Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: A top-quality ultraportable gets even better

The new 2020 version of the Dell XPS 13 is a premium ultraportable laptop with a starting price of £1,399 (inc. VAT; £1,165.83 ex. VAT), rising to £1,799 (inc. VAT; £1,499.17 ex. VAT) as the features are piled on. In the US, the price range is $1,199.99-$2,149.99. Back in 2018 I found the Dell XPS 13 near-perfect, so it’s a very hard act to follow: how does the latest model measure up?

Given that mid-range laptops can handle everyday computing needs with relative ease, premium ultraportables are an increasingly hard sell. A top-end system needs to get design, battery life, screen and keyboard quality, and internal features spot-on while shoehorning everything into the smallest possible chassis for the screen size on offer.

In terms of design, Dell is bang on here. The XPS 13 (2020) is small and extremely light. The starting weight of 1.2kg for units without a touch-screen and 1.27kg for touch-screen models like my review unit isn’t quite as close to the 1kg mark as some might like, but Dell is forgiven for this because the aluminium chassis is very solid. I couldn’t bow the lid in my hands at all, and the palm rest was rigid under pressure too.

My review unit had a silver lid and black interior, with the signature woven carbon fibre composite patterning to the palm rest that lends it both a distinctive appearance and a non-slip feel. There is also a silver (lid) and white (palm rest) version of the XPS 13 (2020).

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The 13.4-inch XPS 13 (2020) runs on 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 CPUs with integrated UHD Graphics or Iris Plus Graphics. Screens are available with FHD+ (1920×1200) or UHD+ (3840 x 2400) resolution.

Image: Dell

Dell is doing its bit to avoid environmentally unfriendly materials in the build, and says 90% of this laptop is recyclable. The ethic is extended to the packaging, which is 100% recyclable. One day all laptops will at least meet this standard, and many more should be publicising credentials like this today.

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The XPS 13 (2020) will just about hide under a pad of A4 paper, as it measures just 296mm wide by 199mm deep. It’s thin too, being just 14.8mm at its thickest point, tapering towards the front. This thinness means there’s minimal space for ports and connectors, and all you get is a pair of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, one on each side, with a MicroSD card slot on the left and a 3.5mm headset jack on the right. Either of the USB-C ports can be used to charge the battery, and Dell provides a USB-C to USB 3 converter in the box. Don’t look for a SIM card slot on this ultraportable though: there’s no mobile broadband option for the XPS 13.

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The 13.4-inch screen sits in a surround that’s as close to bezel-free as I have seen. Dell does not give bezel measurements for its Infinity Edge display, but does quote a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. Even the bottom bezel, which can often be relatively large in minimal-bezel laptops, is impressively small here, and I measured the side bezels at around 3mm.

The screen in my review unit was a touch panel with 3,840-by-2,400-pixel resolution (UHD+, 338ppi). There are also non-touch and 1,920 x 1,200 (FHD+, 169ppi) options. All of the XPS 13 (2020) screens have 500-nits brightness and some are anti-reflective, some anti-glare. I found the screen on my high-end review unit to be very responsive to touch and pin-sharp in viewing, if somewhat reflective. 

The audio subsystem delivers plenty of volume, but the stereo speakers are lacking in bass tones. It’s fine for work-based video calling (a necessity at the current time), but if you want to use your laptop for either work presentations or catch-up video viewing, you may need an external speaker, or to look elsewhere.

On the subject of video calling, we’re pleased to see that Dell has relocated the webcam to the small bezel above the screen — a welcome move from its position beneath the screen in the previous version, which delivered a less-than-flattering ‘up the nose’ camera angle unless the laptop was raised up on a stand or a pile of books. A sliding privacy cover would be a nice touch, but sadly Dell doesn’t include one. There’s also an infrared camera for Windows Hello login, or you can use the fingerprint scanner that’s neatly disguised in the on/off button that sits in the top right corner of the keyboard.

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The backlit keyboard has an extremely light touch, and the keys have the nice bounceback I find conducive to fast touch-typing. The action is about as close to silent as it gets, with just a slight ‘thunk’ sounding as each key is used. If you work in quiet environments, you’ll appreciate this. The comfortable wrist rest houses a large and responsive touchpad that worked faultlessly during the review period.

There are no fewer than 11 preconfigured iterations of the XPS 13 (2020) available off the page. All run on 10th generation Intel Core processors and include Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, but they vary considerably in other specifications — some even running Ubuntu Linux. As usual with Dell, you can mix and match specifications to customise the configuration.

Here are the entry-level and top-end off-the-page models:

  • Intel Core i5-1035G1, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 1,920 x 1,200 non touch screen, Intel UHD Graphics, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD
    £1,399 (inc. VAT; £1,165.83 ex. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-1065G7, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 3,840 x 2,400 touch screen, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
    £1,799 (inc. VAT; £1,499.17 ex. VAT)

My review unit was the top-of-the-range Core i7/16GB RAM/1TB SSD model with the high-resolution touch screen. Not surprisingly, this performed very well when running my usual mainstream productivity workloads.

The 52Whr battery performed pretty well, too. In one five-hour stint involving writing into a web app, streaming music and watching the occasional video, the battery went from 95% to 57%, depleting 38% of its capacity. This suggests a total figure of around 12.5 hours. I left the screen at the default brightness setting for this test, which was just a shade below 50%, but in everyday usage I’d want this at closer to 60% for comfort in my home office. This would reduce battery life, as would heavier-duty workloads. If this is likely to be a problem, consider opting for the lower-resolution FHD+ screen, which will demand much less from the battery.

Conclusions

Lack of ports and connectors on the XPS 13 (2020) will be an issue for some people, and the relatively poor audio quality may also rankle. Battery life may also be an issue with the high-resolution display if you turn up the brightness and/or run demanding workloads.

In all other respects this is a superb top-flight ultrabook: it’s compact and portable, yet durable, and it’s fast, with a great screen and an excellent keyboard. You’ll have to spend a fair amount over the base price to get a high-resolution touch screen and more than 512GB of SSD storage though.

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