Dell XPS 13: my primary dev machine I have used for last six month

People usually post reviews of the newest and the hottest gadgets out there, but this article is about a piece of hardware that I have used for about half a year now. My Dell XPS 13 was a substitute I have chosen for my broken ASUS laptop and I am pretty happy about that choice.

Features I was looking for

At the time of buying it was already on a market for a while but the spec was still quite good, if you used the link on the top, its the one on the middle with Intel Core i7-3537U processor running at 1.9GHz. It has also has 8GB of RAM and 256 SSD (it is more around 240GB but the marketing is so much better with bigger numbers). I don't play any games that demand high performance graphics, sothe built in IntelHD 4000 that supports 2560 x 1440 resolution with multiple monitors is more than enough for me. Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi N is in standard.

One of the features I was looking for in a laptop was built in DisplayPort, which is probably more known as its Apple colleague ThunderBolt. I have a 27" Dell U2713HMmonitor with 2560 x 1440 resolution that works only when connected though the DisplayPort. It was pretty disappointing to find out there are so few computers that actually support this kind of connection back in March. I was about to purchase a ZenBook Prime with two 256GB SSDs connected in RAID0, when I found out it only had an HDMI port available. The other real option was Lenovo Carbon Touch but it was kind of an overkill for me to pay >$2000 and get a smaller SSD storage with useless touchscreen (sorry, I don't buy all that 'monitor touching' thing for some reason just yet).

The XPS look and feel

Most of my previous laptops were rather mid-end machines, with plastic body and not that great looks. The reason was that the specs were changing so fast I didn't see any sense in buying a more than a thousand dollar machine just to get another one in a year. But the tendency has changed last couple of years, and the 3.2GHz x4 computer with 8GB of RAM and 60GB SSD I had put together in 2010 don't look that bad in 2013.

Dell XPS 13 Front opened view Nazar Gargol review

So, this time I decided to buy something I would really enjoy using and would not want to throw away for reasons like: the touch pad is all used up or the plastic cover got broken into half after falling from 20 cm laptop stand. This machine is probably best compared to a mac book air in the way it looks. It has really nice aluminium cover frame with carbon bottom, that makes it really light and strong at the same time. The keyboard has very smooth feeling with nice backlight that doesn't really help, but looks amazing in the dark. Whole experience of using this laptop is feeling solid, the parts are well put together and even after half a year of heavy usage it all looks amazing.

And couple more images:

side view dell xps 13 review nazar gargol

And this is how it looks at my work place:

workstation view dell xps 13 review nazar gargol

Dongles and adapters

The thing I was afraid about having an ultrabook is having too many dongles to carry around, but that didn't really happen to me. Ultrabooks don't have ethernet port, so this lan-to-usb adapter was one of the things I though I would buy the very first day, but it looks like Wi-Fi is everywhere I go and I didn't fell a need to purchase that thing until now.

One adapter you will eventually have to order along with the laptop is the DisplayPort cable, although it is the only port you can connect your laptop to any other screen, it doesn't go along in a package with the computer. I didn't do so, and I had to use the thunderbolt-to-hdmi adapter from the Mac for a few days. This experience was good because I had a very clear comparison between really high resolution my external monitor could give me and the one the hdmi was giving.

The battery

The built in battery is still not something I would recommend relying on when going to a coffeshop or to some hackathon. It is always a good choice to take your AC adapter with you, as the battery won't get you anywhere beyond 3 hours of high performance usage and only about 4-5 hours of browsing on power saver.

Funny thing that happened to me was that I took my machine to power saver mode when I got it, to check out how long it would last, and I totally forgot about the setting. After using it for about a day I was very disappointed about the performance as it is considerably slower when comparing to 'high performance' one. I was looking for all kinds of reasons, I though those preinstalled programs were the cause. I deleted them without effect and did checks on SSD as they are faulty quite often. It was a great surprise finding accidental 'power saver' option checked and amazing performance boost after unchecking it :)

The good

Here is the list of nice features I love about this little machine.

The weight of this laptop is just breathtaking. It is the first computer I can hold in a hand like a tablet. When I carry it around in my postman bag it doesn't really differ from any other book that would be on its place otherwise.
The camera is the best I had in any of my computers. Even the external ones were worse than this one.
Fast boot option is actually fast. The compute wakes up in those couple of seconds they market it.
DisplayPort is definitely a plus for this model, as very few other ultrabooks have it.

The bad

Some things were not that good at the moment of buying this laptop. They were fixed in the newer models but I will mention them anyway.

The screen is covered with Girolla® Glass.... But the resolution is only 1366x768. Why in the world anybody would want a gorilla glass on the monitor? I would prefer to get a retina-like display without any fancy protection on it. The glass cover is giving a glossy effect that I hate so much. The newer version has a FullHD screen but the glossy glass is still there.
It only has 2 USB 3.0 ports. As I already mentioned, I don't like dongles and adapters, this limitation makes me buy one more useless adapter just to be able to plug a couple more devices.
The SSD is very fast, and I don't have any performance issues. The noise it produces under heavy load is the thing that disturbs me a lot.

The ugly

Preinstalled Windows with all the Dell software. Oh.. don't get me started. It is OK when I get an OS with a laptop, but I would really like to at least choose the language version for the system. I bought a polish distribution XPS and it went with a polish system by default. I tried installing a language pack, but when I've seen 'Usługa Sieciowa' instead of 'Network Service' while adding permissions to folder I knew I had to get rid of that stuff.

The system installation wasn't a pleasant experience either. I've put the new OS to a USB stick, and when I got to 'format disk' stage it didn't allow me to reformat my SSD in a way I wanted as partitions were EFI locked. I did figure out how to take the locks away, but it was pretty hard doing it after partially formatting the system and going through disk management options using my phone to browse any information.

Overall summary for Dell XPS 13

I will repeat myself. This is an amazing ultrabook. I would definitely buy it again as the price/quality ratio is very high. It is not as expensive as the MacBook Air or the Lenovo Carbon Touch, but is giving solid and high quality product impression. It has been my primary dev machine for these 6 month and I don't regret any moment using it.