The Dell XPS 13-MLK ($1,399) is an ultrabook built for travel, with a strong, compact chassis made with exotic materials. It has most of the high-end features that power users look for, including a high-performance Core i5 processor, a sizable solid-state drive (SSD), and a comfortable full-size keyboard. Physically, it’s a match for those 11-inch laptops that you’ve got your eye on, but the 13-inch screen is much larger. A couple of omissions keep it from our highest honors, but if you’re willing to overlook those stumbles, the XPS 13 makes for a road warrior’s dream machine.
Design and Features
The XPS 13 is svelte, with an aluminum, Gorilla Glass, and carbon fiber composite construction that feels sturdy. It measures about 0.71 by 12.5 by 8 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.96 pounds (without the AC adapter), making the XPS 13 a skoch larger and heavier than the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (Mid 2012) ($999), but measurably smaller and lighter than our current Editors’ Choice for high-end ultrabooks, the 13-inch Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A-BHI5T ($1,199). This makes the XPS 13 as portable and compact as the 11-inch class of laptops, a plus if you’re a road warrior with an already overloaded travel bag.
It’s also a boon if you regularly compute on an airline tray table, as the extra inch of depth can mean the difference between using the screen tilted back or tilted forward if the person in front of you suddenly reclines his seat. Unfortunately, the XPS 13 doesn’t have a touch screen, which would add some thickness and probably some depth to the system. While the system’s trackpad is very responsive and works well with Windows 8 gestures, we still found ourselves trying to tap elements on the system’s screen.
In addition to the new Intel Core i5-3337U processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000, the XPS 13′s newsworthy feature is the system’s new 1,920-by-1,080-resolution 13-inch screen. This is an improvement over the 1,366-by-768 screen in the 2012 version of the Dell XPS 13 ($1,000). The screen is bright and has a good range of brightness settings so you can use the system in both dim and daylight-lit environments. Speaking of dim light, the system’s backlit chiclet-style keyboard was both visible and very comfortable to use, with contoured keys and good key placement. Boot up and waking the system from sleep was quick, thanks to the system’s 256GB SSD. The drive has a very good 186GB of 221GB free on the C: drive when you take it out of the box. The recovery partition, the OS, and the pre-installed programs occupy the rest of the SSD.
Because of its compact chassis, the XPS 13 doesn’t have too much room for extraneous I/O ports. Therefore, it is no surprise that the XPS 13 only has a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a mini-DisplayPort in addition to the headset jack. The USB 3.0 ports are black, instead of the more traditional blue-colored ports. Thankfully, the system doesn’t have any USB 2.0 ports that could be confused for the faster USB 3.0 ports. The mini-DisplayPort is the only video port, so you’ll need an adapter to use the system with DVI, VGA, or HDMI. The only other features on the side bezels are the system’s AC adapter jack and a nice push-button controlled row of LEDs to let you know the system’s battery status. The system comes with a sealed 47WHr battery, par for the compact ultrabook category. If you want a removable battery, you’ll have to buy a larger laptop.
The system comes with a few pre-installed apps, including Kindle, Amazon, Getting Started with Windows 8, McAfee Security Center, Skype, Dell Shop, Dell Support Center, Microsoft Office Trial, and Absolute Data Protect. These apps are in addition to the usual Windows 8 apps that come with every system, like the Windows Store, music player, Bing News, and photo viewer. All in all, this isn’t a bad selection of pre-installed apps, especially compared with systems with a plethora of pre-installed apps like games from the Xbox store.
The XPS 13′s Intel Core i5-3337U processor, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8GB of DDR3 memory, and a speedy 256GB SSD puts it in a statistical dead heat with other systems with similar specs like the Vizio 14-Inch Thin + Light (CT14-A4) ($849) and even systems with faster processors like the Core i7-equipped HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook 15-4010nr ($1,340). With these midrange Intel Core processors, Intel integrated graphics, and SSD or SSD+HDD storage, each system is equally proficient at multimedia tasks like Handbrake and Photoshop CS6, day-to-day tasks (PCMark 7), and at light 3D gaming. Essentially, the current crop of performance ultrabooks have the chops to do most general tasks asked by their users.
If the XPS 13 has any failings in the performance department, it’s that the system’s hungry 1080p display and slim sealed battery are only good for a moderate five hours (4:56) on our battery rundown test. While that score is better than the Vizio CT14-A4 (4:30) and HP Spectre XT (4:03), all these battery times are woefully short of the 6:38 that the Asus Zenbook UX31A-BHI5T scored.
The Dell XPS 13-MLK is a good fit for the road warrior who wants to carry some multimedia horsepower with her. Its 1080p screen, capacious SSD, and Core i5 power will go a long way if you need to rework a complex PowerPoint presentation or work on some photos for a pitch on the road. They’re also good components for the travelling artist, especially if you’re already used to carrying your work on an external USB 3.0 drive. The things holding the XPS 13 back from our highest honors are the lack of a touch screen and a lower battery life than the current high-end ultrabook Editor’s Choice, the Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A-BHI5T. Thanks to a better bang for the buck and that touch screen, the Asus UX31A-BHI5T holds on to its ultrabook crown.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Dell XPS 13-MLK
Compare the Dell XPS 13-MLK with several other laptops side by side.
More laptop reviews:
|Processor Name||Intel Core i5-3337U|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Type||General Purpose, Ultraportable, Business, Small Business, Ultrabook|
|Processor Speed||1.8 GHz|
|Screen Size||13.3 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||256 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc