Tech review: Dell XPS 13 tweaked to near perfection

This new 2019 edition, which carries the 9380 model name, comes with a few tweaks that make this ultrabook even more attractive to consumers, while retaining the same, clean design that long-time users would be familiar with.
This new 2019 edition, which carries the 9380 model name, comes with a few tweaks that make this ultrabook even more attractive to consumers, while retaining the same, clean design that long-time users would be familiar with.PHOTO: DELL

One of my favourite laptops, the Dell XPS 13, received a minor makeover earlier this year.

This new 2019 edition, which carries the 9380 model name, comes with a few tweaks that make this ultrabook even more attractive to consumers, while retaining the same, clean design that long-time users would be familiar with.

The most significant change is the Web camera. In previous XPS 13 models, the camera was positioned below the display as the top bezel was too narrow for it. While this design helped Dell achieve the near-bezel-less display on the XPS 13, it resulted in unflattering photos and videos because the angle of the Web camera usually pointed at the user's nostrils or chin.

With the latest XPS 13, the Web camera is back at the usual above-screen position. Although this means that the top bezel is slightly thicker than in previous models, I doubt users would mind as the bezel is still relatively narrow.

Changing the placement of the Web camera led to another tweak. Some older XPS 13 models have Web cameras with infrared sensors that could recognise users by their facial features. But these bulky sensors could not fit in the top bezel in the latest XPS 13.

To still allow for biometric authentication, the PC-maker has embedded a touch-capacitive fingerprint sensor under the power button instead. I prefer the fingerprint sensor over facial recognition.

Other than the tweaks to the Web camera, there are no other changes to the chassis design. This is hardly surprising as Dell re-designed the laptop only last year.

One downside of its sleek chassis is that there is no USB-A port. Instead, the XPS 13 has a single USB-C port, as well as two Thunderbolt 3 ports, both of which use a similar connector as USB-C. Dell does include a USB-A to USB-C dongle.

Under the hood, there are the usual processor upgrades, with the latest model using newer Intel Core processors that Intel claims are more power-efficient than their predecessors.

However, this advantage seems not to have translated to video playback stamina - the new XPS 13 lasted 6hr 50min in the video-loop battery test, just five minutes longer than the previous model.

In fact, this battery uptime is shorter than that of most ultrabooks I have tested recently, which usually last seven to eight hours. The reason is the XPS 13's 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) touchscreen display, which has more pixels than the standard Full-HD screen found in most ultrabooks. This display is also relatively bright for a laptop screen, maxing out at 400 nits brightness.

But I would not swop this sharp 4K display for a lesser display despite the shorter battery life. It looks absolutely fabulous and I can stream stunning 4K videos from Netflix that look more vibrant and realistic as the screen supports the Dolby Vision high-dynamic range format.

The final sweetener: The new model is priced lower than its predecessor. My review set (Core i7 with 16GB memory and 4K display) costs $2,699, compared with $2,899 for a similar model last year.

FOR

• Web camera moved from bottom to top bezel

• Sharp and vibrant 4K display

• Cheaper than previous model

AGAINST

• Dongle required

SPECS

PRICE: $2,699

PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-8565U (1.8GHz)

GRAPHICS: Intel UHD Graphics 620

RAM: 16GB DDR3

SCREEN SIZE: 13.3 inches, 3,840 x 2,160 pixels

CONNECTIVITY: 2 x Thunderbolt 3, USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 2, microSD card reader, headphone jack

BATTERY: 52 watt-hour

RATING

FEATURES: 4.5/5

DESIGN: 5/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5

BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

OVERALL: 4.5/5

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