Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Review

Connectivity options

To achieve the thickness that the XPS 13 has, Dell had to cut down on a considerable amount of expansion ports. For starters there are just 2 USB ports. Much like the MacBook Air, the XPS 13 also skips out the RJ-45 Ethernet connector. Also missing is the usual array of headphone/microphone jacks, eSATA, & VGA/HDMI ports. Amusingly, even though the XPS comes with the usual assortment of CDs and DVDs, Dell has skipped on adding a DVD drive to maintain the slim form factor. There’s a mini DisplayPort  which drives the output to external screens. Thankfully, Dell provides a USB-to-Ethernet cable and a mini DisplayPort-to-VGA cable, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to connect to a LAN or connect to a projector to show a presentation. Dell has confirmed that the set of cables will be available across all the models.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The keyboard is pretty good featuring chicklet style keys. The response of the keys is fantastic and makes it a pleasure to type on it. The keys are backlit for easy typing at night-time/low light conditions and there’s a dedicated key to switch off/on the backlight as you wish. The Function Keys as well as LCD brightness, Media keys share the same row, requiring pressing of the Fn key to activate the desired action.

Dell XPS 13 Keyboard

The XPS 13 keyboard also features a quick shortcut to enter the Indian Rupee symbol – pressing the Right Alt key and then hitting 4 results in the INR symbol being entered. Definitely a nice touch. Couple of negative points about the keyboard – the arrow keys are very tiny and cramped and will cause a lot of problems for daily use. To compound this, the arrow keys also serve as the Home/ Page-Up/ Page-Down/ End keys. So if you’re used to a regular keyboard and use the Home/End keys very frequently as I do, you will get very frustrated by this placement.

As good as the keyboard is, the touchpad is pretty bad. The touchpad is multi-touch capable and fits as a slightly recessed pool just below the space bar. While good in theory, in practice, the touchpad is an utter mess, with no proper response. Now, I own a HP Envy 14 which features a similar touchpad and I’m very comfortable with it. But in comparison to the Envy, the XPS 13’s feels really bad. The response is uneven and unpredictable. The cursor either skips too fast or just does not respond at all. Two-finger scroll takes some time to get used to, but is quite alright to handle. I believe a couple of driver updates to the touchpad should improve the touchpad’s response.

Audio Quality

The XPS 13 is powered by Realtek’s audio solution. The built-in speakers were fairly loud, but not spectacular. There’s only one 3.5mm jack for connecting a headphone, but if you’re looking at connecting a microphone, you’re out of luck. You’ll have to rely on the built-in mic which isn’t that bad, but then again, doesn’t perform as well as a standalone mic.

Display Quality

The XPS 13 comes with a 13.3″, 300 nit, 1366×768 resolution  screen.  The display though bright, has a very poor viewing angle; so if you’re looking at giving a presentation to a group of people, the ones sitting at wide angles are unlikely to see anything.

The XPS screen also comes with auto-brightness adjustment feature which automatically increases/reduces the screen brightness based on the ambient brightness. The Intelligent Display mode, as Dell terms it, is nice in theory and is aimed at improving the battery life. In practice, however, the auto-brightness kicked in way too often and became more of a hindrance than a feature.

The screen bezel also features a 1.3MP webcam and comes with face recognition software which can be set as the primary authorization setting. The face recognition software by FastAccess took about 8-10 times to “learn” my face(though I have to admit, the background lighting was dim, making it harder to distinguish) but once trained, face recognition worked very well and was much more preferable than having to enter the password.

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Sathya Bhat

Sathyajith aka "Sathya" or "cpg" loves working on computers, and actively participates in many online communities. Sathya is a Community Moderator on Super User, a collaboratively maintained Q&A site which is part of the Stack Exchange network. Sathya also contributes to and is a Super Moderator at Chip India Forums. While not writing SQL queries or coding in PL/SQL, Sathya is also a gamer, a Linux enthusiast, and maintains a blog on Linux & OpenSource. You can reach Sathya on twitter.