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 review 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, this is one of the best ever seen on any laptop.
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.
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 are whiter, without that yellowish tinge. There’s also higher 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 on the display.
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 we are used to getting at least eight hours from a computer even if there’s almost nothing in the tank at the end of the working day. At least that’s the MacBook Air experience.
In testing the XPS 13 Touch worked for a full ten hours before it ran out. That’s more than twice the working time you get 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 it lasts for perhaps eight and a half, maybe nine hours.
Dell’s battery does a better job than many alternatives when it comes to managing 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 per cent power and was good for more than eight hours of 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. It is powerful by any standard and provides far more grunt than we’ve seen in Ultrabook-class devices before now. It is also responsible for that long, long battery life. Overall, the XPS 13 Touch is noticeably faster than any direct Windows 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. The key action is closer to what you see on hybrids than on laptops. There is not enough travel for my taste. I’m an old school touch-typist, so this may not bother you.
During the review the laptop froze on several occasions. Something similar happened with the Surface Pro 4. This could be a Windows 10 problem that has 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. The first few days with the review machine were marred by constant nagging messages trying to extract more money.
It may be understandable for laptop makers to load up sub-$500 computers with third-party software in an attempt to recover margins, it’s not appropriate on a business machine costing the thick end of three grand. This does not happen with Apple or with Surface.
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 laptops 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.
Dell XPS 13 Touch – 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.