In paper the Dell XPS 13 is a very similar critter to the Asus ZenBook. It’s a very similar size, adopting the 13.3 inch ultraportable format to go head to head with Apple’s new MacBook. Packing what appears to be comparable hardware to the ZenBook, it’s only $100 more expensive. However, after spending quality time with the XPS 13, we have to say that it’s deﬁnitely the better of the two. For starters, the XPS 13 has more of a premium feel and ﬁnish to it, bringing it more in line with the superb build quality of the MacBook. The fact that the display stretches all the way to the edges makes a huge aesthetic difference, foregoing the unattractive border found on the ZenBook. The polished aluminum also feels a little sturdier than the ZenBook UX305, though some may dislike the rubberized ﬁnish around the keyboard. Make no mistake, this is an ultraportable device, tipping the scales at just 1.18kg. It’s slightly deeper than the competition, measuring 20mm at its thickest point, which deﬁnitely feels chunkier than the ZenBook and MacBook. However, this extra girth has allowed Dell to cram in some of the fastest components around, but more about that in a moment.
The chiclet keyboard design is relatively standard, and each key feels reassuringly sturdy. Dell has wisely adopted a backlit design, possible likely due to the extra depth of the base. The touchpad is superb, being both responsive and accurate, and is deﬁnitely superior to the one found on the ZenBook. The screen is superior as well, not just as a result of the borderless “inﬁnity” design employed by dell. It simply has better color and contrast performance, yet still offers exceptionally wide viewing angles courtesy of the IPS panel used within. Our version came with the standard HD panel, with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, but Dell also offers a Quad HD panel that packs in 3200 x 1800 pixels. We can only imagine how crisp such a screen would appear, but should point out that Asus offers a similar panel upgrade with the Zenbook. Unlike the MacBook, the XPS 13 has a healthy range of input/output ports, starting with the twin USB 3.0 ports (Dell also sells a USB dock to increase the number of ports). A mini DisplayPort output handles connectivity for a second monitor, while the usual SD card reader is present on the right side of the base. Finally, an there’s an audio jack to handle headphone duties. So far, so good, but it’s the hardware within that propels this laptop to legendary status.
Considering it’s one of the smallest laptops in the roundup, we were amazed at this machine’s performance. The Intel i5-5200U is unique to the XPS 13, and its twin-cored, HyperThreaded design boosts all the way up to 2.7GHz under load. This is actually slower than the ZenBook’s maximum frequency, but the doubling of RAM up to 8GB of DDR3 1600 seems to have helped performance. Or perhaps it’s that the 256GB SSD in the XPS 13 is faster than that of the Asus, but regardless the XPS 13 blew the ZenBook away when it comes to performance.
Our PCMark 8 Home benchmark showed that the XPS 13 is the fastest laptop in our roundup, remarkable considering its tiny proportions. This responsive is evident during use, where applications load without hesitation, and swapping between open applications is instantaneous. It also came second in the PCMark 8 Office tests, testimony to the i5 processor used within.
Despite this blazing performance, battery life hasn’t suffered much at all, posting an impressive result of 369 minutes, just one hour less than the Asus. When this blazing performance is factored into the equation, there’s simply no debate about which is the best ultraportable laptop in our roundup. Combined with its better display, more response trackpad and backlit keyboard, the XPS 13 runs rings around the ZenBook. Considering that it’s only $100 more expensive, and there really is no room to argue; Dell XPS 13 is easily the best ultraportable Windows 8 laptop in the roundup today.