Review: Dell XPS 13, 2-in 1 (Kaby Lake)

Posted on March 8, 2017 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 14 Comments


As my plane climbs into the sky, sitting anxiously waiting for that bing of hitting 10,000 feet so I can pull out my laptop, that friendly chime can’t come soon enough. Before a trip to Disney World with my family, Dell sent over an XPS 13 2-in 1 to try out on my travels which I believe is the best way to review a device.

Considering that I find myself on a plane frequently, having a machine that works well in the cramped cattle car section of the aircraft is essential. The XPS 13 is a former friend of mine, I had one of these machines the first year the Infinity Edge displays by Dell were announced several years ago. Since then, I have had many machines but primarily shifted to using a Surface Book since retiring the XPS 13.

The XPS 13 is obviously not a new machine and has evolved during its lifetime to add support for Windows Hello and a flexible hinge that will look familiar to Lenovo Yoga fans. As with several modern laptops, you can fold the screen all the way around so that it can be used like a tablet.

The machine I am using has an i7 chip but this is Intel’s Y line (i7-7Y75), formerly known as Core M as well as 8GB of RAM, 250GB SSD, 1920×1080 display, 2 USB Type C ports, mini SD card reader, headphone jack, backlight keyboard, and what is likely my favorite feature, the fingerprint reader.

The laptop is made of metal, carbon fiber for the keyboard/palm rest, and small bits of plastic around the display and webcam. If you have used a previous generation XPS 13, not much has changed from a materials standpoint.

From a usability perspective, the XPS 13 is likely one of my favorite laptops ever. It has small footprint which makes it easy to use on a plane and the keyboard is good. Not the best keyboard on any laptop but it’s firm and punctual strokes give you a high level of confidence while typing. Further, the materials on the keys have enough traction so that your fingers won’t slip off when typing quickly.

This is the first laptop that I have used that incorporates a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello and I must say that I vastly prefer using a fingerprint reader than a facial recognition camera. With the fingerprint reader, it’s easier to login to the laptop as I know right where to put my finger every time and the sensor works quickly.

Using Windows Hello with a facial recognition camera is fine but anyone who has used one before knows the feeling of bobbing your head in front of the screen trying to get it into the correct position to login. While this isn’t a big issue most of the time, it’s easier (and faster) to simply tap your finger on the sensor and be logged in instantly.

With the XPS 13, you have two screen options; 1920×1080 or a 3200×1800, and while on the desktop I prefer a higher resolution display, on the XPS 13 you can likely save a bit of money and go for the lower resolution. On this machine, I have scaling set at 125% as 100% is too small and on 4K, it would be unusable at 100% which means you have to scale up and are not able to extract the full value of that high res screen.

Trackpads on Windows machines have historically been a low point. With Windows 10 and Microsoft forcing OEMs to move to precision touchpads, the experience is much better. All my gestures are picked up accurately the first time and the size of the pad is of an adequate as well.

Performance is good but the Y series does show its face, especially when launching applications and setting up new applications as well. I would keep picture editing to a minimum on this machine and would not attempt to edit video either. But for email, web browsing, music, videos, using the Office suite, this machine has more than enough power for those tasks.

Also, because this device is fanless, there are no annoying hums or any other noises produced by the machine; it’s great. And if you are worried about heat on your legs when using the device, I had no problems at all.

As for the battery? I was getting a solid nine hours of use out of this machine that included streaming music, writing this review, browsing the web, Tweetdeck, and watching a few videos as well.

As with most laptops this generation, it charges via USB type C and there is no going back from this type of a setup. It makes charging easier, power bricks smaller, and finally does away with proprietary charging cables.

The machine is far from perfect, unfortunately; the carbon fiber keyboard area is hard to keep clean. What I mean is that the oil from your hands shows up everywhere you touch and the palm wrests quickly become shiny. It’s also quite apparent that I use my left thumb to hit the spacebar as it is shiny as well.

On earlier models of the XPS 13, because of the thin bezel, the webcam was awkwardly placed along the bottom of the screen. This positioning means that when you attempt a video chat, the other person gets a less-than-flattering view of up your nose.

With this version, Dell has tried to fix the issue with a screen that can be folded backwards so that you can make a tent with the laptop which then positions the webcam in the correct location. This fixes the viewing angle but does make it harder to use the machine while chatting as you can’t see the keyboard or the trackpad.

The power button is also not in the best position and I’d prefer to have it placed up next to the delete or escape key. For most, the button won’t be an issue but I can imagine that some users will accidently bump it.

Lastly, and this is likely Intel’s fault, but is it necessary to put a Core i7 sticker on the palm rest? I know they can be removed but this feels like a hangover requirement from the early 2000s and disrupts the otherwise clean styling of the device.

At the end of the day, I really like this machine. The smaller size compared to the Surface Book makes it a great companion for road warriors who prefer a 13in laptop and considering this machine is about the size of a typical 11in laptop thanks to the Infinity Edge display, it’s ideal for working in cramped quarters (like my flight home from Disney).

As long as the idea of palm rests being shiny while the rest of the keyboard is matte after significant use is not an issue, you will be happy with this machine.

 

 

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Review: Dell XPS 13, 2-in 1 (Kaby Lake)”

  1. Avatar

    gregalto

    I really want this machine.

  2. Avatar

    rameshthanikodi

    wait, isn't this the XPS 13 2-in1? This is not the Dell XPS 13. The Dell XPS 13 is a different (but similar) machine that doesn't have the 360 hinge and uses the faster core i7-u processor.

    • Avatar

      evancox10

      In reply to rameshthanikodi:

      I think you're right, if it folds backwards it's the "XPS 13 2-in-1", not the "XPS 13".

      Same as the difference between the HP Spectre and Spectre x360.

      I had a similar complaint about Monday's First Ring podcast, I don't think either Brad or Paul ever said "The machine I have here is blah blah blah".

      Please guys, this is basic stuff! If you're reviewing / discussing a product, please be sure to 1) tell the audience what product you're talking about, and 2) tell them the right thing! Bonus points for being specific and giving exact model + configuration numbers if it's not a BTO machine.

      • Avatar

        YouWereWarned

        In reply to evancox10:

        And a price never hurts. If this Dell is as overpriced as some other Ultrabooks, I'm not interested. Come to think of it, being a Dell, I'm not interested regardless.


        And the Intel sticker can be removed, as can the little gold sticker on your camera, and the tag on your bedpillows, without penalty of law.

    • Avatar

      Polycrastinator

      In reply to rameshthanikodi:

      I believe so. Dell's branding is the problem here, though, they should have called it something else.

  3. Avatar

    pbeiler1

    Facial vs finger scanning ... I'm the opposite. I prefer the camera. Finger scanning takes more time on my devices.

  4. Avatar

    Darmok N Jalad

    I imagine the Intel sticker is a requirement to either get special pricing from Intel, or to get Intel to help fund advertising. Isn't that why many Dell or HP commercials specifically mention Intel?

  5. Avatar

    jwpear

    I love these machines, but do wish Dell would offer a core i5 non-Y series option.  Would like to upgrade my wife's XPS 12 at some point, but I'm not a big fan of the Y series CPU.

  6. Avatar

    tlassen

    I also got this laptop from work except it's the higher-resolution display. I'm the IT guy, so I get to experiment with different Dell laptops and form factors.

    My feedback:

    I love the design--it's so small and sleek compared to most laptops that I see and deploy. I have always thought the carbon fiber weave on the inside to be a little on the ugly side compared to Apple laptops. But whatever; it’s fine. I do welcome Dell to improve that area. I also agree with Sam regarding finger oils on it—hard to keep clean.

    Performance is plenty adequate for normal business stuff—Office 365 applications, internet browsing, remote desktop, etc. I’ve been surprised how well it does run. The laptop isn't my primary PC, so I don't need it for power. That’s what my desktop is for. I just use the laptop when I'm on-the-go. I am a little worried that the integrated Intel graphics won't keep up with the high-resolution screen for certain things over time. But we’ll see. That was my fault for getting this version. I just wanted to try the "best-spec’d" version :P Not having fan is awesome though! You don't realize how great that is until you use a laptop with a fan that goes off and on all the time.

    Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are also great! It’s so cool to charge and connect to Thunderbolt docks. That’s definitely the future. I’ve already deployed a couple Dell laptops without the old standard docking connector on the bottom with the newer Dell TB16 Thunderbolt docks. So far so good. Dell design has gotten so much better in the last 5 years. But it will be a long, gradual transition from the old to the new docks in our company and most businesses I’d guess.

    I haven't tested the fingerprint reader or camera for unlocking since I haven't setup the infrastructure yet required for Windows Hello for Business which is required for domain-joined computers. But I thought I heard that was changing with the Creators Update. I'll have to check into that later.

    The only thing I really dislike is the feel of the power button. It’s mushy and hard to tell if you turned the laptop on or off. It would have been much better if they could have integrated the power button and the fingerprint sensor on the inside just like the new Macbooks. Maybe Apple has the patent for that or something.

    Overall though, I’ve been really impressed with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop. I would recommend it if it meets your needs and expectations. 

  7. Avatar

    Skolvikings

    The added benefit of a Windows Hello capable fingerprint sensor is if you have a regular user account and an administrator user account (which is security best practice), you can use some of your fingers for the regular account, and the other fingers for the admin account. You can't do this with the facial recognition as, you know, you only have one face. I supposed a person could go Clark Kent and do one with glasses, one without, but that's hokey.

  8. Avatar

    thechise

    I have the 2016 version​ that I got as a Signature PC. I like everything about the machine except the screen gives me awful eye strain / headaches. I keep trying to tweak it but I can't get it to agree with my eyes. Consequently I just use my external Dell monitor and all is well like that. But I can't take it anywhere which defeats the purpose

  9. Avatar

    shantals

    Shop: Dell.com/camppendleton or email [email protected]

    Member ID : GS97991977

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