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The New Dell XPS 13 Is So Good

Dammit, I like the Dell XPS 13 again.

I never hated it—the laptop is too good to inspire hatred (though the placement of the webcam, which only seems to capture your chin in videos, comes close). But despite great battery life and a design that created an industry standard, the XPS 13 has been really boring. Yet this new white and rose gold XPS 13 feels totally refreshed and refined. More like a high polished machine laptop from Samsung or Google than from Dell. The 4K touch display framed by a white bezel makes it feel more like a smartphone than a yawn-inducing laptop, in a weird but good way. This design is so good that the rock solid laptop underneath feels like a surprise—as if design and function are rarely married together as nicely as in this new Dell XPS 13.

The Dell XPS 13 line has been good for a while. In 2015, Dell did a major refresh that introduced the “Infinity Edge” display. That’s Dell-speak for super slim bezels. Because the 13-inch display was taking up so much less space, the laptop itself could get smaller, which meant you could have a 13-inch device with the footprint of a 12-inch one. That refreshed XPS 13 design quickly kicked off a trend in laptop design—to the point that computer manufacturers now actually brag about how slim their bezels are, as if we were talking about a smartphone.

But this year, Dell introduced a rose gold version with white bezels and keyboard. White laptops are nothing new, but the white is usually cheaper plastic, and it’s usually found on laptops geared toward budget-minded people like poor college students (the Google Pixelbook is a welcome exception). Until the new Dell XPS 13, you just didn’t find white laptops with an 8th-Gen i7 processor, 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM, and a 4K touch display, all wrapped up in a $1900 package. With those specs and that price, you’d expect to get a silver and black aluminum device with a unibody design that’s probably ripped off from Apple.

You’re supposed to get professional and kind of boring—a laptop that looks like every other laptop at the coffee house or the conference. Dell is giving you professional and kind of fun.

The panel around the keyboard is made of the same kind of carbon fiber found the in normal silver model. Only Dell didn’t give this white one a smooth finish. Instead you can feel each bump of the visible fibers. Meanwhile the backlight on the keys is uneven, with some keys more brightly lit than others. They have that telltale Dell feel with each keypress, too: satisfying, but just a little soft—like there’s a sponge hidden beneath the key.

Yet your eyes aren’t going to be on the squishy keys, they’re going to be on the 4K display. It’s wrapped in that white bezel—and the way a white bezel looks next to a vibrant display is what really makes this look appealing for me. As I said, it’s sort of reminiscent of a phone, but phones usually aren’t 4K. They don’t let you use Windows and actually get real work done. So some part of the brain remains incredulous.

The display itself is standard Dell fare, which means its really good-looking, if a little cooler than I’d prefer straight out of the box. That 4K resolution (that’s 3840 x 2160) on a 13-inch laptop feels ridiculously luxurious. It makes the 2560 x 1600 13.3-inch display on my Macbook Pro feel cramped by comparison.

Thanks to the 8th-Generation i7 processor, this laptop plays 4K films from Netflix just fine. It even did well on our benchmarks. That’s where I compared it with my late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch bar, and the 1080p version of the Dell XPS 13. The two XPS laptops have the same processor, but the 4K version has 8GB more RAM, 256GB more storage, and a much higher resolution display. So it should cream the 1080p version in a lot of general processing tests but potentially lose out on games, and both should absolutely crush the poor MacBook Pro.

And that’s exactly what happen. The 4K Dell XPS 13 did way better in our synthetic benchmarks, which best approximates stuff like browsing the web, and messing with big documents. Yet when we moved over to games and tested out Civilization VI, the 4K screen meant it took an average 11.15 milliseconds longer to render frames (both Dells were still more than twice as fast as the Apple laptop).

The 4K XPS13 was also creamed by the 1080p XPS 13 in our battery life test. We set each display to a brightness of 200 nits and then played back a YouTube video at 1080p until the computer powered down. The 4K XPS 13 powered down after 9 hours and 28 minutes. The 1080p variant lasted a ridiculous 13 hours and 24 minutes, which also makes it the laptop with the best battery life we’ve tested so far.

We reached out to Dell about the wild difference in battery life and were told that that is expected. The 4K XPS 13 is powering a 4K display with touch, and it uses a lower capacity battery, according to Dell. That’s gonna shave some time off its life, but even performing so poorly compared to the 1080p version, it’s still one of the best performing laptops we’ve tested. The average battery life for a laptop in our test is just 8 hours and 19 minutes.

So yeah, you’re going to be pay for that fancy 4K display. This is not a laptop that comes cheap. At $1900, it’s a $500 more than the non-touch 1080p version (though that $500 also gets you 256GB more storage and 8GB more RAM than the 1080p variant).

Thankfully, the really eye-catching feature of the new Dell—the white and rose gold color options are available in every new Dell XPS 13, including the $1000 one—though that $1000 version is also hamstrung by having just a 128GB SSD and only 4GB of RAM. The better outfitted XPS 13 starts at $1200, and for that price the Dell XPS is absolutely worth it, particularly in rose gold. This is one good looking laptop… now, if only they’d move the webcam so it didn’t shoot video of my chin.

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