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.

Another Low Quality TN Panel
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  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    "AnandTech receives a notebook for review from a vendor not named Sony or Apple, and that notebook features a cut rate 1366x768 TN panel with poor viewing angles, poor color, poor contrast, and just poor quality all around."

    Yup. I also do take issue with the resolution, I think that 768 vertical pixels is a bit cramped, and that 1440x900 is the ratio and resolution we should be hitting on 13" screens.

    I have a 14.1" 1400x1050 machine at home, and that is just about right. I have a 15" 1920x1200 screen, and although it looks great, I do admit that the scaling issues we have in Windows as it stands, means that it can be a little uncomfortable to some (I found an issue where changing DPI even by a little made a piece of software unusable. Not just hard to use, unusable).

    Lets see some good quality 1440x900 panels in this size of laptop, what do you say, Dell?
    Reply
  • Cloudie - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I totally agree; I have a Macbook Air 13 and the 1440*900 resolution is absolutely perfect for this screen size. I only wish the colour gamut and viewing angles were closer to level of the Macbook Pros or one of the other 3 or 4 notebooks on the market with decent screens. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    " I have a Macbook Air 13 and the 1440*900 resolution is absolutely perfect for this screen size."

    Yup, I had that on my Lenovo X301 back in 2009 and it rocked. This 1366x768 madness has to stop.
    Reply
  • apinkel - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more.

    I think the MBA is a bit over-rated simply due to lack of ports and the move to a non-user-replaceable battery (sadly most of the ultrabooks have followed apple on these two items) but the one thing that I am really, really jealous of is the screen on the MBA.

    I have an X301 right now and I really like it. I like the screen size/aspect ration/resolution, the keyboard which has better feedback then every ultrabook I've tried, great port selection (I work on other people's PC's and I have to have an ethernet port), excellent battery life with the optional bay battery and light weight. I do wish the X301 had the current generation of ultra low voltage cpus but for my usage I've actually been surprised at how well the 1.4ghz CPU has performed.
    Reply
  • Dug - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    You will have moved on to another computer a long time before the battery would need to be replaced.

    One thing I wish pc ultrabooks all had was a thunderbolt port.
    Reply
  • apinkel - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I just back from a trip (last minute booking) where I had a 7 hour layover in an airport. Having a replaceable battery, even on a laptop with 5+ hours of battery life is handy to have.

    That said, the battery issue isn't a deal breaker for me. The lack of an ethernet port is.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Few people even buy a second battery for their notebook, let alone carry one around. And even for the Macbook, you can always buy an external battery pack like the Hyperjuice and accomplish much the same thing, with the added advantage of not having to turn the notebook off while swapping batteries. It's what I do with my Toshiba notebook, even though it does have a removable battery. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I know... I really wish they did an X310 and 320. WTF? Now Even Lenovo's newer 13 inch have 1366x768... gack. Reply
  • apinkel - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I agree.. I was really disappointed with the screen on the X1. They put gorilla glass on it (why?... it's not a touchscreen, it adds weight and adds glare) and the resolution changed to 1366x768.

    The big downside to the 16:9 screens is that if you want 900 lines of resolution you end up with a resolution of 1600x900... and the dpi becomes to high to be legible for me.

    With a 13.3" screen and 1440x900 you end up with a dpi of 127... which is the sweet spot IMO.
    Reply
  • kjboughton - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more...

    I was recently looking for a cheaper notebook to replace an aging Dell m770 that I'd had from 2003 when I decided to try the Inspiron 14R.

    It's going back. The whole unit feels cheap but the 1366x768 TN panel from BOE-hydis is HORRIBLE. I can't stand using the notebook because of that. And to think that the $999 ~ $1499 XPS Ultrabook using a similar panel (albeit a slightly smaller viewing area) is astounding. Barf!
    Reply

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