Dell XPS 13 (Late 2017) First Impressions

Posted on October 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 6 Comments

Dell XPS 13 (Late 2017) First Impressions

Earlier this year, Brad and I reviewed two members of the XPS family, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Dell XPS 15, respectively. Both are Kaby Lake-era PCs, but as you may have noticed, the industry isn’t standing still. So with Intel shipping 8th generation Core processors this Fall, PC makers are outfitting existing products with the new chips or, in some cases, shipping new designs.

The new Dell XPS 13 is of the former variety: That is, this is basically the same Dell XPS 13 form factor that first shipped earlier this year, but it can now be outfitted with far more powerful—and quad-core—8th generation Intel Core processors.

You may recall that I had previously referred to the 15-inch version of this laptop as “a portable workstation.” Just six months ago, the availability of a quad-core processor in a laptop was pretty rare, and even most premium laptops—not just from Dell, but from HP, Lenovo, and others—included a dual-core part as had been standard for years. So the XPS 15 really stood out, for that reason, and for its stunning 4K display.

But Intel is feeling the heat. And with Qualcomm set to really raise the bar on battery lifetime with Snapdragon 835-based laptops, the microprocessor giant is pulling a carefully guarded card out of its sleeve. And that card is performance: By switching to quad-core processors across the board, the firm’s PC maker partners can now deliver dramatic performance improvements over the nearly-identical PCs they were selling for most of 2017. That’s astonishing.

And Dell isn’t just relying on Intel here: It has also created its own Dynamic Power Mode, which is tailored to deliver the best possible performance with these new chips. The two combined provide a 44 percent performance boost over the early 2017 version of the XPS 13, Dell reports.

So that’s on the inside. From an exterior perspective, the Dell XPS 13 delivers everything we’ve come to expect from Dell’s most trend-setting product. And that’s mostly good with just a few disappointing items.

So let’s get those out of the way first.

Yes, the webcam is still, inexplicably, located at the bottom of the display, providing that nasty up-the-nose view that generates so many complaints. I suspect that Dell retained this design so that it can continue bragging about the device’s admittedly gorgeous InfinityEdge display. But come on. This is getting embarrassing.

Second, and also inexplicably, Dell is still using a proprietary power connector on this device and not USB-C. That is surprising and disappointing, though the device does at least include one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port. (And two full-sized USB 3 ports, plus a memory card slot.) And, yes, you can charge the device from that port if you have a USB-C charger.

From there, it’s all good news. Like, really good news.

Dell originated the now-common design trend of near bezel-less displays, which let them—and now other PC makers—place larger displays in smaller form factors. So practically speaking, the XPS 13 is a 12-inch form factor, which makes it smaller, lighter, and thinner than a traditional 13.3-inch laptop.

As such, the new version retains everything that was wonderful about the XPS 13 form factor before. That is, it’s as elegant, professional looking, and attractive as ever. It is also quite portable, with its sub-3 pound curb weight. (The version I’m testing is 2.9 pounds, Dell says, while non-touch versions weigh in at 2.7 pounds.)

Dell offers two primary choices here, a non-touch 13.3-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel and the multi-touch 13.3-inch Quad HD+ (3200 x 1800) IPS display that I’m testing. It’s glossy, bright, and colorful, and it offers very wide viewing angles. At 400 nits, it’s also brighter than the 4K display I tested previously on the XPS 15, and it’s a stunner that almost approaches the vibrancy of the 2017 ThinkPad X1 Yoga. Almost.

As before, the display panel, whichever version you choose, is surrounded by an incredibly small 5.2 mm bezel on three sides. This creates the infinity pool-like view which gives InfinityEdge its name, and while the webcam experience is not great, the edges of the display do seem to just disappear in use. It’s an almost mesmerizing look.

Thanks to its CNC machined aluminum construction, the XPS 13 body is rigid and of obvious high quality. (There’s even a rose gold option which I’m honestly curious to see.) The keyboard deck, including the palm rest, is covered in a nice carbon fiber composite material that feels great to the touch. (On the XPS 15, I noted its fingerprint-grabbing capabilities, so I’ll be looking for that here too.)

One thing I should point out: This is a laptop, not a convertible. The display doesn’t lay flat, though it does push back a lot further than is the case on some machines, like Surface Book.

Given the evolutionary nature of this laptop, I’ll be looking at two big buckets for the review, plus the usual testing of the day-to-day experience: Battery life and performance. Dell claims that the new XPS 13 delivers “the longest battery life of any 13-inch laptop,” with up to 22 hours of life on the Full HD version. Those kinds of claims are often inflated, and I typically see about 2/3 of that in my own tests. But of course I’m testing the Quad HD+ version, and that will impact battery life further. So something in the 10+ range would be exceptional.

As for performance, I’ll subject the XPS 13 to the same video encoding test I always use. But the issue here isn’t as simple as stacking the 8th generation Intel Core processor up against the 7th generation processor (also quad-core) I tested in the XPS 15 earlier. That beast also included dedicated graphics, while the XPS 13 has only integrated graphics. So they’re not really comparable, not for that kind of thing.

Anyway, this is a great-looking update to a wonderful laptop. I’m looking forward to putting it to the test.


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Comments (6)

6 responses to “Dell XPS 13 (Late 2017) First Impressions”

  1. asarathy

    I have the early 2017 model. I don't really mind the proprietary since they also give the Thunderbolt USB-C port. The only annoying thing is that doesn't seem to trickle charge.

  2. Chris Hedlund

    I have the XPS 13 - got mine with Ubuntu installed on it. I was thinking about getting another one, but I decided not to get one until they move to USB C for charging...

  3. Polycrastinator

    They should just follow Apple and Essential's lead, and put a notch in the top of the screen.

    Paul, with a quad core processor, I'm not sure if video encoding is the right way to measure battery life: if the jobs get done twice as fast with twice as many cores, it may end up chewing up far more battery with that kind of test. I suspect that's going to be a big challenge with these new quad core laptops. Typical use I expect the battery life will be great, but for the sort of battery life tests we typically see done, it may end up looking quite bad.

  4. markatcristorey

    I manage the IT for our 20 person office. We've been standard on the XPS 13s for almost 3 years now - since the first round of this design. The earlier ones have been fantastic - durable, great battery, reliable. We've bought about four over the past few refreshes (not this one but the prior few), and they've all had some reliability issue. The newest one just had the battery go out. I think this laptop is fantastic, but the reliability for us has been disappointing with the newer models, and so we're moving to the X1 carbon instead.

  5. hrlngrv

    The background on the 3rd image looks like pasta sauce splatter on drywall. Distracting.

  6. Reinier Zevenhuijzen

    I would have expected some design changes by now. Lower the screen to the center, so the camera fits on top; add a 360 foldable screen. Or at least 180. Change to a glass trackpad because the current material gets dirty.