Note: I’m going to be comparing the XPS to the MacBook a lot, simply because the MacBook Air is my only point of reference aside from an HP laptop I had several years ago.
Recently I went shopping around for a new Windows laptop. After using a MacBook Air exclusively for over a year, I wanted to have a PC again – mainly for gaming, but I didn’t want a thick, heavy laptop made specifically for gaming. Spoiled by the MacBook Air’s small, light size and long battery life, I wanted to see if I could find a PC with the same qualifications. At first I was going to get the Asus Zenbook, but after seeing that it had the Intel M processor, I looked elsewhere. I had heard negative things about the M processor, specifically in the new MacBook. I finally found what I was looking for: the Dell XPS 13.
There are two models of the XPS 13, and the main difference between the two is the screen. The model I bought, the cheaper $800 model, has an FHD 1920×1800 non-touch screen. The more expensive model at about $1300 has a QHD 3200×1800 touchscreen. There is one problem with the more expensive model that I’ve read about when it comes to Windows 10. Apparently the screen doesn’t scale very well, meaning that not only does it effectively give you a screen resolution of 1600×900, you see two black bars on the left and right of the screen unless you set the Zoom View to about 150%, which messes up the scale of third-party apps.
Dell XPS 13 Out Of The Box
The XPS 13 screams luxury in a way that was previously only afforded to Apple MacBooks. What is most interesting is the screen. Dell calls it an “Infinity Edge” screen, because the bezel is about half a centimeter thick. Basically, it’s a 13-inch screen in the body of an 11-inch laptop. The outside is made of aluminum, and the inside area around the keyboard is made of buttery-smooth carbon fiber. It’s very comfortable to rest my hands there as I’m typing.
The touchpad was very sensitive and responsive, and feels like it was made out of velvet. I also received 20Gb of free Dropbox storage for a year with my purchase, although it would’ve made more sense if it was OneDrive storage.
The keyboard is a dream to use. It’s backlit, which really should be standard in PCs. The keys are very springy, and you don’t have to press hard in order to type, so there’s no finger fatigue. I’m able to type much faster than I could on my MacBook Air, because the Air’s keys are a little mushier. There is also only one sticker on the front, which is nice. The rest of the stickers are on the bottom, hidden behind an attractive magnetic lid. One thing I find disconcerting are the hexalobe screws on the bottom, so this laptop is not tinker-friendly. Also on the bottom are two long, slightly raised rubber feet, instead of the usual four rubber feet. I like this much better as it provides a grip for your fingers.
I also love that SD card slot. My MacBook Air didn’t come with one, although earlier models did. As an amateur photographer it’s quicker to be able to plug my SD card in, instead of hooking my camera up via USB.
So far, the only negative thing I have to say about the XPS 13 is that I wish there was a bigger indentation in the bottom front of the laptop, like MacBooks do. Since the edges of the lid and body are flush with each other, sometimes it can be a little hard to open the lid. There is a slight finger-notch, which is lit up, but it’s not enough. The XPS 13 speakers sound very slightly tinny, and that’s because there is a small speaker grill on each side of the body, each about one-inch long. At the end of the power cord, it has two small lights that light up when it’s plugged in, which is great if you’re fumbling around in the dark for your cord. In front of the trackpad, there is a power light that lights up when you’re charging, and turns yellow when the battery is low.
I’m not sure if the XPS 13 is considered an Ultrabook or not, but given the light weight and thin design, I’m going to assume it is. Like other Ultrabooks, there aren’t a lot of ports. Because of the Infinity screen, the only room for the webcam is on the bottom left, which is an awkward position that lets video chat users look at your nose hair. Dell also insanely claims that this model gets 15 hours of battery life. I’m not sure where they got that, but in my use the XPS 13 got about 5-6 hours of battery life. It also depends on what you’re doing. Right now, playing music and writing this article gives me about 8 hours with 85% of battery remaining, and this is with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off. The battery indicator changes a lot though. One moment it will show 7 hours left, and the next moment 10 hours.
Windows 10 On The Dell XPS 13
Using this trick, I was able to immediately download and install Windows 10 without waiting for the natural update, and without having to reserve my place. Already there is a plethora of Windows 10 reviews, so I won’t say too much except that the download and installation process took about an hour, and it went down without problems.
I do want to mention that, while updating the pre-installed Dell Backup & Recovery app and simultaneously downloading the Office 2016 Preview, I did run into a problem. When the Dell app was done, it restarted my computer without any warning whatsoever, and since Office wasn’t finished, it screwed up my laptop to the point where I had to do an entire operating system reset. As annoying as that process was, some people say that you should do a reset with all new laptops, as it conveniently removes pre-installed junk.
The Windows 10 Phone Companion is nice, but using an iPhone with Windows is obnoxious. On both Mac OS X and Windows, iTunes is a bloated mess, and I sincerely wish I could use the Phone Companion to more easily transfer music and photos to and from the iPhone. You can dive into File Explorer to get your photos that way, but the folder is nested about three layers down; it isn’t just a simple one-click transfer to Photos. Of course, there’s also the Camera Roll option in OneDrive. Hopefully Apple will start playing nice with Microsoft, although I really doubt it. Since I try to stay platform-agnostic, that’s one less reason to get an iPhone.
Search in Windows 10 is fantastic. If you’re a Mac user who’s curious about Windows 10, know that Search now works almost as good as Spotlight. I say almost because in Spotlight you can do simple calculations, define a word and use the conversion tool, but on Windows 10 you’d need Cortana for those things. But you can easily search for and launch apps right from the Start Menu, and use natural language to search for documents, pictures, etc., like: “Show me photos from May 2014”.
Speaking of Cortana, Windows 10 brings her to the desktop for the first time. Is she better than Siri or Google Now? That depends. I don’t think it’s fair to compare either Cortana or Siri to Google Now, since Now is really just a personalized aspect of Google search, and not a true assistant.
However, I do think Cortana is just a tad better than Siri, and here’s why. First, she has a Notebook where she stores your interests, location and other things. Users can go into the Notebook and add/change things at any time. I also like being able to type out requests, and not just speak them. More importantly (and this gets a little esoteric so forgive me) I think Cortana is better when it comes to human-AI interpersonal communication, and that’s for two simple reasons:
- Cortana sounds more human than Siri, with better voice encoding, which is important as it lets users empathize with her just slightly more. (yes, I insist on calling Cortana “her” and not “it”.)
- Cortana has a face, and I’m not talking about her Halo persona. Even if her “face” is just a circle, it’s still a visual point of reference. Siri doesn’t have a face, she’s a disembodied voice. It’s the little things that matter.
An interesting thing I found in Cortana’s settings is called Taskbar tidbits: it lets Cortana “pipe up from time to time with thoughts and greetings from the Search box.” While it hasn’t happened to me yet, that sounds nice. It means that, when she “feels” like it, she’ll pop up to say hi or if she has something interesting to say, just like a human friend. Call me silly but as AI becomes more advanced, I kind of expect that from my devices now. Heck, just check out this short PDF where Google’s engineers have a conversation with the Brain, and find out that it identifies as a woman. Step aside Caitlyn Jenner.
I also noticed a handy trackpad gesture to bring up Cortana’s window: a three-finger tap. I’m not sure if this is a Windows 10 gesture, or a Dell XPS gesture. I’m also super excited that Microsoft will be bringing Cortana to both Android and iOS.
Gaming On The Dell XPS 13
Now, to my original purpose: gaming. The only PC game I have is the Sims 4, so I can’t give a comprehensive gaming review, but since the Sims 4 has heavy graphics, it should be sufficient. Speaking of games, if you’ve upgraded to Windows 10, check out the free special edition of Minecraft.
I played the Sims for about three hours on Low Settings, and during that time the fan would come on every once in a while. It’s very quiet so you hardly notice it, and although the XPS did get a little warm, it wasn’t uncomfortably so. I didn’t exhaustively test it but I’d say the Dell XPS 13 isn’t that bad of a gaming machine, although it’s obviously not meant for high-intensity gaming. When it comes to gaming on the XPS, the only negative thing I’ve encountered so far is the small storage space: at 128GB, you’ll probably run out of room unless you uninstall older games before you install new ones.
All in all, I’d say that the Dell XPS 13, no matter which model you get, is a very capable laptop. I have yet to fully explore what Windows 10 is capable of, as I haven’t delved too deeply yet. It still needs a lot of work, but Microsoft has already started providing cumulative updates. I think my next project will be seeing if I can dual boot this with Linux, and test Microsoft’s new trusted boot feature. Check out the XPS 13 on Dell’s website, or if you’d like to support TechDissected, use this Amazon link.