April 23, 2024


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Dell XPS 13 (2018) review: A redesign that’s almost on the nose

Update: Summer 2018

The redesigned 2018 Dell XPS 13 was unveiled in January 2018 and released that same month. Pricing is unchanged since its launch, starting at $1,000. Although midrange configurations have seen temporary price cuts around $100, the top-end configuration keeps its price of $2,100 (or $2,150 if you opt for the white-and-gold version).

Touted as “the world’s smallest 13-inch laptop,” the XPS 13 is our top choice for a premium Windows ultraportable laptop at its size, due in part to its speedy performance and 12-hour battery life. That’s not to say it’s without competition, though. 

HP’s premium Spectre 13 is similarly priced and, like the XPS 13, runs on the Intel’s eighth-gen processors and is available in a gold-and-white body. HP also updated its Envy line of premium laptops including a 13.3-inch model that starts at $1,000. Asus offers a nice alternative to those models with its 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN. It’s not as small, but beats them both by having discrete graphics instead of less-powerful integrated graphics. 

As for Apple, there haven’t been any significant changes to its lineup in some time, so if you’re dead set on having a MacOS laptop, you’ll want to hold off.  

The best 13-inch laptops you can buy right now

The full review of the Dell XPS 13, originally posted March 7, 2018 and last updated June 22, 2018, follows.

Long a favorite in the CNET Labs, the Dell XPS 13 was one of the first laptops to challenge the tyranny of the screen bezel. At least in a PC. Big-screen TVs have been shaving away at the thick borders around screens for years now, but for laptops, it was something of a revelation.

It also helped that the XPS 13 was a great all-around computer, with a slim, sharp-looking body, good performance and battery life, and a wide set of configuration options.

In the couple of years since then, the XPS 13, always a bit on the heavy side, had started to feel a little dated. New MacBooks ($850 at Best Buy), new Spectre systems from HP and other premium competitors were moving the ball further on design, even as this remained a solid, if less-exciting choice.


Sarah Tew/CNET

For 2018, Dell has issued a substantial reworking of the XPS 13, with a new design that cuts down on overall size, adds new CPU options, and improves cooling and efficiency with more heat pipes and thermal insulation.

We tested two different configurations of the XPS 13. One has an 8th-gen Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1,920×1,080 non-touch display, for $1,249. The second has a Core i7 CPU/16GB/512GB setup, with a 4K touch display, for $2,099. The least-expensive configuration is $999, less than half the fare of the high-end version. International configurations are slightly different, but start at £1,249 and AU$2,099. 

Overall, it’s a solid evolutionary step for a storied laptop. Most of the changes are for the good, a few feel like step back, and a couple of the system’s most irritating quirks remain, annoyingly, unchanged. 

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018)

Price as reviewed $1,299
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920×1,080 display
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8520U
Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018)

Price as reviewed $2,099
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 3,840×2,160 touch display
CPU 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U
Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

The nose knows

Those quirks include the single biggest issue everyone has with the XPS 13: its unique up-the-nose webcam. By making the screen bezel so thin, there’s no room for the traditional webcam above the screen. That’s OK with me, but our age of YouTube stars and Skype calls insists that every laptop have video capabilities, so that webcam has to go somewhere.

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