Dell XPS 13 Touch: Give my regards to Broadwell

Not everyone wants to move on from Windows laptops. Dell makes a case for staying with the touch-screen XPS 13 Touch.

The XPS 13 Touch is a business class Ultrabook at a business class price: the reviewed model costs NZ$2800.

A dazzling 13.3-inch quad HD+ display sets the XPS 13 Touch apart from the Ultrabook pack.

To infinity… and beyond

Dell calls this an infinity edge display. There is almost no bezel — that’s the frame around the screen. So the pixels go almost to the edge of the laptop lid.

Which means, in effect, Dell crams a 13-inch display into an 11-inch case. The XPS 13 Touch is smaller than a MacBook Air 13, but with a similar screen size.

And what a screen it is. While most premium computers have impressive displays, I don’t think I’ve seen one this good on any laptop.

Beats Retina

It has 3200 by 1800 pixels. That’s more than a Retina MacBook Pro. It makes for a high pixel density. That means crisper, easier to read text along with more image detail.

Although it also means tiny barely readable text when Windows fails to adjust to the resolution — something that happened a few times during testing.

Bright

Another notable feature of the display is its brightness. When compared to other similar size screens, the XPS 13 Touch seems far brighter. The white spots seem whiter, without that yellowish tinge. There’s also better contrast.

You can get the same effect from other displays by tinkering with the settings. The XPS 13 Touch does all that for you. It has adaptive brightness. This feature automatically optimises depending on external light conditions and the content being displayed.

While this may be troublesome for, say, professional image work, it makes life easier for those of us who use computers to browse, handle mail and run business productivity apps like Microsoft Office.

All day battery life and then some

The other impressive feature is the XPS 13 Touch’s battery life. These days I’m used to getting eight hours from a computer even if there’s almost nothing in the tank at the end of the working day.

I found the XPS 13 Touch worked for ten hours before it ran out. That’s more than twice the working time I managed with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. It’s the same that I got from my 13-inch MacBook Air when it was new — these days I get perhaps eight and a half, maybe nine hours.

Dell’s battery does a better job than many alternatives when it comes retaining power. I left a fully charged XPS 13 Touch on my desk through the long Auckland Anniversary weekend. When I returned on Tuesday morning, it still had about 90 percent power and was good for more than eight hours work. In contrast, the Surface Pro 4 would lose almost all of its charge over the same period.

Another plus point: the charger works fast by laptop standards. It can recharge an empty battery in less than two hours.

Give my regards to Broadwell…

Processor chips are rarely worth mentioning in laptop reviews any more. Away from the bargain basement, everything runs faster than most of us need for everyday computing.

That’s not the case here.

The review model has a Core i7–5500U running at 2.5 GHz. That’s powerful by any standard and provides far more grunt than I’ve seen in any Ultrabook-class device. It is also responsible for that long, long battery life. Overall the XPS 13 Touch is noticably faster than any direct rival.

Dell uses Intel’s latest 14 nm Broadwell chip technology. It’s fast by any standards and tiny. It is also responsible for the excellent battery performance. There’s a graphics chip which means the XPS 13 Touch can handle games at high resolution.

What’s not so good?

A few aspects of the XPS 13 Touch are less impressive. While the backlit keyboard is solid and serviceable, it feels cramped. It’s a loser in the trade-off between size and comfort. I found the key action is more like I see on hybrids than on laptops with not enough travel for my taste. I’m an old school touch-typist, so this may not bother you.

During the review I ran into a couple of freezes. I saw something similar with the Surface Pro 4. I’m beginning to think this is a Windows 10 problem and nothing to do with hardware. If you can shed light on this please do so in the comments.

You may also not be bothered by the crapware Dell loads on the computer. I am. My first few days with the machine were marred by constant nagging messages trying to extract more money from me.

While it may be understandable for laptop makers to load up sub-$500 computers with third-party software in an attempt to recover costs, it’s not appropriate on a business machine costing the thick end of three grand.

Touching pain

Dell offers three versions of the XPS 13, only one has touch. There are touchless models selling for NZ$2000 and $2200. Both have i5 processors instead of i7.

I’m not convinced of the value of touch on a Windows laptop. Yes, Windows 10 is designed for touchscreen computing, but I found I barely touched the screen at all during my first days with the review computer. The TouchPad is better than I’ve seen on other Windows laptop and does a great job.

Touch works great on tablets, but lifting your hand from the keyboard to the screen is unnatural. You may disagree.

When I made a conscious effort to touch the screen — and it never felt anything other than forced — I quickly ran into problems with muscle pain in my shoulder and at the top of my right arm. It seems there’s a whole new world of occupational overuse syndrome opening up right there.

Verdict

If you want a premium touch-screen Windows laptop for business, Dell’s XPS 13 Touch is the best option at the moment. It’s powerful, small and light with a great screen.

While the power of an i7 processor is tempting, if I was spending my own money I’d save myself $600 and choose the touchless i5 version.

7 thoughts on “Dell XPS 13 Touch: Give my regards to Broadwell

  1. I’m on a Latitude E7440 with touch and find it hard to go back to a computer without touch. My MacBook Pro at home has all kinds of finger prints on the screen because I forget it is there. It’s more natural than you think once it registers that you can touch the screen.

    • It’s odd, I find touch feels natural on the iPad Pro even when the keyboard is attache. Likewise it seemed natural on the Surface Pro. But with the XPS the touchpad works so much better most of the time that touching the screen feels perverse (and painful).

  2. I got the touch less version and only complaint is its ability to ID and connect to my iPhone 4 hotspot over 3G. Works sometimes, other times your patience is tested.

  3. Great to know about the res. I remember buying a Dell laptop in 2001 that had 1,600 by 1,280 pixels, thinking that was the standard then. (It still works, 15 years on.) Seems they give you bang for the buck when it comes to screens. What’s the keyboard like, Bill? I’m not a fan of chiclets but if it works well, then that would be a huge selling point for me.

  4. Hi Jack

    I’m a touch typist and, because I learned to type on manual typewriters, heavy handed. I prefer the keyboard on the Macbook Air. While the XPS 13 Touch keyboard is serviceable, there’s not enough travel for me and it’s more cramped than I like. I’m not comfortable if I have to keep looking at the keys to check where I am. If you’re an standard PC typist you’ll probably get by fine, it may be difficult to find a model for hands on experience before buying one of these.

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