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Dell XPS 13...is this the one?
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Dell XPS 13…is this the one?

Intel produced its Ultrabook design parameters to unabashedly compete with the MacBook Air and the early Ultrabooks were MacBook Air clones..and most were not quite as good as the Mac product..close but no cigar. Well, were not in Kansas any more and the Dell XPS 13 is no MacBook Air clone..in fact it is better in some ways.

This is one sweet looking notebook with a distinctive design The carbon fiber base has a pleasant soft-touch and grippy feel, Dell hid the  service tag and Windows info under a flip-up metal plate….a nice touch as are the two full width rubberized feet which keep the XPS 13 from sliding on pretty much any surface. The matte-black magnesium-alloy keyboard deck and the aluminum lid add rigidity where it’s needed.

The whole package weighs just under 3 pounds–nearly the same as Apple’s 13-inch Macbook Air.The XPS13,  is actually shorter and narrower than the Apple product,due to the extremely narrow bezel around the edge. Dell likes to say that it put a 13-inch screen into an 11-inch chassis, well, not quite, but with a 31.6 x 20.5 cm footprint this Ultrabook’s compactness is impressive. As well the XPS 13 felt solid and dense in my hands and I didn’t notice any flexing. It fits perfectly on my lap..I’m writing this with it…doesn’t weigh too much and it runs quiet and cool, which is just as well, because it sat on my lap for 6 hours an 25 minutes before needing a recharge.

Performance is quite impressive from the  Intel Core i5-2467M CPU, 4Gb of RAM and the zippy 128Gb SSD instead of a conventional hard drive. A cold startup takes about 15 seconds…but you will rarely have to wait that long..most users will just close the cover and let the XPS 13 go into a power saving sleep mode from which startup is a quick 2 seconds..almost instant. It is also available with an i7 CPU but frankly I don’t think the slight performance boost is worth the extra 400 bucks..a 256Gb SSD upgrade is also a pricey $400 on the i5 unit but curiously only $200 on the i7 model.

The keyboard is outstanding..and backlit..nice feel, a good size and respectable travel..my typing speed only dropped slightly on this keyboard compared to what I can do on a full size keyboard. This is one of best keyboards I have seen on a notebook computer. The touchpad is a good size and works well but I still prefer a mouse. The screen is sharp and bright behind its coating of Gorilla glass and although it is glossy I wasn’t bothered by reflections even with a sunny window right beside me. However, I would like to see a better screen than the 1366 x 768 panel especially on such an obviously premium notebook. I expect to see Dell offer a higher resolution screen with a third generation Ivy Bridge processor by the end of the year..at a higher price…obviously.

The XPS 13 is loaded with wireless connectivity with 802.11n Wi-Fi (which worked perfectly on my home network), Bluetooth, and Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) for zapping video and audio to an HDTV set equipped with a Belkin ScreenCast or Netgear Push2TV.  I was pleasantly surprised by the crisp clear audio coming from the XPS 13 way better than average for a notebook although the volume could be a bit higher.

Dell is pretty stingy when it comes to input/output ports: There’s a USB 2.0 port and headset jack on the laptop’s left side, and a USB 3.0 port and Mini DisplayPort alongside a handy pushbutton-and-LED battery gauge on the right.Don’t look for VGA or HDMI video; for an Ethernet port for connecting to wired office networks; or for a memory-card slot you won’t find them.

The Dell XPS 13 is a delight to use, a good weight and a design triumph. Is it the one? For me…absolutely! It blows the doors off the MacBook Air without looking like a clone.  This is hands down the best Ultrabook currently on the market. It certainly disabused me of any temptation to buy a MacBook Air. It is priced competitively at $1099 for the model I tested up to $1699 with an i7 CPU and a 256Gb SSD.

 

 

 

Bob Benedetti

Former RCAF Fighter Pilot Bob worked for CTV Montreal as a Reporter, Producer and Executive producer for 35 years retiring in 2004. Bob started reporting on personal technology in 1995 at CTV and continues today at Home Technology Montreal

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