Dell XPS 13: our first impression of this 13.3in Ultrabook

Dell takes the wraps off its first Ultrabook, the XPS 13, complete with Gorilla Glass and carbon fibre

Dell's XPS 13z is well built, slim and mobile.

Dell's XPS 13z is well built, slim and mobile.

Dell has today unveiled its first Ultrabook, the XPS 13. It's a 13.3in laptop with a maximum thickness of 18mm (at its thickest point) and a weight of 1.36kg. As far as Ultrabooks go, it's a little different to the norm: it has edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass in front of its screen and it introduces a carbon fibre base.

We got a chance to briefly hold and the XPS 13 at its launch in Sydney today, and we can say that it feels very solid indeed. Its screen has an aluminium lid and it didn't flex noticeably when pressured, its hinges felt strong and the build quality of the computer overall was tough and sturdy.

The above-average build quality is, in part, due to this Ultrabook's positioning as an enterprise and high-end consumer product. It's primarily designed for business users who want something, sleek, light and good looking that also offers good performance for everyday office tasks.

A slanted design sees the XPS 13 get thicker from the front, where it is 6mm thick, to the rear, where it is 18mm thick. It looks good though, and a chrome trim around the base adds a bit of flair. All up, the design of the XPS 13 is minimal. The lid has a smooth finish and proudly displays a chrome Dell logo, while the carbon fibre base has a lovely texture and a plate in the centre with the computer's model name on it. Basically, it's a very attractive notebook and it feels good to hold — it's perhaps a little heavy, but you have to remember that this unit also has Gorilla Glass on its screen and is probably the most solidly constructed of all the Ultrabooks currently on the Australian market.

According to Dell, the carbon fibre base won't get hot during intensive processing operations and this means that it can provide a more comfortable experience when using the XPS 13 on your lap. There are vents on the bottom, but warm air is pushed out by a fan through more vents that are located on the spine of the unit.

Dell will make the XPS 13 available with Intel Core i5-2467M and Intel Core i7-2637M CPUs and with solid state drive technology (your choice of 128GB or 256GB models). You also get the usual 4GB (1333MHz) of DDR3 SDRAM as standard and integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics. Communications will be handled by a dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230) and Bluetooth 3.0. With the main focus of the Ultrabook being wireless connectivity, it doesn't have a built-in Ethernet adapter. Instead, Ethernet will be by way of a USB adapter if you want to use that feature.

Ports are located along the sides of the XPS 13, rather than at the back. The left side has a USB 2.0 port, a combination headphone/microphone jack and the power jack. The right side features a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a battery indicator that can tell you how much of the 6-cell, 47 Watt-hour battery is available — there's no need to lift the lid and boot the laptop to find out.

Like most Ultrabooks, the Dell's battery is located within the enclosed chassis and is said to last up to eight hours (according to Dell's MobileMark battery testing). How much life you get out of the unit will depend not only on the screen brightness, but also if you use the keyboard backlight, which can be set to full on, or on-when-typing. If you use the notebook while out and about during the day, then you'll want to have the backlight turned off anyway, and switch it on when you get home and want to work well into the night. We weren't too fond of the keyboard on the XPS 15z and XPS 14z models (although the 14z was better than the 15z), but the 13's chiclet keyboard felt a little more responsive in our brief hands-on today — we didn't have to bash the keys too hard at all, so maybe it's third time lucky for this keyboard design.

The touchpad is large and its left- and right-click buttons are located beneath the pad. It supports multi-finger gestures and feels smooth to use. The screen looked reasonably bright and vibrant, but with the glossy panel, reflections might end up being an uncomfortable problem. The resolution of the screen is 1366x768, which isn't as good as the 1600x900 offered on the ASUS Zenbook UX31. The screen's bezel houses a 1.3-megapixel webcam.

As it's designed for corporate users as much as 'prosumers', Dell offers the same ProSupport options as it does for its Latitude business laptops, as well as customisation features and asset labeling. We think the lack of an Ethernet port is an oversight, and we also would have liked an SD card slot. As far as build quality and looks are concerned though, it holds its own.

If you want this laptop, you'll have to wait a while. It's not due to go on sale until March in Australia and New Zealand, and pricing has not yet been confirmed. In the United States, it will cost $999.

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