Dell gave its XPS laptop an overhaul last year, but 2019 is all about refinement. Announced at CES, this year’s XPS 13 laptop looks largely the same as the 2018 model, but it has a few new and improved features that attempt to right some of the wrongs of the previous generation.
The “wrong” that we’ve harped on the most since the XPS line arrived was its up-nose webcam. That strange webcam placement became a mainstay on the XPS 13 for years—even when other Dell laptops didn’t have it. Finally, Dell has done away with that and managed to stick a custom-made, minuscule webcam inside the top, thread-thin bezel of the XPS 13’s display.
Those who don’t use laptop webcams may roll their eyes at this change, but it’s an important one to call out especially when discussing Dell’s newest edition of its flagship laptop. With that change and others, Dell is hoping it has created a near-perfect Ultrabook. But how close has the company actually gotten to achieving that goal?
Look and feel
We’ll discuss the new webcam and its location in a bit—but first, let’s take a look at the mostly unchanged exterior of the XPS 13. We reviewed the new alpine-white model with a frost-colored lid, which features the same woven fiberglass palm rest as last year’s model. The device also comes in a black carbon-fiber model and a new white model with a rose-gold lid.
However, all models have the same general design. Most striking is the palm-rest area that has an almost basket-weave pattern to it. The texture of it is most pronounced on the white models, giving it a pleasant tactile feel that’s just smooth enough to not interrupt your daily use of the machine.
|Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 13 laptop (2019)|
|Screen||13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) Infinity Edge non-touch display||13.3-inch 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) Infinity Edge touchscreen||13.3-inch 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) Infinity Edge touchscreen|
|OS||Windows 10 Home, 64 bit|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-8145U||Intel Core i7-8565U||Intel Core i7-8565U|
|RAM||4GB LPDDR3||16GB LPDDR3||16GB LPDDR3|
|HDD||128GB PCIe SSD||2TB PCIe SSD||512GB PCIe SSD|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
|Networking||Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||2 Thunderbolt 3 ports (PowerShare DC-In, DisplayPort, 4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3), 1 USB Type C 3.1 port (PowerShare DC-In, DisplayPort), headset jack, Noble lock slot, microSD card slot|
|Size||11.9 x 7.8 x 0.46 in (302 x 199 x 11.6 mm)|
|Other perks||Fingerprint sensor on power button, four mics (Cortana use), Dell Cinema (Color, Sound, Stream), Dolby Vision support|
Dell XPS 13 (9380)
Dell may use satin metallic finishes on the lid of the XPS 13 (like so many OEMs are doing now), but I appreciate the understated flare that the woven fiberglass gives the XPS 13. It’s unique to Dell’s premium line, and it prevents the machine from looking like just another metal slab. I’m still a bit cautious about the alpine-white models, because they could be susceptible to dirt and grime over time. But Dell still outfitted these versions with stain-resistant coatings that should prevent increasing dinginess.
The XPS 13 shines with its display, mostly thanks to the Infinity Edge bezels that surround it. Dell shrank the side bezels to 4mm each, making them 23 percent smaller than those on last year’s laptop. The 16:9 aspect ratio will bother those who hate scrolling, and even I have to admit it seems narrow (that feeling comes after recently testing numerous Ultrabooks with 3:2 aspect-ratio screens). That panel decision may even be a dealbreaker for some, but it will suit others who use their laptop as an entertainment device (Dolby Vision support will make watching some movies and TV shows better, too).
The 13.3-inch display comes in FHD non-touch, FHD touch, and 4K touch-panel options, providing users some variety. Since this is the regular XPS laptop rather than the XPS 13 two-in-one, a touchscreen isn’t necessary for some users. I rarely think to use a touchscreen when I’m working on a regular laptop, and some like me will prefer to save a few bucks and opt for the non-touch option. Others, though, can choose from a standard FHD touchscreen or a 4K panel with 100 percent sRGB color gamut. Our review unit had the 4K touchscreen option, and it looks just as lovely as you’d expect.
The panels also have a 65 percent anti-reflective coating on them, increasing visibility at different angles. While it’s not as good as the etched-glass anti-glare panels on HP’s new Elitebook, it lets you view most of the screen at different angles and even when it’s exposed to some sunlight. I wouldn’t take the XPS 13 outside on a brightly lit day to work, though, as staring at the screen for hours would probably hurt your eyes.
That webcam, and connectivity
The display still has a wide chin at its bottom, but at least the webcam no longer blemishes that area. Only the Dell logo sits in the middle of the bottom bezel, while an impressively small HD webcam sits atop the screen, embedded into the top bezel.
Dell created its own 2.25mm webcam for the new XPS 13: It has a four-element lens for increased sharpness, active alignment for better focus, and temporal noise reduction for improved video quality even in low-light environments. I noticed all of these effects when using the webcam, and I was particularly impressed with the overall sharpness of my feed during video chats. While it won’t replace an optional, attached webcam of higher quality, it will serve those who need it for conference calls and video chats better than most laptop webcams.
Many users wouldn’t bat an eye if Dell had decided to remove the webcam entirely from the XPS 13. But doing so wouldn’t have been in the company’s best interest. Our laptops pull double-duty now more than ever, acting as personal and professional devices all day, every day. Removing the webcam would have alienated a big group of users who need a webcam for conference calls in their primary portable PC.
That’s why we continuously mentioned the up-nose cam as a feature that held the XPS 13 back. That ill placement was almost as bad as removing the webcam entirely, because it made the webcam effectively useless for those who needed it most. While those who only use a webcam on occasion to video chat with their faraway relatives, the up-nose angle wouldn’t mean much (it may have even been a humorous talking point). But for professionals who need to put their best face forward (literally) in video conferences, they couldn’t do so on earlier versions of this laptop.
The new webcam alone elevates the new XPS 13, but Dell’s other small design changes do as well. At 2.7 pounds, the device is lighter overall, and it essentially provides a 13.3-inch display in a laptop with an 11-inch footprint. It feels smaller and lighter than most Ultrabooks I’ve used, and its unique aesthetic will appeal to many.
But with its slim frame, the XPS 13 is also slim on connectivity (as many flagship Ultrabooks are today). Its right side holds one USB-C 3.1 port, one microSD card slot, and one headphone jack. The left side holds two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a lock slot, and a handy battery gauge. I still wish Dell included one USB-A port, but the dimensions of the laptop make that simply impossible.