I’ve reviewed a lot of laptops for Digital Trends over the last several years, and it’s been great. But there’s been a gaping hole in my experience — I’d never had the opportunity to review a Dell XPS laptop, which had been quite the disappointment. Imagine my excitement, then, when I was assigned the Tiger Lake refresh of the Dell XPS 13 to review.
I was sent a fairly high-end, $1,550 configuration of the XPS 13 9310 — the base price is $1,150 –with a quad-core 11th-gen Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.4-inch Full HD display in Dell’s new 16:10 aspect ratio. I know my editor, Luke Larsen, loves the XPS 13 and has consistently rated it the best laptop on the market. I wondered: Would I feel the same?
OK, after spending some time with the new XPS 13, I get it. The latest versions really are well-designed laptops. I say this because I hadn’t had a chance to spend much time with one until my review unit arrived, and while I trust Luke to perform a thorough and accurate review, it’s the rare laptop that I believe deserves the perfect score he assigned to the last version.
From a design perspective, it’s perfectly proportioned, and it has just enough aesthetic elements mixed in to elevate its otherwise simple design. Seriously, compared to the HP Spectre x360 13 (the XPS 13’s strongest competitor, in my opinion) with its gem-cut design and standout color schemes, the XPS 13 seems downright streamlined. While I love the HP, and in fact consider it one of my favorites, I can appreciate what Dell has done with the XPS 13 as well. There’s not an unnecessary line or angle anywhere on the laptop’s chassis — it just looks right. My review unit is the arctic white model, with a woven glass fiber palm rest that’s not only comfortable but looks great. The new aluminum striping along the sides adds a little flair, and the tiny bezels — which wrap all the way around the display thanks to the 16:10 aspect ratio — are as modern as you can get.
And, yes, the build quality is superb. The laptop feels just like a premium laptop should — although it’s manufactured from different materials, like glass and metal and glass fiber, it’s all been somehow fused into one cohesive whole. There’s no bending, twisting, or flexing anywhere. Other laptops can boast the same, such as the Spectre x360 13 and competitive Asus laptops, but there’s no doubt that the XPS 13 is firmly ensconced among the best of the bunch. That includes you, MacBook Pro.
Dell also put some extra effort into ensuring durability, including by double-dipping the side aluminum in the anodizing process so that you won’t be scratching the surface every time you plug in a peripheral. And the hinge opens easily with one hand and then tightens up at just the right moment to hold the display firmly in place.
Compared to the previous XPS 13 (not the last version but the one before it), the laptop is thinner at 0.58 inches compared to 0.62 inches, which is significantly thinner than the Spectre x360 13’s 0.67 inches. It’s the tiniest bit heavier than the earlier generation at 2.8 pounds versus 2.7 pounds, and the Spectre x360 13 tops them both at 2.88 pounds. Frankly, these are minute differences, and if you hold the XPS 13 next to the Spectre x360 13. you’ll find it just the tiniest bit deeper and the slightest bit less wide. As far as real-life use goes, they’re essentially identical in how tiny they feel when you’re carrying them around and using them on your lap.
I will fault the XPS 13 a bit for its connectivity, which comprises just two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support (in the Tiger Lake manifestation) and a microSD card reader. The Spectre x360 13 also gives you two Thunderbolt 4 ports (in its most recent iteration), as well as a USB-A 3.1 port for your legacy devices. Make sure you carry around the included USB-C to USB-A dongle that Dell tosses in the box. Of course, there’s also Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 on hand to make sure your wireless connectivity is as up to date as possible.