This week I checked out the new Dell XPS 13 in Alpine White, and it is a showcase for what Dell’s premium brand laptops provide. Premium laptops cost more because they generally use higher-quality materials in their cases, better screens, more powerful processors and higher-speed hard drives.
This one was no exception; it features a near-opalescent white color, a woven glass fiber palm rest, Intel Core 7 processor, 4K Ultra HD Touch screen, 52-watt hour battery (which should provide more than10 hours’ battery life) and a color matched power supply. This isn’t a cheap date, either; this configuration comes close to being fully loaded with a price just over $2,000.
Consistent with the class, the laptop is as much of a design and fashion statement as it is a tool for work.
Let’s chat about this new Dell XPS 13 this week.
The Pivot from Apple
It is interesting to note that products in this class historically targeted Apple MacBook offerings. Apple, for most of PC history, held the design high ground and had margins that the other PC makers envied. The combination of a high-design focus and a marketing budget other PC companies could only envy made the MacBook the product to beat.
While Steve Jobs certainly understood the relationship between marketing, product refresh cycles and demand, CEO Tim Cook evidently does not, and the engine fueling Apple’s leadership was slowly choked off. The result is that Apple isn’t really leading the class anymore; that leadership has largely passed to Microsoft and Surface, because that is where the marketing budget is. With growth in the 20+ percent range based on the last Microsoft financial report, Microsoft Surface is the heir apparent to what once was clear Apple dominance at the top.
But while Microsoft may be the segment leader regarding growth and marketing, the OEMs don’t look at Microsoft now like they did Apple, and they are each pivoting to their own unique design language. The Dell XPS 13 is a showcase of what Dell believes a laptop should be.
Evolution of the XPS
The XPS line has changed over the years. One of the few laptops I lusted for but never obtained was the old Dell XPS World of Warcraft edition, which preceded the firm’s acquisition of Alienware. Prior to Alienware, the XPS was Dell’s high-end gaming line, and the products were massive beasts with carry weights in the 10 lb.+ range and battery life measured in minutes.
But once Alienware took over the high-end gaming mission, XPS evolved into a design-forward luxury brand in which status and envy for design and portability replaced the old design goals of being an over-the-top performance beast.
As a result, today’s XPS doesn’t even have discrete AMD or NVIDIA graphic. Think more Bentley, much less Dodge Charger Demon (that last is now pretty much exclusive to Alienware in Dell’s PC hierarchy).
The New Dell XPS 13
Given this is Dell’s high-end luxury brand, the technology goes into the unique visual features like that woven glass palm rest, with elegant backlighting, and high stain resistance, so it always looks pristine. Like most other products in its class this XPS has an aluminum frame for weight but also has Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which both increases the strength of the screen and reduces the weight (the latter is far more important on a laptop with a large screen over a smartphone with a small one).
The design is very sharp and clean, with a screen bezel that almost vanishes, and a tiny smartphone-like camera that corrects one of the big design flaws of the last generation. (The last generation had the camera close the keyboard, and it was not-so-fondly called “the nose hair camera”). Like a luxury performance car, there is a unique performance element in that they are using a unique cooling solution using Gore thermal insulation, which allows a thinner design while holding performance and keeping fan noise way down.
This laptop has 3 Thunderbolt ports (typically only found at the high end) for higher external data performance (you can use a Thunderbolt dock) and the ability to use external 4K monitors (it can support two additional 4K monitors).
Like other Dell laptops, the product has Dell’s Cinema product set (Color/Stream/Sound) that make movies pop. This would be far more powerful if the promised ability to download Amazon Prime movies and play them on the plane were available on Windows. At least you can download many titles off Netflix now, and you can still buy movies on the Microsoft Store, but for those of us with huge Amazon movie libraries, we are still kind of stuck until Amazon allows downloads on PCs.
In use, this lacks the performance of a gaming product but is up to anything short of workstation loads for productivity and entertainment. At around 2.7 pounds with a pocketable transformer, the product feels good to carry and to use. It brings a smile to my face every time I open it.
One downside is that it doesn’t have a Microsoft Hello camera, but the power button/fingerprint reader has worked flawlessly, and I don’t find I miss trying to be at the perfect distance, so the camera recognizes me. (The fingerprint reader isn’t as cool, but it seems to work more reliably).
Wrapping Up: Laptop Art
Premium class notebooks, like luxury cars, homes, or anything else, aren’t for everyone. This product class isn’t for anyone who just wants a basic laptop and/or is living on a tight budget. This class, and the XPS 13, is for those who want to stand out a bit, have a tool that feels good to hold and be identified with, and that is consistent with a desire to both look good and work hard.
In the end, this class of product--and the XPS 13--aren’t about need, but want. You don’t need a laptop in this class, but if you are like me, once you see it, you’ll probably want it. There are those of us who like to fit in and those of us that like to stand above the crowd. The Dell XPS 13 is for that latter group.
One final comment: I’m not typically a fan of white (I’m a huge believer in blacks and grays instead) but this white just feels advanced--like you’ve stepped into a pristine future of technology and wonder. I don’t think that is a bad thing.