Dell XPS 13: The Best Premium, Touch-Enabled Laptop I’ve Used

For the last month, I have used Dell’s new XPS 13 laptop as my primary device, for business and pleasure. I was hot on the Dell’s XPS 13 when it was announced at this year’s CES 2015 where it won a ton of awards, but I had never used it in my playflow or workflow. And if you read anything I’ve written about specific products, I can never give my seal of approval on a product unless I’ve used it for a while. I’m happy to say that after using the XPS 13 for a month, the hype equals reality, and the Dell XPS 13 is the best premium, touch-enabled laptop I’ve ever used. While this isn’t a full review, I will try to hit the highlights.

13”, 3K touch display in a 12” laptop chassis

One of the best things about the Dell XPS 13 is the display and the fact they wedged a 13” display into a 12” notebook chassis. They did this by using a nearly edgeless display, which Dell calls “infinity”. The display border is only 5mm thin, and Dell says it’s the thinnest frame of any laptop. The XPS 13 is 9-15mm thin and starts at 2.6 lbs. Compared to my Apple MacBook Air 13”, the XPS 13 is 23% smaller.

Dell XPS 13 (Credit: Patrick Moorhead)Dell XPS 13 (Credit: Patrick Moorhead)

The display is really bright at 400 nits, is crisp and is very high definition at 3,200×1,800 resolution. For those counting at home, that is 276 PPI. For me, this made the biggest difference when it came to photos. The only challenge was that when I bounced between the laptop display and my 30” widescreen display at 1080P, the text and/or frames were either too big or too small. This is a Windows issue.

Touch really came into play when I would be on an airplane and I was space-constrained. When the front seat came down in my face, I would switch to touch, including when I used MS Office. I cannot imagine trying to do work on a plane without touch enablement.

High-end machined aluminum, carbon fiber, Gorilla Glass

The Dell XPS 13 feels like a premium laptop should. It’s made completely from CNC-machined aluminum with a keyboard deck that’s made from carbon fiber. The keyboard deck is coated with a rubberized material which made it a lot easier to get stuff done because my palms wouldn’t slip off.

The display has a coating of Gorilla Glass and I have confidence that it would withstand the test of a beating. The keyboard is backlit, and while I’d like larger keys, I did like the 1.3mm travel in them. The touchpad was really very nice too, is made from glass, and I never experienced any issues or mis-hits. The next round I sure would love to see a larger, 3D touchpad.

Battery life and excellent charging system

I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard about the 15 (non-touch 1080P) -11 (touch 3K) hour battery life claims from Dell. I have had issues with most notebook battery life tests as many are resting or idling most of the time, the display is set too low, or not even connected or doing anything over WiFi.

I am happy to say that I achieved 10-11 hours battery life using MS Office and surfing the web while connected to WiFi. One very important item…. You MUST use Internet Explorer 11 as Google’s Chrome is a real resource hog, reducing my battery life by two hours. The display should be set to 150 nits, which is about 40% of the way on in Windows settings.

In the event you do run out of battery life on the XPS 13 or your phone or tablet, I used Dell’s optional $99 Power Companion, a 12,000 mAh battery system, which is truly an awesome product. I recommend everyone buy one with the system. It’s not just a Mophie or big dumb battery for an iPhone. The Power Companion sits between the power adapter and the Dell XPS 13 so you can charge the Companion AND the XPS 13 at the same time. The Companion has two USB ports as well, so you can charge your phone, tablet, headset at the same time. I didn’t think I could get excited about something battery-related, but Dell gave me a reason to be just that.

It gets better. Dell’s charging backpack has a special slot for the Power Companion so that you can charge the XPS 13 while it’s in the backpack. You can even check the battery life of the XPS 13 and Companion by pressing a small button on the side of the laptop and companion which lights up indicating how many “bars” you have left. I can’t believe no one thought of this earlier. I love this whole charging system Dell has created.

Very configurable

The Dell XPS 13 is a premium device, but it’s also very configurable, as well. Here are what I would consider the good, better, best in the line, but know, you can also configure a lot of different hardware and software options:

  • Good: $799, 1080P non-touch infinity, 5th Gen Intel Core i3 2.1 GHz. max, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Windows 8.1 64-bit
  • Better: $999, 1080P non-touch infinity, 5th Gen Intel Core i5 2.7 Ghz. max, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Windows 8.1 64-bit
  • Best: $1,299, 3200×1800 touch infinity, 5th Gen Intel Core i5 2.7 Ghz. max, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Windows 8.1 64-bit

You can add Windows 8.1 Pro for an extra $50 and another 128GB SSD (total of 256GB) for an additional $100.

Wrapping up

Dell and Apple have been the most consistent over the last 4 years in releasing premium featured, designed, supported and priced laptops. It’s really hard to be consistent in this Windows world as the Windows operating system hasn’t exactly motivated purchases for the high-end.

I was impressed with the original XPS 13 and I’m even more impressed with the new Dell XPS 13. I can highly recommend it if you are looking for a premium, Windows laptop. It is truly is the best premium, touch-enabled laptop I’ve used so far.