Dell XPS 13 2018 review: Hands-on

Like clockwork, Dell has announced a new XPS 13 laptop to show off at mega January tech distraction CES. It’s nothing groundbreaking but as an incremental improvement to an already excellent laptop, what’s not to like? Right?

We went hands on with the XPS 13 prior to CES to get a feel for its lighter – and whiter – new model. If you're looking for something a little larger, check out our hands-on review of the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 too.

Price and availability

Starting at £1,249, the Dell XPS 13 2018 is available direct from Dell

As normal, it is highly configurable at purchase. You can boost the processor, storage, RAM and display. Gets pricy, mind.

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.

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.

With simple lines, a just-about-subtle-enough carbon fibre effect on the inside and a sleek 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 could wipe permanent marker off either one should you have a frantic boardroom accident. We weren’t allowed to test it.

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.

The keyboard has a superb clacky yet springy feel to it while maintaining the slimmer profile of the base - no low travel butterfly keys you might find on a new 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

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

First off, 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.

There is a microSD card reader though, so if you have an Android phone this might come in useful. Otherwise it’s a new standard to adjust to in 2018.

Dell has also added 8th-gen Coffee Lake Intel Core i5 or i7 processors to the XPS 13, depending on your needs and budget while all models have the Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU.

The other options for you are a minimum of 128GB and a maximum of 1TB storage, 4-8GB RAM and varying displays – either a non-touch 1920x1080 FHD or a touchscreen 3840x2160 4K Ultra HD.

While the latter looks truly phenomenal on the 13.3in panel, it’s not necessary for many. Touchscreen on full Windows 10 is still a hindrance to productivity in most cases, and the non-touchscreen version is still HD and fully adequate for all work and play uses.

For the rest of your 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 claims the 52WHr battery can run in some conditions for up to 19 hours. We doubt this, but look forward to testing it. A laptop that can go a full nine-hour work day away from the plug is a luxury, but Dell is normally near the top of the pack in this regard, despite the XPS 13’s relatively small size.

And at 1.21kg, the laptop is as compact and portable as you could hope for.

Software

In our short time with the XPS 13 2018, there’s not a lot to report other than you, of course, get Windows 10 Home. Business can opt for Windows 10 Pro – here’s our word on the differences

In our full review, we’ll put the XPS 13 through our normal benchmarks and see how the display, trackpad and keyboard integrate with Microsoft’s latest iteration of Windows. We have high expectations after last year’s model, which we reviewed here.

Dell XPS 13 (2018): Specs

  • Windows 10 Home or Pro
  • 13.3-inch UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge touch display or 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
  • 8th Generation Intel Quad Core i5-8250U processor or Intel Quad Core i7-8550U processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • LPDDR3 4GB-8GB Dual Channel SDRAM at 1866MHz or 16GB Dual Channel SDRAM at 2133MHz
  • 128GB SATA, 256GB PCIe, 512GB PCIe, 1TB PCIe SSD
  • 52WHr battery (built-in)
  • 2x Thunderbolt 3 with PowerShare, DC-In & DisplayPort
  • 1x USB-C 3.1 with PowerShareDC-In & DisplayPort
  • microSD card reader
  • 4 Digital Array Microphones
  • Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard 1.3mm travel
  • Optional Windows Hello compliant fingerprint reader in power button
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Miracast capable
  • 7.8-11.6mm x 302mm x 199mm
  • 1.21kg
  • Windows 10 Home or Pro
  • 13.3-inch UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge touch display or 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
  • 8th Generation Intel Quad Core i5-8250U processor or Intel Quad Core i7-8550U processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • LPDDR3 4GB-8GB Dual Channel SDRAM at 1866MHz or 16GB Dual Channel SDRAM at 2133MHz
  • 128GB SATA, 256GB PCIe, 512GB PCIe, 1TB PCIe SSD
  • 52WHr battery (built-in)
  • 2x Thunderbolt 3 with PowerShare, DC-In & DisplayPort
  • 1x USB-C 3.1 with PowerShareDC-In & DisplayPort
  • microSD card reader
  • 4 Digital Array Microphones
  • Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard 1.3mm travel
  • Optional Windows Hello compliant fingerprint reader in power button
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Miracast capable
  • 7.8-11.6mm x 302mm x 199mm
  • 1.21kg

SHOULD I BUY DELL XPS 13 (2018)?

Despite the inevitable loss of SD and USB-A slots, the XPS 13 for 2018 is still looking like a no-brainer if you can afford it and are in the market for a premium Windows machine. Long gone are the days when only the MacBook would suffice in the boardroom and classroom alike.

The build quality is superb and the performance should be top bracket for its category. But if you have a 2016 or 2017 model, you probably don’t need the upgrade.