Gorgeous laptops with usability quirks


Say farewell to the classic XPS 13, and say hello to the spiffy new XPS 13. Dell surprised us at CES by bringing the modern (and somewhat controversial) design of 2022’s XPS 13 Plus to its entire flagship lineup, which now includes the larger XPS 14 and 16 models. With this new design, they all have invisible haptic trackpads hidden beneath the glass-covered wrist rest, a capacitive top row of function keys (which can instantly switch to media controls), and wider gap-less keyboards that have no spacing between keys. But do those upgrades actually make them better computers than Dell’s previous XPS lineup? Well, it really depends on how much you like the way they look.

When I reviewed the XPS 16 last month, I was impressed by its sheer power and attractiveness, but its high price and a few quirks made it a tougher sell than the XPS 15 that came before it. The same is mostly true for the XPS 13 and 14. The smaller model is basically just the XPS 13 Plus with a new Intel Core Ultra 7 chip. The XPS 14 is far more intriguing, since it aims to pack in the power of the XPS 16 without being so damn hefty. I’m reviewing them together because they’re gunning for a very similar audience: People who demand both speed and portability. Choosing between them comes down to how much power you actually need and how much weight you’re willing to deal with.

Dell

Dell’s latest XPS 13 is stylish, portable and powerful. You’ll have to get used to some of its design quirks, though, and it’s far pricier than older models.

Pros

  • Attractive and modern design
  • Solid performance for an ultraportable
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Gorgeous display
Cons

  • Invisible trackpad leads to usability issues
  • Function keys disappear in sunlight
  • Trackpad feels sluggish at 60Hz
  • Could use more ports
  • Expensive

$1,399 at Dell

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Dell

Dell’s XPS 14 is a beautiful and powerful MacBook Pro competitor, though you’ll pay for its modern design with usability quirks and a higher overall price.

Pros

  • Fast performance
  • Gorgeous OLED screen
  • Attractive modern design
Cons

  • Invisible trackpad leads to usability issues
  • Function keys disappear in sunlight
  • Expensive
  • Trackpad sluggish at 60Hz

$1,699 at Dell

Just like their larger sibling, both the XPS 13 and 14 are gorgeous to behold. They’re exercises in minimalism, with all-aluminum cases (available in light or dark variants) and clean layouts around their keyboards. And yes, their displays also have razor-thin bezels, something Dell popularized with the XPS line over a decade ago. Rather than try to stand out with extraneous features like dual screens or a plethora of LEDs, the XPS 13 and 14 make more of a statement by what they don’t have: visible trackpads and dedicated function keys.

Like the XPS 13 Plus, this year’s XPS 13 only carries two USB-C sockets and no other ports — no dedicated headphone jack, not even a dedicated charging connection. But hey, at least Dell put its USB-C ports on opposite sides, something I’d still like to see on the MacBook Air. If you want any other additional connectivity, you’re probably better off with the XPS 14, which has three USB-C ports, a headphone jack and a micro-SD card slot. Professionals would be better off with a full-sized SD card reader, though, and it would be nice to have an HDMI port like the MacBook Pro 14-inch.

Weight is the most obvious difference between the XPS 13 and 14: the smaller model comes in at 2.6 pounds (slightly less than the MacBook Air), while the XPS 14 is noticeably heftier at 3.7 pounds. (Dell is following Apple’s product strategy a bit, as the 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.7 pounds and the MacBook Pro 14-inch sits between 3.4 and 3.6 pounds.) The XPS 13 and 14 are both easy to carry around all day, but the one-pound difference could make the larger model more annoying if you’re trying to travel light.

Still, the XPS 14 justifies its additional heft by cramming in more hardware. It can be equipped with NVIDIA’s RTX 4050 GPU (running at 30 watts), and also features more robust cooling, which allows it to reach a higher maximum thermal envelope of 47 watts. The XPS 13, on the other hand, can only hit 28 watts of sustained performance. Even though both machines use the same Intel Core Ultra CPUs, you’ll end up seeing far better performance from the XPS 14 for prolonged workloads like video encoding or 3D rendering. (Again, that’s much like the difference between the MacBook Air and base configuration MacBook Pro.)

Dell XPS 13 and 14
The XPS 13 (2024) sitting on top of the XPS 14. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

The XPS 14’s 14.5-inch screen is an inch larger than the XPS 13’s, which makes it more comfortable for multitasking with multiple apps or working on media timelines. No matter which model you choose, though, you’ll get a bright and immersive image, along with thin bezels that Apple still can’t touch. Both computers offer a variety of viewing options: the XPS 13 can be equipped with Full HD+ (1,920 by 1,200 pixels, non-touch), Quad HD+ (2,560 by 1,600) or 3K+ OLED (2,880 by 1,800), while its larger sibling gets Full HD+ (non-touch) and 3.2K+ OLED (3,200 by 2,000) screens..

Dolby Vision is standard across the board, but you’ll only get 100 percent DCI-P3 color gamut coverage with the pricier displays. You’ll also get up to 120Hz refresh rates on all of the screens, except for the XPS 13’s OLED, which maxes out at 60Hz. (I’d recommend avoiding that option entirely and going for a high refresh rate LCD, which will ultimately deliver a smoother image.)

None

PCMark 10

3DMark (TimeSpy Extreme)

Geekbench 6

Cinebench R23

Dell XPS 13 (2024, Intel Core Ultra 5 135U, Intel Graphics)

5,772

1,075

2,276/11,490

1,662/10,298

Dell XPS 14 (Intel Core Ultra 7 165H, Intel Arc)

6,737

9,107

2,261/11,920

1,572/11,295

Dell XPS 16 (Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, NVIDIA RTX 4070)

7,436

4,087

2,298/13,117

1,676/14,755

Framework Laptop 16 (AMD Ryzen 7 7840HS, Radeon RX 7700S)

8,129

4,770

2,557/11,961

1,675/14,448

Both the XPS 13 and XPS 14 I reviewed were equipped with Intel’s Core Ultra 7 155H CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The XPS 14 also had NVIDIA’s RTX 4050 GPU, while the smaller laptop relied on Intel’s built-in Arc graphics. As I expected, they didn’t differ too much when it came to CPU benchmarks like Geekbench 6. But the XPS 14 was twice as fast as the XPS 13 in the Geekbench 6 Compute test, which relies on the GPU for more intensive work. That NVIDIA hardware also helped the XPS 14 be more than three times as fast as the 13 in the Geekbench Machine Learning GPU test.

While the XPS 14 is far from what I’d call a gaming laptop, its NVIDIA GPU also let me play Halo Infinite in 1080p with medium graphics at 40fps. That’s not exactly my ideal Halo experience, but hey, it’s playable. In comparison, the XPS 13’s Intel Arc graphics barely managed to sustain 25fps. The RTX 4050 GPU is mainly useful for media creation on the XPS 14: I was able to use Handbrake to transcode a 4K clip into 1080p in 26 seconds, whereas that same task took 36 seconds on the XPS 13.

Dell XPS 14 from the front

I had no trouble with my daily workflow on either machine, but I enjoyed carrying the XPS 13 around town far more than the XPS 14 simply because it’s lighter and easier to maneuver. I could slip it into a tote bag without a second thought, bring it to Starbucks and get up and running easily. Thanks to its additional bulk and weight, II sometimes had trouble stuffing the XPS 14 into the same bag amid the accoutrements of parenthood. This won’t be much of a problem if you’re using a backpack (and not trying to fit in kids’ toys and snacks), but it was a reminder of how useful a sub-three pound notebook can be.

Much like the XPS 16, I enjoyed typing on Dell’s lusciously wide keyboards. The large key caps are easy to hit and they have a satisfying amount of key travel. The keyboard is more visually impressive on the XPS 13, since it stretches completely edge-to-edge, while it’s flanked by speakers on the XPS 14. The capacitive function keys are fine most of the time, but they still disappear in direct sunlight and other bright lighting.

And then there’s the trackpad. By now, I’m used to Dell’s invisible design, and I also appreciated the increased size of the XPS 14’s trackpad. But it still takes some adjustment, especially for newcomers. I’ve also noticed that it’s sometimes tough to find the line that separates left and right clicks, which led to a few frustrated attempts to copy and paste links from Chrome.

Dell XPS 14 keyboard view

Now that I’ve experienced Dell’s invisible trackpad and capacitive function row across four machines, I’m even more convinced they’re a mistake. Sure, they look cool and help Dell stand out in the dull world of Windows laptops, but that doesn’t justify the usability issues. On the XPS 13 and 14, I also saw fraction-of-a-second delays while swiping around Windows. The problem went away when I forced both machines to run at 120Hz, but that also uses more battery life than running at 60Hz. It almost feels like I’m trying to swipe through an additional layer of glass. I noticed the same issue on multiple XPS 13 and 14 units, but Dell tells me it hasn’t been able to replicate any slowdown in its labs. The company will be doing a further investigation into our review units, and I’ll report back later on what it finds.

As for the rest of their hardware, both the XPS 13 and XPS 14 feature solid 1080p webcams with Windows Hello support for facial authentication. You can also use Windows Studio Effects during video chats to blur backgrounds and adjust your gaze, thanks to the NPUs in Intel’s new Core Ultra chips. Their 8-watt speaker setups sound fine for watching YouTube videos or playing a bit of background music, but they’re not nearly as impressive as Apple’s notebooks. There was also a surprising battery life gap between both machines: The XPS 13 lasted 13 hours and 15 minutes in PCMark 10’s Modern Office benchmark, while the XPS 14 ran for just four and a half hours. You can chalk that up to its beefier GPU, as well as its larger screen.

Another downside to the XPS 13 and 14’s spiffy look? Higher prices. The XPS 13 now starts at $1,399 with the configuration we tested, while the XPS 16 starts at $1,699. (Our review unit would cost $2,399, thanks to its NVIDIA GPU and OLED screen.) I’ll give Dell credit for making 16GB of RAM standard, instead of 8GB like previous models, but for the most part you’re paying out the nose to have a prettier trackpad. Is that really worth it? Dell’s pricing is particularly wild when you consider you can nab an M3 MacBook Air for $1,099 and a 14-inch MacBook Pro for $1,599. Sure, you’ll also need to add $200 to get 16GB of RAM, but even the base configurations are faster than Dell’s laptops.

While there’s a lot to like about the new XPS 13 and XPS 14, we can’t recommend them as easily as Dell’s earlier XPS generations. They look attractive and perform well, but that comes at a cost for usability, battery life and, well, actual cost. Simply put, you’re paying more for pretty machines.



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