Dell XPS 13 (9300) First Impressions

It has been a while since I evaluated the iconic and trendsetting Dell XPS 13 laptop. But the XPS 13 is back, and it’s better than ever.

As you may know, Dell was the first to market what is now a common laptop design technique: By slimming down the bezels in the first-generation XPS 13, it was able to wedge a 13-inch display into what would have been, at that point, a 11- or 12-inch form factor. Early XPS 13 versions weren’t perfect, of course—the small bezel design initially required Dell to put the webcam below the display, an unfortunate position—but the rest of the industry quickly jumped on board, copying Dell’s design. And today, it’s commonplace, and not just in the premium segment.

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But Dell hasn’t stood still. And today’s XPS 13 retains what worked while making some important improvements along the way. Including, yes, that webcam.

But first things first. The review unit I received today comes in a stunning artic white and silver, which is itself a big improvement over the original dark design (which is still available for purists). I think it’s better looking, but the bigger news, perhaps, is that Dell utilizes a silky white woven glass fiber on the wrist rest instead of the carbon fiber from the original. It promises to less prone to skin oil stains.

The unit itself is tiny—literally an 11-inch form factor—and clearly premium. Indeed, even the out-of-box experience, an afterthought at HP and Lenovo, is as good as anything Apple does. Dell gets credit for supplying a USB-C to USB-A dongle, plus a cable extension for those that don’t want a large wall wart. The whole thing is nicely done.

Dell also gets credit for building the base of the XPS from two pieces of aluminum instead of one: This means that it can be easily separated for servicing, and Dell claims this design is more durable as well. Whatever, the sight of ordinary screws on the bottom of the unit is sure to cheer anyone worried about the future.

The most obvious improvement here, however, is the display. The XPS 13 has always been famous for its edge-to-edge InfinityEdge display, but now the bezels are roughly equally narrow on all four sides. This enabled Dell to do what I’ve begged of HP and Lenovo and utilize a taller 13.4-inch 16:10 display with a 91.5 percent screen-to-body ratio that can be had in Full HD+ or 4K/UHD+ resolutions, both of which support Dolby Vision. So on the review unit, the Full HD display delivers a resolution of 1920 x 1200 rather than the more typical 1920 x 1080. Can I get an amen?

You might be worried that the small form factor would lead to a less than ideal keyboard, a short wrist rest, and a small touchpad—I certainly was—but Dell seems to have done the impossible here by wedging in a full-sized keyboard, a sufficiently deep wrist rest, and a large glass precision touchpad. It’s too soon to have any opinions about the quality of the typing or touchpad experiences yet, but I like  what I see so far.

Internally, the XPS 13 couldn’t be more modern, and it can be upgraded to impressive heights. It’s powered by quad-core 10th-generaiton Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, Intel UHD or Iris Plus graphics, 4 to 32 GB of LPDDR4x RAM, and 256 GB to 2 TB of PCIe SSD storage. The communications components are interesting: In addition to Bluetooth 5, Dell utilizes a dual-band and Intel-based Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 module, which I assume means it’s replaceable/upgradeable. There’s no cellular wireless, but that seems like an increasingly superfluous feature given the pervasive availability of smartphone tethering.

Dell is employing some impressive looking thermals in this device, with dual fans, a single heat pipe with an evaporator and dual condenser, and GORE thermal insulation, so I’ll be monitoring heat and fan noise.

There are dual rear-firing stereo speakers and, for you Cortana and Alexa fans, far-field microphones for being heard over music or other loud audio from across the room.

From an expansion perspective, the XPS 13 is predictably modern and minimalistic. It provides two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and, unlike many PC makers, Dell was smart enough to place one on either side of the gorgeous aluminum chassis. There’s also a microSD card slot on the left side.

Dell provides Windows Hello capabilities in both the webcam—which, yes, is correctly situated at the top of the display—and via a subtle fingerprint reader that’s built-in to the power button, which is itself a blank key in the top right corner of the keyboard. I love having both options.

Battery life is supposed to be impressive, with Dell claiming over 18 hours of real-world battery life on a Full HD+ model and over 12 hours on UHD+. The charger is a relatively small 45-watt adapter, and there’s no mention of quick charging capabilities.

I haven’t really had time to check out the software fully, but the review unit shipped with Windows 10 Home version 1909 and its usual collection of crapware plus several mostly useful-looking Dell utilities. There’s nothing immediately egregious, like a superfluous anit-malware solution.

As a premium PC, the Dell XPS 13 starts at about $1200 and can be configured to your heart’s content. The review unit, with its Core i7-10657G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and Full HD+ display would set you back about $1750.

I can’t travel with the XPS 13, of course, but I’ll spend as much time as possible with it in the days and weeks ahead. Right up front, however, I can say that I’m impressed: This is a gorgeous premium portable PC in a crazy-small package.

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