Dell XPS 13 9300 (2020) full review
Another year, another XPS 13. Dell has once again revisited its flagship ultrabook, though you’d have to set the 2020 revision side-by-side with last year’s to even spot the differences - the unfortunate side effect of a design that was so close to perfect last time around.
As if to hammer home the point, almost every change that Dell has made for 2020’s model is in fact cribbed from the mid-2019 revamp of the convertible XPS 13 2-in-1 - a 16:10 aspect ratio, edge-to-edge keyboard, and Intel’s more compact and power-efficient 10nm processors to keep it even slimmer than before.
So to recap: Dell has taken the best laptop in the world and made it better by copying from itself. Here’s how.
Price and availability
First up, good news for the impatient: the new XPS 13 is out already if you're in the US, and will come to the UK soon, on 4 February. Though if you're in the US you can still only buy the black model, with the white variant due some time in February.
The XPS 13 starts from $999/£1399 - that price difference is because there are slightly different setups available. The $999 US model includes a Core i3 processor, 256GB storage, and just 4GB of RAM, while the entry-level model in the UK may be more expensive, but is a beefier setup including a Core i5, 512GB storage, and 8GB of RAM.
Design and build: Perfection perfected
It’s not for nothing that I say that the 2019 XPS 13 was about as good as a 13in laptop got. It’s spent the last 12 months sitting at the top spot in our best laptop chart - a spot it took from the 2018 model, which sat there for the 12 months before.
Of course, a 13in ultrabook isn’t the best laptop for everyone - others will want the power of gaming or creator laptops, the size of a bigger display, or the flexibility of more ports - but for those happy with the inevitable compromises of an ultrabook, Dell’s take on the format has never been bettered.
Well, except by Dell.
This year’s XPS 13 follow’s the annual rhythm of minor tweaks across the board, with two bigger changes both taken from the 2019 XPS 13 2-in-1: a larger, taller display; and a larger, wider keyboard. All in a smaller body, of course.
Let’s take the display first. The new 16:10 panel moves into the space previously occupied by the bottom bezel (and Dell logo), leaving a screen that’s all-but-borderless. There’s just about space for a webcam along the top border, but otherwise the display is basically edge-to-edge.
It’s 13.4in diagonally, with the choice of a 1920x1200 FHD+ panel or a 3840x2400 4K HDR upgrade. The 4K panel is only available with touch support, but the FHD+ variant gives you the choice of touch or not. Every screen variant runs to a respectable 500 nits brightness, with 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage too.
I’m a huge fan of 16:10 displays on laptops. The extra vertical screen space leaves a little extra room to breathe, especially on otherwise cramped 12in or 13in models, and is especially helpful if you use it to work rather than just watch Netflix. Losing the bottom bezel doesn’t hurt either, adding to the clean, modern impression of Dell’s design.
Then there’s the keyboard. Like the display this is now almost edge-to-edge, which leaves the space for larger keycaps across the board. Even the font’s been changed - it’s thinner and more modern, with a shift to lower-case across the non-letter keys.
The edge-to-edge keys are made possible by moving the fingerprint scanner into the power key - a touch that both saves space and leaves an overall cleaner aesthetic.
Importantly, while the keyboard size was inspired by the convertible XPS, this doesn’t use the divisive MagLev keyboard that model does - instead it sticks to the same rubber dome keycaps as before, with a 1mm travel that’s as comfortable to type on as ever - and more so once you factor in the larger keys.
Elsewhere things are much the same, though small changes about. The whole body is about 2 percent smaller - not enough to notice at a glance, but every little helps. And that’s despite the larger display, larger keyboard, and even slightly larger touchpad.
Ports are ever so slightly contracted however - two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 offer power deliver and DisplayPort functionality (down from three USB-C slots last time around), along with a headphone jack and microSD card reader.
The whole thing is made out of machined aluminium with a fiber finish, in the same choice of black or white - though the white model now features black rather than white bezels around the screen, a small touch which Dell says subtly improves the viewing experience.
Specs and performance: 10nm power
The other big change is internal: the adoption of Intel’s 10th generation 10nm chipsets, which allow for improved power efficiency and performance, along with that slightly smaller body.
As with last year there’s an i3 base model available (though not in the UK), with the option to spec up to an i5 or i7. It’s worth noting that these are all quad-core chips, as Intel hasn’t made six-core versions available yet for its 10nm chips - so some may still prefer to opt for the late 2019 XPS 13 refresh that offers six-core processors.
As you’d expect at this size there’s no option for discrete GPUs, so you’re stuck with Intel’s integrated graphics - though there’s now the choice between UHD or its more powerful Iris Plus graphics chip. Meanwhile RAM ranges from 4GB up to 16GB of DDR4, with storage from 256GB up to 1TB - all SSD, naturally, and upgradeable rather than soldered on.
The battery is one area Dell hasn’t offered an upgrade, instead choosing to simply match last year’s model. There’s the same 52WHr power source, which should deliver a little over 10 hours of use going by previous models - good but not the best, especially if it’s powering a 4K display.
Connectivity has had a boost at least, with both Bluetooth 5 and Wi-Fi 6, the latest standards for each. There’s no 5G support - though Dell did include that in its new Latitude 9510, so look for it to make it into the 2021 iteration of the XPS.
I’ve only played with the 2020 XPS 13 for 15 minutes or so, which isn’t enough time to fully assess it. But both the 2018 and 2019 iterations of the laptop were best-in-class, and on paper this year’s model improves on almost every pain point.
We’d love to see a bigger battery - though that would in turn make the body bigger, so maybe not - but otherwise this is hard to fault.
Dell XPS 13 9300 (2020): Specs
- Processor: 10th-gen Intel Core i3-1005G1, i5-1035G1, i7-1065G7
- Graphics: Intel UHD or Iris Plus
- Display: 13.4in UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2400) InfinityEdge HDR 400 touch display or Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge touch or non-touch display
- Memory: 4GB-32GB LPDDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 3733MHz (On Board)
- Storage: 256/512GB/1/2TB PCIe SSD
- Battery: 52Wh
- Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery and DisplayPort (4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3), microSD card reader, headset jack
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
- Dimensions: Height: 296 x 199 x 14.8 -11.6mm
- Weight: 1.2kg