Dell XPS 13 (2019) full review
The Dell XPS 13 has cemented itself as the laptop of choice for many professionals and consumers over the last few years and that is certainly no accident. It is one of the first laptop lines that comes to mind if you want a smart, portable and powerful companion on your trips around the world or even just around the home.
The 2018 XPS 13 was a real triumph but can Dell really improve on what has become the best laptop for many people? While last year’s model had some respectable steps forward, this year is much more about refinement and smoothing out the (very few) rougher edges of the device.
The prime focus for this year’s version is around the webcam which has been delicately reunited with the top bezel after vacationing down below the screen for a while. Although a welcome change, this being the flagship feature for a new device does perhaps suggest a broader lack of innovation across the laptop market that all manufacturers are feeling.
Check out our comparison between the new and old XPS 13 models to see how they compare.
Price & Availability
As you’d expect the XPS 13 is highly customisable with the storage, RAM, display and processor all being upgradable - with AMD Ryzen processors being available in the US too. If you really want the top specs on your XPS it’s not going to be cheap with the specs maxing out at £1,668/$2,359.
Check out the best laptops you can buy, all reviewed and ranked.
Design & Build
The 2019 XPS 13 maintains the same design language that we’ve come to expect from the series - sleek, professional and understated. This particular line of laptops focuses on remaining as portable as possible without sacrificing build quality or performance – which of course will come at a price.
The colours on offer are a Black/Silver, Rose Gold/White and Frost White. The latter has a white lid which was on the model we tested which made the laptop stand out pleasantly, but still in a refined and classy way.
The dimensions remain the same as the 2018 version while being ever so slightly heavier:
- Height: 0.3-0.46in (7.8-11.6mm)
- Width: 11.9in (302mm)
- Depth: 7.8in (199mm)
- Weight: 2.7lbs (1.23kg)
The woven fibreglass that is built into the body around the keyboard gives some pleasant premium detail and the aesthetics of the device, in general, make it look and feel very tight and seamlessly designed. This is more prominent on the white model this year.
One of the more noticeable changes from the 2018 version will be the webcam location, which is now back in the much-preferred position of being above the screen. This has made the top bezel ever so slightly larger on this year’s model (5.975- vs 4mm) but you’d really struggle to notice that unless you picked up a tape measure.
The power-button contains a fingerprint scanner for swift unlocking, and the keyboard provides comfortable typing feedback while the trackpad remains nice and responsive. These all remain the same from last year's model.
A new feature added this year is a varied torque hinge, which does a much better job of keeping the screen in place when the laptop is open, helping to reduce wobble at any angle.
This does make the laptop difficult to open with one hand however, as the strength of the hinge outperforms the weight of the laptop. It's easy at first but quickly offers resistance so before long you'll need a second hand to get it fully open.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The keyboard on the XPS 13 certainly makes an impression - both visually and practically.
The look of it is particularly impressive with the tasteful backlighting striking a pleasant balance, feeling minimal and clean but still catching the eye. The keys are also a pleasure to type on, and as someone who isn’t a massive fan of laptop keyboards generally, I was pleasantly surprised by the responsiveness of the board.
The travel on the XPS is only 1mm but it gives off the impression of being much deeper as I didn’t get the sense the keys were being pushed all the way down into the board when I typed quickly, thanks to them popping back into place responsively - this is another example of the general sleek, well-engineered design you can find all across the laptop.
I always find a trackpad is best when you almost forget you’re using it and this one did a great job of allowing me to interface with the pointer on the screen without having to think about it - the pinch and two-finger controls were flawless. What more can you ask for?
This year’s XPS will feature your choice of a 13.3in UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge touch display. There's also lower resolution Full HD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch or non-touch display.
The screens feature Dolby Vision with a 1500:1 contrast ratio and a 178 degree wide viewing angle. All of this leads to an extremely impressive viewing experience. The screen looks incredible, as you would expect, and the touch feature is beautifully responsive too.
We've come to expect this from the XPS 13 and it's actually the same display as last year so no upgrade in this area.
The Full HD model arrived more recently and provides a more welcome budget option, while also being more battery efficient due to having to power fewer pixels - it does seem a touch on the dim side though as our review model maxes brightness out at 280cd/m2.
Specs & Performance
The XPS 13 2019 comes with a choice of Intel 8th-generation Whiskey Lake processors, including the i3-8145U, i5-8265U and the i7-8565U.
The most interesting takeaway here is the addition of an i3 processor which is a 2 core/4 thread CPU with a 2.1/3.9GHz base/boost frequency. We're usually pretty hesitant in recommending an i3 and considering you'll be spending the best part of £1,000 for this laptop no matter what the specs, we'd suggest you at least get yourself an i5 if you can afford it.
If you're planning to do anything other than simple web browsing, word processing and movie watching - the increases resources than an i5 brings will be well worth the money. However, if you really want an XPS 13 for things like its design but don't need much power then the i3 is a welcome option.
Back to the normal i5 and i7 options which are essentially refreshed versions of the chips found in the 2018 XPS 13. There are marginal generational benefits of increased boost clock speeds which usually only come into their own when you’re using a single resource hungry program or gaming.
The choice of memory ranges between 4-16GB of LPDDR3 Dual Channel RAM, and storage goes from 128GB all the way up to 2TB.
Our tests (on the Core i7 model with 8GB of RAM) running Geekbench 4 brought back a 4329 and 14310 for single/multi-score respectively, and 4009 for PCMark 10. This is roughly what we’d be expecting for the model we’re testing (i7-8565U, 8GB RAM) and falls roughly in line with other laptops on the market that feature the same specs.
You’re always going to get some minor variation from the specific piece of silicon that is powering your laptop, but these scores are more than powerful enough for your everyday computing needs.
This isn’t going to be a laptop that will run the latest and greatest games, however, as the integrated UHD Graphics 620 unit just wasn’t designed for those tasks - so if you’re going to want to run the latest triple AAA releases this won’t be the laptop for you.
A score of 4698 in the 3DMark Sky Diver test is decent though, so you can play some games, just nothing too new and demanding.
The battery life promises 21 hours with a Full HD display (up from 19 last year) but we found this claim to be a pretty bold statement. In our own tests, we set the screen brightness to 120 cd/m2 (40 percent) and play a video on a loop until the machine runs out of juice, which took 11 hours and 19 minutes on a Full HD screen.
This does beat out the results we got from last year's XPS 13 almost 30 mins so nothing special, but if you're going to get the UHD display then you can expect a reduced battery life due to all the extra pixels that your machine will be illuminating.
This does mean that the XPS 13 will easily cope with a full days work and then some, which is certainly good news. If you're going to do with the UHD screen do be aware that the battery performance won't be anywhere near as good.
On the ports front, we’ve got two Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery and DisplayPort, 1x USB-C 3.1 with power delivery and DisplayPort, a microSD card reader; headset jack and a wedge-shaped lock slot.
We’re now firmly in the age of USB-C, as a laptop this thin wouldn’t be able to fit a USB-A port in its side anyway, but we’re also aware that almost everyone will still have use for a USB-A port too - make sure you keep the included dongle handy in your laptop bag, you will thank yourself later.
Since last year's model got the big overhaul, there was little Dell could do to improve the already almost perfect laptop. The repositioning of the webcam simply won't matter to some but will be a real boon to others.
Otherwise, the XPS 13 has almost the same design and only a few small upgrades here and there.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is the addition of a Core i3 model, making the laptop cheaper than before and therefore more easily available to the masses.
It's very close to getting full marks, so the XPS 13 is still one of our favourite laptops.
Dell XPS 13 (2019): Specs
- Processor: 8th-gen Intel Core i3-8145U, i5-8265U, i7-8565U (WHL)
- Display: 13.3in UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge touch display or Full HD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch or non-touch display
- Memory: 4GB-16GB LPDDR3 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2133MHz (On Board)
- Storage: 128/256/512GB/1/2TB PCIe SSD
- Battery: 52Wh, up to 21 hours (Full HD)
- Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery and DisplayPort (4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3)
- 1x USB-C 3.1 with power delivery and DisplayPort, microSD card reader, headset jack, wedge-shaped lock slot
- Dimensions: Height: 302 x 199 x 7.8 -11.6mm
- Weight: 1.23kg