Among the fanfare of announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, this one could have slipped through without much notice: Dell’s XPS 13 got a refresh, which in all the sound and fury of the annual trade show might seem rather small. After all, Dell also came to the show sporting multiple Alienware unveilings with the new industrial design, a slew of monitors (including a 55-inch 120Hz 4K OLED job), and a Latitude commercial notebook that uses a combination of proximity sensor and camera to log a legitimate user in (and keep all others out) as they approach the system.
So, what’s the big deal about an already-successful product getting some updated components? Perfection. That’s the big deal. The XPS 13 has always aspired to be The MacBook Air Killer, but in the past its quarry has managed to slip away, at least partly due to a small but important design imperfection — the “nostril cam.”
As is often the case in PC design, some compromises have to be made between design dreams and the reality of component limitations, cost, and manufacturability. Steve Jobs was famous for not letting such issues stand in the way of his dream realizations, much to the chagrin of the product managers working for him at Apple. Usually, they would have to bend on cost to attain his design goal before the product could go out. In prior XPS models, Dell decided to put the built-in camera at the bottom of the screen, where there was enough room for it, given that Dell’s InfinityEdge displays leave little real estate around the outer margins. But that led to an unfortunate side effect: at the screen’s natural viewing angle, the camera was looking pretty much right up your nose.
Well, the latest revision fixes that entirely, allowing the XPS 13 to go on to realize its ideal self. The magic is in the tiny (2.25mm) micro HD webcam, which is small enough to fit in that skinny (4mm) bezel above the screen. Now, you look like yourself in the cam image, rather than an ad for nasal grooming. With that one huge flaw out of the way, the XPS 13’s beautiful design leaps into the foreground.
Otherwise, specs have been updated as appropriate, including the penultimate Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processor choices, anywhere from 4GB to 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM, Intel UHD 620 graphics, and three display options: plain ol’ 1080p (1920x1080), a 1080p touchscreen, or a 4K (3840x2160) upgrade. (You know you want that 4K.) Dell throws in Dolby Vision support for HDR video to seal the deal. Storage is fast and can be copious with solid state options running from 128GB up to 2TB.
The XPS 13’s hallmark construction materials — machined aluminum, carbon fiber, Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 — are carried forward from earlier models. The color palette includes traditional “platinum silver” and black, a “rose gold” and “arctic white” option, and a new scheme that features a “frost white” exterior and Alpine white interior. I know, I know, it’s hard to keep white things white, but Dell has made the palm rest out of coated woven glass fiber, producing a surface both ultraviolet and stain resistant.
With a tip of the hat to Microsoft for making Windows 10 a sturdy platform, the XPS 13 can now stand up as a solid contender for best-in-class among slim mainstream notebooks.
Units start at $899 and were available as of Jan. 8.