The best and most-boring ultraportable around
LET'S CUT TO THE CHASE: the latest Dell XPS 13 is a very good ultraportable laptop, building upon its predecessor with some minor tweaks and access to the latest Intel eighth-generation mobile processors.
But it's also one of the least inspired laptops around. Whereas the likes of Asus, Razer and Huawei have pushed to deliver more innovative laptop designs and options for discrete graphics cards, Dell has stuck to the winning formula that's made its XPS 13 a hit for several generations.
And with the 2019 model, Dell has just done enough to win our attention, but it'll need to do more with future models if it's to keep rivals at bay.
One of our daily driver laptops is Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2, a fine example of a Windows 10 thin and light laptop. So read on to see how the XPS 13 stacks up against Redmond's finest.
Gander at a closed XPS 13 and you'll struggle to see much difference between the 2019 and 2018 models. That's because the new XPS 13 is practically identical to its predecessor.
It has the same wedge-shaped design, which isn't the slimmest around, but at 11.6mm at its thickest point and 1.17kg in weight, it's hardly a chunky machine.
Measuring 30.2cmx19.9cm, the XPS 13 has a smaller footprint than the Surface Laptop 2, despite squeezing a 13.3in screen into its chassis.
That's thanks to the use of the bezel-eating InfinityEdge display, which has been tweaked to house what Dell claims is the world's smallest laptop webcam; this sits at the top of the screen, rather than the bottom bezel where it used to sit staring up a user's nose.
It's good to see the camera back in its normal space, and luckily it doesn't diminish the screen-to-bezel ratio of Dell's InfinityEdge display. More on that later.
The compact keyboard and trackpad also help keep the laptop's dimensions down. The latter is very nice with decent key travel and sturdy feedback.
It's not as gloriously tactile as the Alcantara-covered keyboard on the Surface Laptop 2, but the XPS 13's keyboard is still up there with some of the best.
The trackpad is accurate and responsive, but it does feel a little cramped at times and doesn't feel as slick as that on the Surface Laptop 2.
The faux-carbon fibre textured glass fibre palm rests are present and correct and prevent your hands from slipping around when furiously typing.
But there's a good chance that over time they could stain, especially on the Rose Gold and Arctic White colour schemes; the standard black and silver model should keep any marks from long-term use more hidden.
The power button with a fingerprint reader built-in remains a neat feature. Also unchanged from the 2018 model are the pair of Thunderbolt 3 enabled USB-C ports, the USB 3.1 Type-C connection, and a microSD card slot.
We'd have liked to have seen a USB Type-A port make it into the mix to support older peripherals, and a full-sized SD card reader would be handier for photographers and video editing types.
Be prepared to carry a dongle around should you desire more port options.
In essence, there are no real surprises with the design here, other than what we feel is a more sensible spot for the webcam. But the XPS 13 remains a very nicely built and well-proportioned machine.
Once again Dell manages to fit a 13.3in display into a chassis designed for an 11in screen, all thanks to the InfinityEdge bezel-chomping display design.
As was the case with the 2018 XPS 13, this year's model comes in a non-touch Full HD version and a model with a 4K touchscreen; our review unit was the latter.
And what a screen it is. Colours are accurate and vivid, if not quite as punchy as those in the Surface Laptop 2 but arguably more accurate. Contrast and brightness are excellent, and the 16:9 aspect ratio is superb for watching movies on, especially those with sumptuous colours and HDR support.
Without a 2018 model to compare side-by-side, we can't state for sure that the new XPS 13 has a noticeably better screen, but you won't be disappointed by the display it delivers.
Professionals might want a machine that's more calibrated outward covering the Adobe RGB gamut, but for everyone else, including have-a-go photo and video editors, the XPS 13's display is more than up to the task. Thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 ports it can also be plugged into a high-resolution external display if needed.
Ideally, we'd have liked to have seen perhaps a little more shaved off the bottom bezel now that the webcam has been relocated, but we might have to wait a generation or two for that.
While the 16:9 aspect ratio is good for video content, for productivity we prefer the Surface Laptop 2's 3:4 PixelSense display, as it's simply nicer for scrolling through documents and web pages.
Still, the XPS 13's screen is once again top-notch for an ultraportable.
Performance storage and battery life
Our XPS 13 came with a Whisky Lake generation Core i5-8265U CPU running at a base clock of 1.6GHz and ramping up to 3.89GHz on a turbo boost. The CPU was matched with 8GB of RAM and 265GB of SSD storage space.
All in all, that's a pretty mid-range spec, with the XPS 13 coming with options for a Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on the low end, and a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD on the high-end. Practices can get very expensive if you go for the higher specs, as a fully kitted out XPS 13 will cost almost £2,000.
For £1,319, we felt our Rose Gold model hits the sweet spot of performance and price. The Core i5 is more than enough for an extensive range of everyday tasks, and unless you go crazy on Chrome tabs, 8GB of RAM is fine in Windows 10; we'd avoid 4GB options though.
Weather 256GB is too little or too much storage will be dependant on how much you want to stow on the XPS 13.
Throwing the GeekBench 4 CPU test at our review unit, the XPS 13 managed a 4,434 single-core score and raked in 15,292 points for the multi-core test. That soundly beats our Surface Laptop 2, which has the slightly weaker Core i5-8250U, but in real-world use, you won't notice it much.
Our spec could even manage some light gaming, with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim playable at lower settings. Yes, it's now an old game but it's still impressive to see it running on an ultraportable machine.
In isolation, the XPS 13's performance and spec options are perfectly fine. But when compared to machines like the Huawei MateBook 13, which can fit in a dedicated Nvidia mobile graphics card, we feel the 2019 XPS 13 feels a tad lacklustre.
Then again not many people buy a slim and light laptop and expect it to have good graphics performance, so the XPS 13 doesn't disappoint in the performance stakes either, just don't expect it to be noticeably faster than its predecessor.
Battery life is decent given our model sported a 4K display - the Full HD model is likely to have considerable more electrical endurance - with it lasting some seven hours or so with the display's brightness cranked up a fair bit.
You'll likely be reaching for the charger before the working day is out if you want to watch some Netflix on the way home, but that's not surprising for an ultraportable laptop; it's not class-leading wither.
The XPS 13 remains a proper get sh*t done laptop when it comes to performance. And connect it to an external display, keyboard and mouse and you have a solid machine that'll suit mobile and fixed working.
The 2019 XPS 13 is the best to date. Dell has basically perfected the ultraportable design, with the laptop offering an excellent display, decent performance, and more flexibility in a smaller package than the Surface Laptop 2 and other thin and light laptops of a similar size.
But Dell also took the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' approach, which, while sensible, is a bit uninspired. If you have a 2018 XPS 13 then you can pretty much skip this model and hold out for the next version.
For the 2020 XPS 13, we'd like to see Dell push the boat out when it comes to design and engineering, as we feel there's more it could do with its halo ultraportable. And with Intel preparing its 10-nanometer mobile chips for later this year, Dell will at least have some new silicon to work with.
However, if you really need a slim and light, well-built laptop with a lovely display then we can't help but recommend the 2019 XPS 13.
Solid performance, lovely 4K touchscreen, webcam is now in the right place.
Trackpad can feel cramped, the Rose Gold colour is polarising, it can get expensive.
Zero design innovation.