Dell enters the Ultrabook fray

- January 10th, 2012

Available at the end of February, the XPS 13 will mark Dell's entry into the red-hot Ultrabook market.

With this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas playing host to a dozen or two new models of Ultrabooks – skinny, powerful, Windows-based laptop computers – it was a given that our buddies at Dell would be leaping into the fray eventually. And so they have, with the just-announced Dell XPS 13, the company’s first entry in what will be the hottest computer category of 2012.

I went hands-on with the XPS 13 in Toronto yesterday and came away duly impressed, if not quite outright dazzled. What I like most about this unit is the size – it’s a 13.3-inch display laptop living in the body of a 12-inch machine, giving it lots of screen real estate with a noticeably smaller footprint, and weighing in at just a hair under three pounds (1.36 kg, to be metrically exact.) Best of both worlds.

It’s also got a very elegant, almost minimalist design. While every Ultrabook seems to take cues from the MacBook Air, the XPS 13 looks like the Air’s sibling, not just its cousin. From the burnished aluminum lid to the backlit, chiclet-style keyboard, it’s one of the most design-conscious computers Dell has made. Even the carbon fibre composite bottom of the computer is crafted with a certain understated grace, and is meant to keep laps cool even when the machine’s innards start to warm up.

The 1,366 x 768 pixel Gorilla Glass display is nice if fairly standard, and is powered by the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset. The trackpad is glassy smooth but very responsive, unlike its squirrely counterpart on the ASUS Zenbook. (It lacks the handy trackpad on/off switch of Toshiba’s Portege Z830, but that’s a relatively minor omission.) The XPS 13’s trackpad doesn’t have discrete left and right buttons, but the clickable lower corners have just the perfect amount of give. Again, best of both worlds.

Specswise, the XPS 13 is exactly what you’d expect from a new Ultrabook. The $999 basic model will have an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB solid state drive, and boast a three-second boot time and eight-plus hours of battery life under optimal conditions. Models with an Intel Core i7 CPU and 256 GB drive will also be available once the XPS 13 goes on sale via www.dell.ca at the end of February.

The XPS 13 appears to be a great starting place for the company’s voyage into thin-n’-light territory. Based on my quick hands-on, my only complaints are its bare minimum of ports (one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, a mini Display-Port and a headphone jack) and a certain lack of… personality, maybe? It’s a very lovely machine, and the screen size to chassis size ration is great, but with CES introducing us to an absolute flood of upcoming Ultrabooks, anything the competitors in this crowded market can do to stand out becomes a mark in their favour.

Hey, I know! They should bring back the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” guy. I can’t be the only one who misses him.

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2 comments

  1. JT | January 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Sorry but gone are the days where most regular consumers are willing to pay $1000-1500 for a laptop, even if it is an ultrabook. I like and appreciate the portable-ness of ultrabooks but the costs are prohibitive. I think it’s still a very low-volume niche market, much like Macbook Air or other offerings from various manufacturers.

  2. Peter | May 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

    As an avid user of Dell computers for many years, it is great to see the company finally release a truly slim line piece of machinery, and not just leave it to Apple to push the boundaries of computer technology.

    I will certainly continue to use the company for all my home and office systems.

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