With its 2018 XPS 13, Dell has managed to make a laptop that only the most demanding users will be able to find tangible fault in. There are some cheaper rivals, but it successfully undercuts Microsoft’s Surface range for value for money. Here is our review
If you need a compact, high performance Windows laptop, the 2018 Dell XPS 13 is the best laptop you can buy alongside the 8th-gen Lenovo Yoga 920. It is competitively priced, and even the high-end touchscreen Core i7 model at £1,649 is at least £300 cheaper than the same spec 13in MacBook Pro.
In fact, for value for money, it is a better purchase than the Microsoft Surface Laptop as you get Windows 10 Home rather than Windows 10S, as well as saving at least £500.
For all but the most hardcore gamers (for whom this laptop is not the target audience) and those who really do want USB-A connectivity, there is not a better Windows laptop on the market.
Price When Reviewed
The Dell XPS line has always been good, but this year it is now certainly great. The 2018 XPS 13 is the best laptop Dell has ever made, and boy has it made a few.
Comparing it to the MacBook is lazy – the XPS 13 is more powerful by some distance than Apple’s MacBook, the 12in rival of a similar price. In fact, the Core i7 XPS 13 we tested is the smoothest, fastest XPS ever and worthy of your consideration if you have the money to spend on a high-end laptop.
As normal, it is highly configurable at purchase. You can boost the processor, storage, RAM and display. Gets pricy, mind – the Core i7 version with 16GB we were lent by Dell also has a touchscreen and retails for
£1,699 in the UK or
$2,099.99 in the US.
Design and build
Barely had the press release been flung to every corner of the earth before the XPS 13 was bestowed with a CES Innovation Award. Just like last year. It seems Dell has cut a niche for building a high-end Windows laptop that looks good on an executive’s desk as well as performing well in all conditions.
And to be fair it does look the part. Whether or not you like the rose gold and white model is a matter of taste, but at least it stands out from the crowd compared to the uniform black version that is by now very familiar with its carbon fibre finish on the inside and slick silver exterior.
The casing is now 23% smaller, which is always good so long as it doesn’t affect performance, and the XPS 13 still feels as close to the premium build of MacBooks that a Windows machine has come, albeit with a more practical, less space-age design.
With simple lines, that just-about-subtle-enough carbon fibre effect on the inside and a sleek, completely flush 4mm bezel round the screen, it’s a good-looking piece of kit. The white model has a UV coating on it too, and Dell claims you can wipe permanent marker off either one should you have a frantic boardroom accident.
The bottom of the laptop (yes it matters) look much nicer than previous years, with Dell getting rid of all the legal text and other odd stickers to give a sleeker feel to the machine. When you’re spending this much, that stuff matters, so well done Dell, for leaving just the fan grates and the XPS logo.
The keyboard has a superb clacky yet springy feel to it while maintaining the slimmer profile of the base – there are no low travel butterfly keys you might find on a new MacBook or MacBook Pro. Add to that a fingerprint sensor in the power key and you have a mighty fine design, refined for 2018 needs.
Less fun is the webcam placement, now under the Dell logo on the bottom of the screen. Even if it is a space saver, it’s still annoying but Dell told us it’s working to fitting one into the top bezel on future models. Although it’s easier to stick a piece of tape over it where it is now, and you probably should.
And at 1.21kg with those slim bezels, the laptop is as compact and portable as you could hope for.
This is an excellently made ultrabook, niggles aside. Most of the Tech Advisor staff when asked would select this as their preferred Windows laptop. So how do the specs hold up?
Features and specifications
8th-generation Intel chips are making their way into many high-end laptops in 2018 and the XPS line is no exception. We tested how they run day to day and against the current crop of competing products.
Processor, RAM and storage
Dell has added these 8th-gen Intel Core i5-8250Uand i7-8550Uprocessors to the XPS 13, depending on your needs and budget, while all models have the Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU. Note that Coffee Lake chips are reserved for desktop only – here the silicon is 8th-gen but is technically a refreshed Kaby Lake architecture.
Other options for you are a minimum of 128GB and a maximum of 1TB storage and 4/8/16GB RAM. Our high end 16GB RAM model performed outstandingly, but you can expect slower multitasking speeds in the 4/8GB versions.
You can choose between a non-touch 1920×1080 FHD or a touchscreen 3840×2160 4K Ultra HD. Again, we were given the high-end touchscreen version and it looks incredible. The insanely high resolution looks amazing on a 13in panel and colour reproduction is a pleasant level of saturated.
Brightness is also outstanding, and there’s very little occasion you’ll want to have it on 100%. Under halfway is usually fine.
Touchscreen input is still odd on Windows 10, but here the experience is the best it can be. Unlike on cheaper laptops with the same feature you don’t have to prod the screen really hard, and it’s a good thing seeing as the XPS’s lid is so thin. With minimum wobble from interaction, we found ourselves using it more, as much down to the quality of the hardware build as the software interaction.
While the 4K touchscreen looks truly phenomenal, it’s not necessary for many. Touchscreen on full Windows 10 is still a hindrance to productivity in some cases where using the trackpad or a mouse is simply easier, and the non-touchscreen version is still HD and fully adequate for all work and play uses and still bears a great resolution.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is brilliant, with a great level of physical resistance for longer typing sessions. Keys are well spaced with a textured finish and a two-level backlight.
The trackpad is smaller than we are used to on a MacBook but aside from Apple’s masterful control input, it’s the best Windows trackpad we’ve ever used – responsive, smooth and accurate.
Its central position is preferable as the carbon fibre texture either side proves a comfortable palm rest. The cursor doesn’t randomly shake or fire off in the wrong direction in problems that plague other laptops.
For connectivity needs are 2x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and a further USB-C 3.1. All share responsibilities for PowerShare, DC-In and DisplayPort. See the full specs sheet in the drop-down specs box further down this page.
Dell has removed the SD card slot and all USB-A slots. We are going to all have to get used to USB-C as it turns up on the phones in our pockets and the laptops on our desks. One day it will hopefully be standardized well enough that we’ll all only need one charger for all our gadgets.
Unlike Apple, Dell puts a USB-A adapter in the box, acknowledging the annoying transition.
There is a microSD card reader built in though, so if you have an Android phone with expandable storage or digital camera this might come in useful to transfer media. Otherwise it’s a new standard to adjust to in 2018.
The 1.80GHz Intel Core i7-8550U CPU is overkill for most people, as most likely is the 16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz RAM. 8GB RAM should be enough for you even if you stick with the i7 model.
If you’re looking for the most powerful Dell ultrabook, note that the U-series processor used here is potentially less powerful than the quad-core HQ CPU used in
the last generation of XPS 15. That said, speed increases thanks to 8th-gen are decent and reflected in our benchmarking.
The below results are encouraging for the new XPS 13. Its score in Geekbench 4, which measures raw processing power (CPU, GPU and RAM) was only just shy of the 2017 15in MacBook Pro.
The XPS notably outperformed the HP Spectre x360’s i7 set up, though aside from the lower Surface Pro results, all these scores are comparable. The performance between the Dell XPS 13 and the latest 8th-gen Lenovo Yoga 920 is also very similar.
The PC Mark 10 score for the XPS is also decent, with good results for Cinebench against the Surface Book 2, but considerably lower in 3D Mark, meaning the XPS 13 is still not quite the machine you want to opt for if you want to indulge in very high-end graphical PC gaming. But for most gaming needs it’s not far off the competition.
Dell claims the 52WHr battery can run in some conditions for up to 19 hours. Bear in mind that Dell has cut this down from 60WHr from the previous generation. This is to save on weight and component space, while the next-gen processors should make the smaller capacity more efficient.
It certainly excels in battery life and charges remarkably fast with the supplied charger, but in our standard video test it didn’t hit 19 hours.
With a 720p video looping and with screen brightness at 120cd/m (40% in this case) the XPS 13 managed 10 hours and 51 minutes. This is highly respectable, but less than the 12 hours 30 minutes the previous generation model did.
HP Spectre x360 13 lasted 10 hours 32 minutes with a 60Wh battery, so the latest XPS 13 wins in this regard with a lower capacity battery.
By far the best performing laptop we’ve tested for battery life is
the Lenovo Yoga 920. It lasted 16 hours 45 minutes in the same test, which is utterly amazing. It also costs less pound for pound when you compare similarly specced models to the XPS. It’ll come down to which design you prefer and if battery life matters that much to you (and it generally should).
Part of the reason for the difference is the Dell’s 52Wh battery in comparison to 70Wh, and its 4K resolution display. We are still at the stage where most mainstream streamed content is not 4K, but the XPS will have used more power even when playing 720p video. Unless you need 4K< you can spend less on the lower end XPS 13, though we haven’t received this model to see the presumed improvement in battery life.
A laptop that can go a full nine-hour work day away from the plug is a luxury, but Dell is still near the top of the pack, despite the XPS 13’s drop in battery longevity here.
With a headphone jack present, you’re able to plug in whenever. But the speakers are pretty decent too, with Waves MaxxAudio improving the clarity of streamed and downloaded video content. Paired with the 4K screen of our review unit, it makes for a very enjoyable Netflix experience.
Like practically any laptop speaker though it has its downsides, and we haven’t yet reached the point where a laptop speaker should keep the party going. But there’s little to no distortion here at all, so even the highest volumes are acceptable if needed.
In our time with the XPS 13 2018, there’s not a lot to report other than you, of course, get Windows 10 Home. Business purchasers can opt for Windows 10 Pro – here’s
our word on the differences.
Having said this, Windows 10 has never looked – or performed – better on a Dell XPS. The combination of 4K display, fluid processing power and best-in-class keyboard and trackpad interaction mean this is the best compact laptop Windows 10 experience going. Even if you buy the entry level Core i5 model, you’re getting the benefits, minus the 4K.
As mentioned before, touchscreen interaction is a surprisingly good one here, but it’s not necessary. It’s down to the clean feel afforded by the trackpad and the excellent use of RAM to mean the XPS 13’s software feels truly part of the machine in a way only the truly best laptops do. It’s as good as you’ll find on a Microsoft Surface product.
Dell XPS 13 9370 (2018): Specs
Windows 10 Home or Pro
13.3-inch UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160) InfinityEdge touch display or 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
Henry is Tech Advisor’s Phones Editor, ensuring he and the team covers and reviews every smartphone worth knowing about for readers and viewers all over the world. He spends a lot of time moving between different handsets and shouting at WhatsApp to support multiple devices at once.