Editors’ note, March 28: After this review was published, Dell managed to address one of my few remaining complaints by adding an option for a 1,920×1,080-pixel touchscreen, now available as a $100 add-on to the base model. The previously published review from March 20 follows — including those reservations. We’ll revisit it in the coming days.
For years, the Dell XPS 13 was one of my go-to recommendations for a general-use slim Windows laptop. But it shared that list with equally good machines from HP, Acer and others. A handful of things kept it from being as universally useful as it should have been. Over the years, the size and weight had fallen behind the competition, and the slim screen bezels led to some unflattering webcam compromises.
The 2019 version, however, is another story.
I had to look long and hard to find anything I didn’t like about the. Pressed to come up with a list, I’d say the woven glass fiber palm rest doesn’t look or feel as high-end as it should. The white backlight shining through white keys (on the white and rose gold versions) sometimes makes it harder to see the keys, not easier. I originally complained that in order to get a touchscreen model you have to trade up to a 4K display (which is more expensive and not as battery-friendly), but since then, Dell has added a 1,920x,1,080-pixel touchscreen option, so you can cross one more thing off my list.
Other than that, with this latest version of the XPS 13, Dell has done nearly the impossible — it’s made a laptop I can find almost no fault with. Since Dell introduced ultrathin screen borders in its 2015 model (the XPS 13 has been around since 2012), the company has steadily been chipping away at my laundry list of complaints, making the XPS 13 smaller, lighter, more powerful. Thegot the size and weight down, and now for 2019, the most critical remaining issue has been taken care of.
The nose job
The system’s biggest knock has long been its webcam. Because of the very thin screen border (also called a bezel), the webcam had been relegated to a spot below the screen, rather than above it. That led to an unflattering up-the-nose angle that made the XPS 13 less useful for Skype calls, YouTube videos or any other video-recording or streaming needs.
After years of saying it was a problem impossible to solve while maintaining the thin bezel look, Dell has gone ahead and solved it. The new webcam somehow fits into that very slim top border, thanks to a new lens design that’s only 2.5mm high. That adds a hair to the width of the top screen border, but it’s a fair trade-off.
Even a few initial test shots show that the angle is much more natural, and the image is clear and noise-free. Both video and photo top out at 720p resolution, and if pressed, I’d prefer to see full 1,920×1,080 HD. But compared with a photo snapped from the previous-generation XPS 13, the difference is clear.
A familiar path for plugs
If you’re one of those people bothered by the rapid shift to USB-C in laptops at the expense of nearly every other type of port, well, the tide doesn’t look like it’s turning back anytime soon. Three USB-C ports here handle all the heavy lifting, including power, but two of them are also Thunderbolt ports for hooking up high-speed peripherals.
There’s still a microSD card slot, which is something of a rarity these days. That’s especially useful because the less expensive configurations include only 128GB of SSD storage, so at least you can shoehorn in some more hard drive space. The MacBook Air used to have an SD card slot, often used for the same reason. That, sadly, is no more.
The price is (mostly) right
If you were going to bid on this slim design with a high-end aluminum/carbon fiber body, multiple Thunderbolt ports, and nearly edge-to-edge screen in a Showcase Showdown, you could easily overbid. The new XPS 13 starts at $899, or $300 less than the base model MacBook Air ($370 at Amazon). UK prices start at £939, and a higher $2,069 in Australia.
But keep in mind the entry-level model loses some important features. The FHD (full HD, or 1,920×1,080) display is nontouch. The processor is a lower-end U-series Intel Core i3, and the 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD don’t feel especially future-proof, or even today-proof for some users.
It’s an absolute no-brainer to kick in an extra $100 to get you up to a current-gen Intel Core i5, which is the mainstream sweet spot. Upgrading to 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive is currently $1,209, making it a closer match to the latest MacBook Air, and probably the best value configuration.