The Dell XPS 13 certainly has the looks to impress but is there more to it than its cool understated design?
By GABEY GOH
I have to admit, when I first set eyes on Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook - yes it's still Ultrabook season - I really, really liked it.
This sleek-looking model sports a brushed metal lid with the Dell logo its only embellishment, and an aluminium rim with a translucent layer of rubber covering its carbon-fibre shell.
When closed, the tapered form factor is 6mm at its thinnest and 18mm at its thickest, making this a very slim and compact piece of hardware.
At 1.36kg, it's slightly heavier than one would expect for a 13in Ultrabook but the heft won't be debilitating for any (relatively) healthy human being.
The coolest part about the XPS 13 is the curious metal flap located right smack in the middle of the Ultrabook's base. Some newfangled feature? An additional slew of ports? Nope.
Flip it open and your eyes will be feasting on a host of familiar (and ugly) specification and verification stickers that have been a long standing feature of any Windows notebook.
Dell gets major points for being stubborn enough about not having those needed stickers spoiling their design vision, but I'm also deducting some points for making me think they had some crazy cool feature hidden beneath that flap.
Speaking of ports, it's a pretty slim but serviceable selection as one would expect from the lightweight and thin category of machines and the XPS 13 offers a 3.5mm headset jack, a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port and a mini DisplayPort.
There is no SD card reader on this model so for those who rely on them, you'll need an external reader.
Open the XPS 13 up (you'll need to exert a bit of effort as the hinge is a little tight) and you'll find a 13.3in edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass covered HD display (1,366 x 768-pixels) and a 1.3megapixel webcam.
You'll also see the standard full-size, spill-resistant keyboard and touchpad with gesture support. The keyboard, with its backlit and decently sized keys had some spring to it when typing which had to be my single most favourite feature.
My eyes welcomed the presence of those backlit keys and it remains a pity that more models in the market don't offer it.
On the flip side though, I almost cried when trying to use the touchpad as it was unresponsive for the most part and usually takes multiple attempts just to get the cursor moving.
I lasted about three days before I just gave up and dug out a portable mouse to bypass using the touchpad, which is unfortunate as the surface actually feels really good.
After which, my relationship with the XPS 13 improved significantly, especially since due to the timing of the review unit's arrival, I had the opportunity to throw Diablo III at it (but more on that later).
Running on Windows 7 and powered by a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor (Dell also offers a Core i7 variant), with 4GB RAM and SSD (solid state drive) with up to 256GB of space, the XPS 13 also houses an Intel HD 3000 graphics chip.
In terms of bundled software, the XPS 13 comes with Adobe Reader X and the usual slate of Microsoft products such as Microsoft Office Starter and Windows Live Essentials Wave 4.
Dell throws in its DataSafe for cloud-based storage backup and Stage, which syncs and delivers photos, music, videos, social media via the Internet and first appeared on its Streak tablet.
True to its category definition, the quick boot on this machine was pretty fast at about 15 seconds and from Sleep mode, just a couple of seconds which is great for impatient types such as myself.
In terms of battery life, it managed to last just over half a day with sporadic usage and about five hours with continuous usage, WiFi switched on and screen brightness set to almost maximum.
For general computing, be it surfing the Web, watching videos or typing out documents, users would have no complaints about the XPS 13 and its speed.
But how did a game like Diablo III fare on this little Ultrabook? Let's first be honest - this is not a gaming machine.
It doesn't have a discrete graphics processor, so while day-to-day graphics demands hold up well, I had low expectations with the XPS 13 for a hack and slash dungeon crawl game like Diablo with online-only play.
To my surprise, it didn't explode or crash and die a horrible death on me.
Of course, I had all the settings on low and did experience occasional bouts of lag when booting up the game but overall, it served me well enough on the gaming front.
The connection lag I experienced with Diablo on this machine is a Blizzard and Battle.net issue, not a Dell issue.
However, it did highlight the rather limited viewing angles one had with the XPS 13 screen.
I had to look straight on at the screen for an optimal viewing experience and I found myself constantly readjusting the screen's angle as my posture changed over hours (yes, hours) of play.
On the plus side, the built-in speakers packed one heck of a punch, and at maximum settings, the audio can get uncomfortably loud.
In fact I got asked to switch to earphones by family members so the house would quit sounding like a war zone during particularly epic dungeon runs.
Overall, the Dell XPS 13 is one pretty decent machine, with the only downsides being the screen and the touchpad.
With prices starting from RM3,499 for Core i5 processor and RM4,899 for Core i7 processor, this Ultrabook does not come cheap.
This one is for those who really need a light and compact workhorse with good stamina or for those who just think it's really pretty looking. Because it is.
Pros: Great minimalist design; has a backlit keyboard; good battery life; generally speedy performance.
Cons: Unresponsive touchpad; screen offers limited optimal viewing angles.
PROCESSOR: 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M
MEMORY: 4GB RAM
DISPLAY: 13.3in (1,366 x 768-pixels) with LED backlight
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 3000
STORAGE: Up to 256GB SSD
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth 3.0
PORTS/SLOTS: USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 with PowerShare, mini DisplayPort, earphone jack
BATTERY: 6-cell lithium-polymer
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
OTHER FEATURES: Stereo speakers with Waves MaxxAudio 4, 1.3-megapixel webcam with dual microphones, Intel WiDi ready
DIMENSIONS (H x W x D): 18 x 316 x 205mm
PRICE: Starts from RM3,499 for Core i5 or RM 4,899 for Core i7
Review unit courtesy of Dell Malaysia, 1-800-88-0038