The XPS 13 is probably Dell’s most popular laptop, perhaps not in terms of “units shipped” because it is a high-end product, but in terms of branding and overall product halo, it is right there at the top. We got the latest XPS 13 (model 9300), and we will review how it performed in our tests.
Configuration as tested
Our particular review unit is configured with the following components: Intel Core i7-1065G7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and costs approximately ~$1449.99 on the Dell website.
System configuration options
Dell proposes a large array of configurations going from the 10th generation of Intel Core i3 to Intel Core i7, with 8, 16, and 32GB of memory. Storage options are 256GB, 512GB and 1TB.
As a result, the entry-level model is $999.99, while the fully loaded one costs more than $2000 on Dell’s website. We could not select a 32GB of RAM option, so we do not know the actual price of that configuration.
All systems also feature Killer AX1650 WiFi and Bluetooth 5.1 for the purists, but these are typically not swaying factors.
Industrial Design: ultra-compact, ultra-performant
The Dell XPS 13 is known for its compact form-factor and excellent industrial design. For that reason, it is often mentioned as a potential “MacBook Pro 13 Killer”, and there is a lot of truth to that if you are willing to use Windows.
We met with the Dell design team and got a close look inside the laptop and background information about the various changes and technical challenges associated with this new model.
It is impressive how much technology Dell was able to fit in such a small space. It is more compact than the MacBook Air, which is often thought of a reference for small 13.3-inch laptops. The XPS 13 leaves the MacBook Air in the dust because it uses the latest processor design from Intel.
“THE XPS 13 LEAVES THE MACBOOK AIR IN THE DUST”
Both laptops share the same weight, but the XPS 13 is more compact. In the common comparisons that the XPS 13 is going through, the Lenovo X1 Carbon is significantly lighter at 1090g vs. 1270g. Still, the X1 Carbon is also considerably larger, because of its 14” display and also because of a focus towards sturdiness (MIL-STD-810G certified).
To achieve such a feat, Dell explored every possible solution to save space and pushed laptop industrial design to its limit to produce this new XPS 13 (9300).
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard has large keys and is very comfortable to use. It does not have features such as curved surfaces, but the key-travel (~1mm?) and tactile feedback are both very decent.
My favorite feature of the keyboard is its backlighting, which creates a soft halo around the keys, in addition to lighting up the character at the center. I am sure that this detail was quite challenging to integrate, and I wish that other OEMs would copy it in the future.
The Dell XPS 13 model 9300 only has two USB-C ports. Fortunately, both support Thunderbolt 3, the fastest and most versatile protocol that enables multi-monitor, high-speed storage, and even external GPUs sometimes.
That said, you might still run into the issue of forgetting your USB-C dongle, for simple things like connecting to a projector, or even using a simple USB key storage device.
If your work requires constant use of USB-A and full-size HDMI/monitor ports, you might want to take a minute to evaluate the downside of not having these ports built-in. However, that is the price to pay for having an ultra-compact laptop.
The sound quality of the Dell XPS 13 is quite good, especially for a laptop of that size. You will not have any issues watching movies and placing high-quality video calls.
However, we did notice some distortion in acute sound if you crank the volume up past ~70%. I think that both the Huawei Matebook X Pro and the Lenovo Yoga C940 designs do have better audio and remain the top laptops in that regard.
The Dell XPS 13 (9300) has a great IPS LCD display with excellent color reproduction (100% sRGB coverage), decent brightness (268 NITs), along with incredibly good contrast and color uniformity that get 4.5/5 and 4.5/5 according to our SpyderXElite monitor analysis.
“IMPRESSIVELY THIN BEZELS”
The bezels are impressively thin, and that’s one of the reasons why the XPS 13 can be so insanely compact: you cannot make a laptop smaller than the display size, including the bezels, and that’s the ultimate place to optimize right now.
The Dell XPS 13 2020 webcam is relatively standard from an image quality standpoint, but how small the camera module is, is quite remarkable (for a laptop). I’m guessing that in-screen webcams will be the next frontier.
In 2020, several OEMs, including Dell and HP, are using extremely small camera modules in their laptops, which allows you to have a thin bezel and top-mounted webcam at the same time.
Pen (or the lack of)
The XPS 13 9300 does not come with a pen and is not compatible with a digital pen. You can use a simple rubber-tip pen that simulates a touch-screen interaction.
Dell has another laptop, the XPS 13 2-in-1 (model 7390), which is compatible with the Dell Premium Active Pen. If you do Creative Work and require a pen, you might want to look at that one too.
XPS 13 Speed
There are relatively small computing speed variations between laptops that run on the same processor. Generally, the benchmarks should be more about what “class” of laptops you are looking at, rather than trying to over-analyze a small 5% difference here and there.
According to our research, a lot of people are comparing the Dell XPS 13 with the Dell XPS 15, and that is why we’re going to add the 15-inch version numbers here because there are significant speed differences to highlight.
Our Dell XPS 13 Core i7 unit performed very well against other popular computers people often compare it with (according to Google), namely the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and the MacBook Air 13. While the Microsoft laptop is not far behind, the MacBook Air’s aging processor design can be acutely felt in synthetic benchmarks such as Geekbench 5.
“OUR DELL XPS 13 CORE I7 UNIT PERFORMED VERY WELL”
The XPS 15 data reveals a couple of sway factors: multicore CPU and graphics performance, which are both much higher than the fastest version of XPS 13. Honestly, if you are going to edit videos, you should also consider the Dell XPS 17.
That is not surprising because the XPS 15 has a higher-performing CPU option and a discrete graphics processor. The large chassis allows for much better thermal management, and if you want superior “absolute performance,” the XPS 15 is the obvious choice between these two.
XPS 13 Battery Life
The XPS 13 9300 has a battery capacity of 52 Wh, which is very comparable in its category, and virtually all the close competitors have a similar battery size.
In the PCMark10 “Modern Office” battery test that executes productivity tasks continuously, this laptop lasted for ~14h41mn, which is quite impressive.
We measured the battery charge speed at 34Wh per 60mn of charge, which is ordinary. For example, the Lenovo Yoga C940 has a charging speed of 42Wh per 60mn – that’s significantly faster (~23%), so things could be better here.
On the other hand, the Dell XPS 13’a power supply is tiny and more comfortable to carry around.
Fast charging is particularly useful to frequent travelers or highly mobile users who cannot access an electric outlet easily. For people who go to a meeting here and there, it is not as critical.
The Dell XPS 13 is the best ultra-compact 13.3” laptop and deserves its excellent reputation. It is a fabulous all-around computer that cuts no corners, and even though you might complain about the lack of a USB-A port, there are no real alternatives (at this size) that feature a USB-A port.
The performance relative to the size is also particularly good, and it packs quite a punch for an ultra-compact. The display quality is also good enough to get some creative work done, although I tend to think that the XPS 15 would be a much better Creative laptop if budget is not a problem.
“THE BEST ULTRA-COMPACT 13.3 INCH”
If you are considering the MacBook Air and do not mind using Windows, the XPS 13 is better than the MacBook Air in every way, except that it will not run macOS.
The $800 Surface Laptop 13.5” offers a remarkably attractive performance/value proposition, but please evaluate if the 128GB of SSD storage is enough. I find it to be too tight.
If the form-factor suits your usage and if the Dell XPS 13 fits within your budget, we highly recommend it as it is a lovely 13.3-inch laptop.
Although we have not tested all flavors of this laptop, the different configurations are small speed/price variations so that you can optimize the value of a potential purchase.
Overall product rating: 9.8/10