higher than the previous-generation Dell XPS 13’s. But its performance was still noticeably behind the M1 MacBook Air in this regard.
When running a program called Geekbench 5, which measures processor performance by simulating every tasks, the XPS 13 scored 4,307 on a test designed to evaluate multi-core performance and 1,279 on the single-core trial.
The HP Envy 13 scored 4,099 and 1,352 on the same respective tests, according to TechRadar, and Apple’s M1 MacBook Air hit 7,558 and 1,726 in my own experience. The previous generation Dell XPS 13 with Intel’s 10th-generation processor scored 3,704 and 953 during the same test, indicating the new model indeed comes with a bump in speed.
But the bigger improvement compared to the 10th-generation variant is in its graphics performance. The Core i7 variant of the new Dell XPS 13 comes with Intel’s more powerful Iris Xe graphics while the last model includes Intel UHD graphics.
I was able to comfortably play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on the medium graphics settings at a resolution of 1,280 x 960 on the new XPS 13. Performance wasn’t ideal, but it was reliable enough to play the game.
However, the game felt barely playable on these settings on the old XPS 13 with 10th-generation Intel. The Dell XPS 13 isn’t meant for gaming, but the difference still illustrates the big step forward in graphics performance you can expect from the new version.
It’s also worth noting that the version of this configuration that Dell currently sells is actually a bit faster than the one I’ve been testing because it has a Core i7 chip with a higher boost speed. Overall performance should generally be very similar to what I’ve experienced, but the edition Dell sells might be faster in some circumstances under heavy workloads.
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a laptop, and thankfully Dell’s delivers. The Dell XPS 13’s keyboard consists of comfortable keys with enough feedback to offer a rich typing experience without going overboard. It’s spacious for a 13-inch laptop and not too loud, which can be helpful if you’re trying to be mindful of others in your household while working from home.
The touchpad is also fluid and responsive, although it’s a bit smaller than the one I’m used to on Apple’s MacBook Pro and Air laptops. I also appreciated the XPS 13’s soft microfiber palm rest, which feels pleasant and also doesn’t smudge easily. Overall, the high-quality keyboard and responsive trackpad make this machine a joy to use throughout the workday.
Battery life and webcam
The Dell XPS 13’s battery life is long enough to get you through most of a workday, but you’ll probably have to plug in as the day draws to a close. I got roughly six hours of battery life out of my review unit, during which time I used it to browse the web, watch Netflix, and lightly edit some photos in Adobe Lightroom. That’s not as long as Dell’s 14-hour claims, but it’s probably adequate enough for anyone who wants to get some serious work done without having to plug in.
That puts it roughly on par with Apple’s Intel-based MacBook Air from early 2020, which lasted for about seven hours. The M1 MacBook Air, however, blew me away with its more than 12 hours of battery life. Still, it’s important to remember that battery life can always vary depending on how you use your laptop, so your results may not match mine exactly.
There’s only one complaint I have with the Dell XPS 13: its webcam quality. The 720p camera produced images that looked blurry and dim, perhaps making this laptop less ideal for video calls. Compared to a 2019 Intel-powered MacBook Pro, which also has a 720p webcam, the scene looked more bland and a bit fuzzier on the XPS 13.
It’s hard to find a laptop with a sharp webcam, and 720p is a pretty standard resolution for the camera that comes built into your computer. But since most people are working from home and likely will be for some time, webcam quality has become more important than ever. After using Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro, which incorporates Apple’s image signal processor, it’s hard to go back to another laptop without this advantage.
Take a look at the images below to get a sense of how the Dell XPS 13 compares against the M1 MacBook Air in terms of camera quality. The one taken on Apple’s computer isn’t perfect either, but it is brighter and crisper than the image taken on the XPS 13.
Should you buy it?
Yes, the Dell XPS 13 is an all-around top choice when it comes to lightweight, ultraportable laptops. If you need a laptop for tasks like writing papers, browsing the web, managing spreadsheets, and watching Netflix, the Dell XPS 13 should have everything you need. The webcam isn’t anything to write home about, but neither are the ones on most laptops. Otherwise, the Dell XPS 13 has the right combination of performance and elegance to satisfy most people.
What are your alternatives?
If you’re a Windows fan seeking a compact 13-inch laptop for everyday work, it’s also worth considering the well-reviewed HP Envy 13. It’s similarly priced, with a configuration that comes with an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 and 16GB of RAM but less storage (256GB) currently selling for $899.99. It also comes with a few extras not found on Dell’s system like a two legacy USB Type-A ports and a camera shutter for privacy. The extra ports may be particularly useful for anyone with legacy accessories that they plan to use as part of their home office setup.
Apple’s latest M1-powered MacBook Air is also an excellent choice for those who aren’t loyal to Windows and just want a fast and lightweight laptop. It’s leagues faster than Apple’s Intel-powered predecessor and has impressive battery life that may be the longest I’ve ever personally experienced in a laptop. But since it runs on Apple’s chip which is based on a different architecture than Intel’s, you might want to think twice if you use niche, legacy software that might not be optimized. There’s also no touchscreen option on Apple’s laptops.
The bottom line
Dell’s XPS 13 is a solid choice all-around when it comes to compact laptops, offering the right balance of portability and power for most people. The super-slim bezels surrounding its screen make it especially excellent if compactness is one of your top priorities, resulting in a design that still tops many of its rivals. However, its webcam is subpar and you won’t get many options when it comes to ports.
Pros: Sleek design, excellent screen with super-slim borders, comfortable keyboard, solid performance