Dell XPS 13 (2019) review: It's hard to better the best

Dell XPS 13
  • Dell XPS 13
  • Dell XPS 13
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • 10th Gen Processor
  • Superb design

Cons

  • No SD card slot
  • Limited ports

Bottom Line

Outside of Apple’s own hardware or HP’s uber-pretty Envy x360, the Dell XPS 13 is still pretty much as good as 13-inch Macbook-style laptops get.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

If you’re a regular PC World Australia reader, you might recall how highly we rate Dell’s more recent XPS laptops. They’ve picked up our Editor's Choice award for best Professional PC two years running, and if this latest iteration is any indication, a hat-trick isn’t out of the question.

The new Dell XPS 13 bears all the hallmarks of its predecessors - both in design and execution. Most, if not all, of the things that made previous XPS laptops so compelling endure here: from the robust design to the premium spec-sheet.  All the same, I found it a little difficult to get that excited a third time around - especially given the absence of Intel’s 9th-Gen Core mobile chips.

The new Dell XPS 13 is still one of the best 13-inch work laptops you can buy - but I struggled to find many reasons to not opt for its depreciated predecessor or waiting for an inevitable 9th-gen or 10th follow up.  

Specs

The specs for our Dell XPS 13 review sample were as follows:

Processor: Intel Core i7-8565U

Graphics:  Intel UHD 620

RAM: 16GB

Storage: 1TB SSD                                           

Display: 13.3-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge Touch Display

Ports: USB Type-C (x3), SD Card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack

Connectivity: Killer 1435 (802.11ac 2x2) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1           

Keyboard: Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; 1.3mm travel           

Weight: 1.23 kg

Dimensions: 11.6mm x 302mm x 199mm

Battery: 52wAh        

Audio: Stereo speakers professionally tuned with Waves MaxxAudio Pro

Webcam: Widescreen HD (720p) 2.25mm webcam with 4 array digital microphones

Price: Starts at $2499

Where to buy: Dell, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi

Design

Dell haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel this time around - and fair enough. The previous Dell XPS 13 laptops offered what many would call a winning formula - why should you change it?

And like predecessors, the new Dell XPS is a beast of two halves. The exterior layers of the laptop are hard metal. The interior layer is soft plastic. It’s a simple setup with effective results. You get the best aspects of both worlds. The Dell XPS 13 feels sturdy enough to take a hit, comfortable to use for long stretches and never, ever bulky.

Credit: Dell

The keyboard and trackpad here are another highlight. They’re not as clicky nor as clackish as a mechanical might be but, by laptop standards, they’re a definite highlight.

That being said, the immaculate sheen that graces the metal layer of the Dell XPS doesn’t take long to occur smudges and other micro-abrasions and, in terms of ports, the Dell XPS also suffers from the same overt minimalism you’ll find in most modern 13-inch ultrabooks.  There’s a headphone jack, a MicroSD slot and a trio of USB Type-C ports - one of which can be used for charging and one of which support display out and eGPUs. The Dell XPS 13 does a lot with a little but, at the same time, it has to be said that there is only a little here. If you need traditional USB ports,you're going to have to invest in a dongle.

There are two speakers built into the underside of the XPS 13. They sound OK. They don’t sound awful and they’re easy to accidentally cover up but I feel like if I was using a laptop like this, I’d probably be relying on headphones most of the time. There are laptops that handle this aspect of the experience but I suspect that this particular aspect isn't going to be a massive deal-breaker for a lot of people.

Credit: Dell

In contrast, the other part of the design that didn’t really thrill me here was that, even this far along the line, Dell haven’t really worked out how to replicate that magical opening experience that you can with a well-weighted Macbook.Whenever I'd open up the XPS 13, there'd always be that moment of fumbling.

Performance

In practice, as well as on paper, the new Dell XPS 13 very much follows in the footsteps of its predecessor. It’s super-light when it comes to pre-installed bloatware and all your usual applications load with an appealing snappiness.

Web browsing is a blast and media playback looks gorgeous on the XPS 13’s 13.3-inch 4K InfinityEdge Touch display. Moment to moment, the experience offered by the Dell XPS 13 is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to modern laptops.

Unfortunately, the one area where it falls short is gaming. We could get stuff like Artifact and Hearthstone running at an acceptable frame-rate but that’s about it. Still, you can always hook the XPS 13 up to an eGPU if you want to do more with it on that front.

And when it came to the usual benchmarks, the Dell XPS 13 manages to hold its ground - although I would have liked to see it put some pressure on the competition. Across the board, the Dell XPS 13 managed to keep pace with fare like Huawei’s Matebook X Pro, the new Razer Blade Stealth and the HP Spectre Folio.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

As far as battery life goes, our experience with this latest Dell XPS 13 laptop let us down.

When subjected to our usual Battery Eater testing tool, which gauges the minimum battery life of a given notebook PC, the Dell XPS 13 took 2 hours and 14 minutes to run down from one-hundred to zero. This is well below not just other competing laptops but also the previous Dell XPS 13, which scored just shy of four hours back when we tested it in 2018.

There’s a good chance that these results were significantly swayed by the higher resolution screen on our review model - so if battery life is a priority, it’s probably worth taking the 1080p display route.

The Bottom Line

This year’s Dell XPS 13 isn’t all that different from last year’s Dell XPS 13 - and that’s not a bad thing. However, it feels like any and all improvements here are incremental - and given that a 9th-gen equipped follow-up is all but inevitable, it leaves this iteration of the Dell XPS 13 in a curious place.

For most users, the 2018 and 2017 counterparts of this year’s XPS 13 will probably do the job just as well. For power users, it’s probably going to be worth holding out for the 9th Gen chips in the next version of the XPS 13.

For everyone else who want the best XPS 13 right this second, this’ll do.

Credit: Dell

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