Dell XPS 13: A Different Kind of Ultrabookby Dustin Sklavos on March 13, 2012 9:00 AM EST
Conclusion: Excellent Starting Point
Dell's first entry into the ultrabook market is a patient and smart one. They've arrived at the party a bit later than the competition, but they're fashionably late: instead of a design that just apes the Apple MacBook Air, Dell has taken care to produce something unique to them with the XPS 13.
Aesthetics are almost always a matter of taste, but I continue to personally prefer the looks of the XPS 13 to the other ultrabooks on the market barring the hot pink Zenbook ASUS produces. The materials Dell has chosen to use in the construction of the XPS 13 are notable not just for their quality on their own, but for the lack of chintzy or cheap materials employed. The two-toned black and silver design is also a distinctive one; where other vendors are emphasizing silver and aluminum tones (and giving away their inspiration), Dell has produced an ultrabook that stands out in the right ways.
That's why it's unfortunate that despite the clear attention paid to practicality in the design of the XPS 13, it's also practicality that often needlessly suffers. The keyboard is par for the course for ultrabooks and I'm not sure how much refinement Dell could offer there, but unified touchpads continue to be problematic on PCs and the XPS 13 is no exception. Despite the extended period of time I had to use the XPS 13, I still wasn't ever able to totally adapt to it. I'll also readily admit that I'm personally annoyed by the lack of an integrated card reader; your mileage may vary and certainly it seems like a nitpick, but this is something that I get a tremendous amount of use out of in my aging ThinkPad X100e.
Most of those problems are probably things that the end user will adapt to without too much difficulty, but the XPS 13's thermal solution is a trickier issue. If you're just using the XPS 13 to do word processing or surf the internet, and you use it primarily on flat surfaces, you're not likely to have many issues with it. While the fan can be irritating, the carbon fiber shell ensures the ultrabook never gets uncomfortably hot to the touch. Unfortunately, venting the bottom instead of the sides or back feels like it was the wrong decision, and the ultrabook sometimes has trouble enjoying the benefits of Intel's Turbo Core the way many of its kin do.
None of the issues with the XPS 13 are fundamental flaws or uncorrectable. This is a good product at a reasonable price point that basically just needs a refresh. If you're in the market for an ultrabook I wouldn't dissuade you from going with the XPS 13, but I might advise you to really examine how you're going to use it and do some shopping around first. That's just good advice for any computer purchase, but it's definitely relevant here.