It’s no secret that I like the XPS series of laptops. It often aptly answers the long-time question of “What if you want something apple-like in quality, but running on Windows?” and for me, XPS answers that need like no other.
It’s also no secret that Dell has spent the better part of this decade perfecting the Dell XPS series in terms of design, listening to user feedback on changes and improving their product with that.
Well, after reviewing (essentially) 2 laptops from Dell along that line, it’s time I review a mainline series consumer laptop – the Dell XPS 13.
Now the real question we must ask ourselves – has Dell reached peak laptop in terms of stuffing everything that you would want in one in the new 2020 chassis? Read on below!
What is the Dell XPS 13 9300?
The Dell XPS 13 9370 is the updated model of the XPS 13 series of laptops meant for business and productivity types. It sports a newer, updated chassis from the year before and a few ergonomic and design decisions that make it that much more pleasant to use compared to its predecessors.
However, we have to note that there is now a newer model available for purchase so as it stands as of October this year, this is no longer the newest model so expect some sales for this model if Dell wants to liquidate their additional inventory.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
For the packaging, we once again have a “2 box” design with an outer carrying case and a more rigid casing beneath that houses the laptop and accessories. The inner box seems to be bigger than the 2-in-1 for whatever reason, but the contents inside remains unchanged.
This time, we received the “Arctic White” variant of the SKU presented in the XPS style we’ve come to expect; slim metallic finish with a no-frills design all around the laptop. In fact, the only thing that is different about the laptop externally (compared to the 2-in-1) is that the hinges aren’t there now looking from the top down.
Compared to last year’s model, the keyboard has been revamped to be bigger and more space-efficient, with all the nice design elements (like the power button integrated into the keyboard) being carried over from the 2-in-1 model.
Screen-wise, the Dell logo found in last year’s entry has also been removed, with the hinges being less noticeable when looking straight from the front when using the laptop.
Since we received the same 4k screen, expect the bezels on the lid to be just as thin and nice as the one we received on the 2-in-1. For folks coming in from last year’s version of the laptop, this means that the plastic bezels from the previous iteration is essentially gone; albeit replaced with glossy bezels that now constitutes part of the screen body.
You are able to pretty handily lift the screen with one hand although it does occasionally sick to the body from my experience. In that respect, the body isn’t going to move when doing so, suggesting a good weight distribution.
As mentioned previously, the hinge, while less prominent, didn’t make it the screen any less stable and still offers good stability when moving or wobbling the body in your hands or on the table.
The weight of the XPS 13 still remains the same at about 1.3Kg in weight and I doubt that they would try to make it any lighter than it is if they want to keep the same performance.
Still, just like the 2-in-1, it has great mobility all things considered with your usual perks USB-C charging and a small charger to go with the package.
Keyboard & Trackpad
Using (almost) the same keyboard and trackpad from the 2-in-1, it affirms to me by experience that Dell has once again done a pretty good job with the inputs here.
The large real-estate of the trackpad remains a joy and small luxury in an Ultrabook class machine and I don’t see any problem with mouse accuracy or using the left and right clicks. While our white SKU did make fingerprint oils less visible after prolonged use, i’d still recommend bringing a microfibre cloth for travel.
For the keyboard, my opinions on it hasn’t really changed. It’s great for what it is and it doesn’t take long at all to adjust to the keyboard – provided you’ve made a conscious decision to press the keys a little harder to make up for the expectedly low key travel.
The left and right keys did get an enlargement treatment which improves the usability a little with the page up/down function keys returning to the top row of the keyboard; an appreciated change with basically no downsides in my book.
On our typeracer test over a 5-run average, I averaged 77 WPM – almost identical to the 79 WPM I clocked in on the 2-in-1. Not surprising considering that they are basically the same keyboard.
Wi-Fi, Connectivity and Storage
The Wi-fi card has changed, however, with Dell going for the Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 instead of the Killer AX1650 chip we saw on the 2-in-1 version.
Over at our Steam download test going over a 5Ghz wireless connection, the Intel chip didn’t quite hit the scores that the Killer Wi-Fi had but it was only trailing by a slim margin with 21.6MB/s averages and 24.8MB/s peaks; good enough for your typical user and for me too.
Connectivity should come as no surprise to anyone having read my XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Dell has forgone the majority of ports in favour of sticking to a paltry amount of USB type-C connections and a microSD card slot on the 2-in-1 and the XPS 13 is no exception to that.
Below are the ports for this device:
- 2x USB C w/ thunderbolt 3
- 1x microSD card
Not surprising given the same chassis being used here.
In terms of storage, our SKU comes with a faster, bigger and more generous SSD compared to the one we got from the 2-in-1 version. The WD black SN730 1Tb (an OEM version of the popular SN750 SSD) is no slouch when it comes to performance and does saturate the bandwidth of the PCI-E lane quite nicely.
Users shouldn’t need to change this one out for performance unless they crave for a higher capacity disk.
Pricing, Specs and Comparison
As you can see, in an apples-to-apples comparison, there isn’t really much of a point to buy this particular model as the newer model is actually slightly cheaper to buy locally with slightly better specs. Compared to its competitors, it’s fairly priced although there is still a ways to go before Dell can reach price parity for other equally spec’d machines.
Do note that our particular SKU that we received is missing from Dell’s online store locally, so we’ll be taking the most comparable base model as comparison instead.
|Specs||XPS 13 (Early 2020)||XPS 13 (Late 2020)||Surface Laptop 3||Lenovo X1 Yoga Gen 5|
|Display||13.4” 1080p||13.4” 1080p||13.5” 1080p||14” 1080p|
Synthetic Benchmarks and Cooling
Over in our synthetic benchmarks, you can see that we achieved a marginally higher score than what we got with the 2-in-1 version; usually leading by around 10% or so in the head-to-head results.
As you can see, with Dell pushing more with the same chip, this invariably means that the fans are louder and ramp up more aggressively to keep up with the heat dissipation. In our Cinebench R20 benchmark, while both machines reached a thermal throttling limit of 100c within a minute of the test, the XPS 13 was able to sustain a 400Mhz higher clock rate (1.7Ghz vs 2.1Ghz) at the same temperature of around the low 70s.
This translates to more typical CPU workloads too, as the fan can be heard spinning up on decompression tasks in cases where the 2-in-1 version was relatively quiet. In workloads that are more GPU bound however, we see basically the same performance on both machines give or take.
In terms of cooling, there doesn’t seem to be any changes between the two models and it’s up to user preference for the kind of default fan-curve you’d like on an Ultrabook class machine like this.
I’d prefer a quieter machine personally and, in that regard, users should have software provided by Dell to tweak that; not just on their gaming-oriented brands. This is something I would hope to see from Dell in the future.
As is customary tradition, if it runs Windows, we’ll game on it. The usual modus operandi of getting it to playable framerates applies and we’ll try to aim for an average framerate of above 30fps. Just like our 2-in-1 review though, the resolution will be dropped down to 1200p to try to improve the framerates a little.
Given that the processor is identical compared to the 2-in-1 version, it should be no surprise to anyone that benchmarks are pretty similar. Though to that extent, just like our synthetic benchmarks, you can expect some very slight gains from the improved sustained clock speed if the game is more CPU limited rather than GPU limited.
In indie titles, not much has changed as most of these titles don’t take much to run other than Project Zomboid which seems to trash any Ultrabook CPU we tried to run this game on. The game still runs quite poorly on the recommended settings and we see no change in framerates while running this game.
In somewhat more demanding titles (and more scalable) like Prison Architect, we do see another small boost in the averages when running a prison that fills the first plot of a medium-sized map.
In our lighter 3D titles like torchlight, we do see small gains in these kinds of titles where the CPU is the limiting factor in the rendering. Super hectic areas in this game could still push the average down a little but every bit of CPU power helps to mitigate that.
In more demanding titles like XCOM, the small boost in CPU performance made no difference at all as we are still heavily GPU bound in this game.
Display & Sound
The display we received on this device hasn’t changed compared to the 2-in-1 version as our SKU has the same 4k panel installed (Model: SHP14CC, LQ134R1). But it does mean a change to a larger 19:10 aspect ratio if you’re coming in from last year’s model; more real-estate is always welcome and I think the 19:10 ratio suits a business productivity laptop like the XPS 13 more.
Once again, the screen itself looks great for content though it’s color accuracy may not be hitting the high scores against other 4k panels in the market with only 90% sRGB and 60% Adobe RGB coverage.
There are no surprises sound-wise as well, delivering an identical performance compared to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. Meaning, these speakers are also loud as hell and you would have no problem filling a room with the volume only turned to 70 or so.
Craving for some Classic Rock today, I booted up Sweet Child O’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses. This song stresses the base quite a bit with the iconic rift in the beginning and poses a fair challenge akin to a typical bass-centric composition – a challenge for any small laptop speaker to reproduce.
Starting from the mentioned electric guitar rift, the XPS 13 delivers a pretty good, albeit neutral sounding rift instead of a typical, broader and deeper sounding bass from a 2.1 system as I was used to. The cymbals and supporting drums were less pronounced than I liked but this rendition still gets a passing grade in my book.
Going into the initial few lines of the chorus, the vocals are definitely still the selling point of this device. Clear, concise sounding vocals does a lot to push the quality of most music and we see no exception here and it delivers a great listening experience. Though it is also at this point that the secondary instruments of the drum and electric guitar blend together a bit too much for my liking. The unimpressive bass just didn’t give the instruments the distinction it needed.
Near the end of the song, the quality of the supporting instruments get better as the guitar rift doesn’t have to share much of the stage with the drums and pairs with the vocals nicely without crowding out either of them.
Overall, I still like the presentation of the sound even when challenged against the type of music that these small laptop speakers are weak at. It’s still among my favourites in the Ultrabook category.
There doesn’t seem to be any changes in terms of the battery. It’s still your typical 4 Cell 52Wh battery you’re already expecting to see in a chassis like this. Our YouTube loop test also performed slightly better than the 2-in-1 here, clocking in at just about 3Hours with 50% volume and brightness.
Charging time also took around the same amount of time on the XPS 13 (compared to the 2-in-1), clocking in at 1H 40 Mins from dead to full by my testing.
In short, Dell has essentially reached a plateau on what they want to change on the XPS 13 chassis that warrants any significant re-designs on their part. The chassis remains virtually unchanged in comparison to the XPS 13 2-in-1 I’ve reviewed and a slight step up from last year’s model which we’ve also covered.
As mentioned, there isn’t much reason to get the Early 2020 version of this laptop considering that the new, even better equipped version has been released since the start of last month and sells for slightly cheaper retailed.
Owing to that, I can’t really recommend getting this laptop unless you can find it discounted during the typical end-year sales period that’ll come soon; enough to justify the small (~5%) loss of performance by not buying the latest and greatest.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Design and style||Not worth buying vs new generation unless discounted|
|Above average battery life||Poor connectivity|
|Great looking screen||Glossy screen is still a pain|