Dell XPS 13 Review pt 1

Listeners of Coder Radio will probably know that my primary mobile production machine is no longer a Macbook Pro but rather a Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu Linux. I’ve received a lot of emails and questions over social networks asking how the machine is to work in for a full time software developer, so I’ve written up this review of the hardware. To be clear, I will be publishing a second piece on working (more or less) full time in Ubuntu that focuses on the software in the next week or so.

The Good: The Dell XPS 13 is a great looking machine in terms of industrial design. In a lot of ways, it looks a bit more modern than even the Macbook Air which it clearly attempts to emulate. In terms of weight, it comes in just under three pounds. The battery life is more than acceptable and the machine boots and resumes from sleep almost instantly due to its SSD hard-drive.  In both Windows and Ubuntu, the XPS feels peppy even with its relatively diminutive four gigabytes of RAM.

The Bad: The trackpad is one of the worst laptop trackpads I’ve worked with in years. On both Windows and Ubuntu, modifications to system settings had to be made in response to the trackpad’s general clumsiness; out of the box the pad seems far too sensitive to accidental swipes and taps from the user’s palm. Another pain point is the fan — it’s loud. Worse still, the fan starts even while doing the most mundane of computing tasks; for example, I currently have this Google Chrome tab with three others and the XChat IRC client open and the fan sounds like the small aircraft of an amature pilot.                       

The Ugly: The screen is so bad it’s offensive. Where Dell has managed to match or even surpass Apple’s attention to detail in terms of the industrial design of the case, they quickly revert back to the subpar quality we have come to expect from PC manufacturers pinched between the demand for low prices and razor thin profit margins.

The Verdict: The XPS 13 is by  no means a bad machine. In fact, it is more than serviceable for most users, however, it would be advisable to wait to see what the next model in the series is like if you do not need a machine today. Does it stack up against the Macbook Air? Sadly, no. Dell’s failings in the screen and trackpad only further highlight the quality of the Air’s screen and elegance of it’s trackpad. If you don’t mind Mac OS X, you’ll be much happier with the Air.

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