Dell XPS 13 Long Term Test – 3 Months

The Dell and I have hit our 3-month anniversary. How have things gone so far?

To recap, the configuration I am using is the 16gb Kaby Bay i7 incarnation with a 512gb SSD and the 3200 x 1800 touchscreen display. The glossy screen is nearly borderless, and the chassis is sturdy yet still manages to be light in the way that a Surface Book is not. You can read my initial impressions HERE

The Good

In spite of the best efforts of Windows 10, the XPS 13 continues to perform well, chewing through whatever I throw at it, be it video editing, development or some casual gaming. The screen remains astonishingly good attracting admiring glances and fingerprints in equal measure. I was concerned that the touch-screen would be something that I’d use once and then never again, but instead it has become part of my day to day use of the laptop, particularly when viewing web pages or flicking through documents.

The size and weight of the laptop is perfect as well, feeling solid yet able to be used on my lap for hours at a time with no discomfort. The XPS has been a constant companion on trains, planes and automobiles, either fitting a table or perched on my lap with an admirable lack of screen shake.

The Bad

Three flaws have shown themselves during the course of the last 3 months. The first, and most serious, is the unpredictable battery life which can swing wildly from 14 hours to 9 hours for no discernible reason. I’m not sure how much of this is down to the laptop and how much blame should be left at the door of Windows 10 or apps like Chrome, but I am certainly not reliably seeing the figures promised by Dell. I’d be confident about getting through a long-haul flight on one charge, but would be nervous about going an entire day without a visit to a power outlet.

Secondly, the much lauded WiFi chipset has difficulty keeping a connection. Once connected, performance is excellent, but the connection does tend to drop without warning (while other devices nearby remain rock-solid). The support forums indicate a driver issue, so I am hopeful that this will be resolved and I will continue to monitor it.

Lastly, the fan does tend to spin up when the laptop is plugged into external power. I suspect this is because the CPU ramps itself up when freed from the shackles of power management, but it might sound obtrusive to some. Opening a game or doing some transcoding will result in a very audible hum and quite a bit of heat (although not uncomfortably so).

The Ugly

Aside from the problem of fingerprints on the touchscreen, the trackpad and hand-rest have begun to show signs of wear and tear. It may be that I have particularly acidic skin, or that the materials used in the construction of the chassis aren’t up to scratch. Either way, it might have been better if Dell had stuck with metal all the way around instead of the composite effect used.

The webcam remains awful thanks to its bad location (noted in the original review). Fortunately, I don’t need to use it. However, if I did, I think I would likely attach an external camera instead (possibly one that does Windows Hello – also a sad omission). After all, no-one wants to spend a video call looking up my nose.

Still Happy?

You betcha! My only real gripe at the moment is the WiFi. Other than that, the Dell XPS-13 is an excellent choice for mobile computing, and I would not hesitate to recommend it.

About the author Richard Speed:
Spaceflight enthusiast and tech hobbyist.
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