A fine ultraportable laptop from Dell but prices have seen a hike
- Excellent display
- Good battery life
- Beautifully built
- Nothing else
- Base models are pricey
The Dell XPS 13 (2020) has been a bit of a boring laptop to review this year. Not because it’s not great – it absolutely is – but because Dell is making a relentless habit of building wonderful laptops year after year. It’s somewhat tedious how consistently excellent they are.
Portable and well made? Check. Fast enough for most tasks? Check. Comfortable to use all day, every day? Check. Top display quality? You betcha. The Dell XPS 13 (2020) is all of these things and more. It truly is, and remains, the gold standard in ultraportable laptops.
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Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: What you need to know
With this in mind, it’s important to recognise that this year’s XPS 13 is not a dramatic departure from previous years. It still has that classic wedge-shaped profile, with aluminium plates on the lid and base, and there’s still carbon fibre soft-touch plastic on the interior, too.
This year’s laptop sees some subtle yet important upgrades, though. The display has gone from the squashed 16:9 aspect ratio to a taller, more useful 16:10, available in FHD+ and UHD+ resolutions.
The internals have been given a boost, to the very latest 10th-generation Intel CPUs. There’s a new Windows Hello webcam and a thinner bezel at the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, it’s very much still the great laptop it was.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Price and competition
Alas, at the same time as upgrading what’s inside, Dell has also ramped up the price. The base system – which costs £1,399 – includes an Intel Core i5-1035G1, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, plus a Full HD+ 1,920 x 1,200 non-touch display.
The system I’ve been sent for this review contains an Intel Core i7-1065G7, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and the Full HD+ non-touch display and costs £1,599. And prices rise to around £1,800 for the maxed-out model with a 4K touch display, Intel Core i7-1065G7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.
At these prices, you’re looking at direct competition with the latest Apple MacBook Pro 13 models, which cost around £100 more for equivalent specifications, albeit with slightly more powerful CPUs.
On the Windows side, its natural rival is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, which is better value at the bottom end and pricier for more powerful models. Direct comparisons are complicated by the fact that you can’t get exactly the same spec as the base XPS 13, but you can get a Surface 3 with a 10th-gen Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for a list price of £1,269, which is a lot cheaper than the XPS 13. The Dell XPS 13 (2020) becomes better value the more you pile on the features, with the top-spec model costing £500 less than the top-end Surface Pro 3.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Design and new features
Physically, there isn’t much difference between the 2020 Dell XPS 13 and last year’s model. Dimensions are a touch more generous than last year – it’s a few millimetres narrower and a handful of grams lighter – but nothing that would stop you in your tracks.
|Dell XPS 13 (2019)||Dell XPS 13 (2020)|
|Weight||1.23kg (non-touch)||1.2kg (non-touch)|
The port layout and selection has changed a bit, though. Where last year you had three USB-C ports – one USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbits/sec) and two Thunderbolt 3 – this year you have only two USB-C ports, both Thunderbolt 3-enabled. The handy LED battery gauge has disappeared, too, but thankfully Dell has retained the microSD slot and 3.5mm headset jack.
Open up the laptop and there are a number of other minor physical changes, some good, some bad. The keyboard now stretches right to the edges of the chassis, leaving a mere 6mm of plastic either side. The new rectangular power button/fingerprint reader now resides where the Delete key used to be, shunting it a centimetre or so to the left. And the webcam set into the bezel above the screen has gained a couple of extra eyes, thus enabling Windows Hello face-recognition login.
I’ve tested both login methods and they seem to work reliably enough. As a regular video-call webcam, the new Windows Hello camera does leave something to be desired, though. The picture isn’t particularly crisp (resolution is limited to 720p) and the auto-exposure often struggles with extremes of light and dark. Microsoft’s 1080p webcams are far superior to this one. Having said that, the microphone seems to work reasonably well and the speakers are loud and clear enough for podcasts and conference calls.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Keyboard and touchpad
Moving around core keys like Delete is normally enough to raise my blood pressure a few notches, but thankfully the rest of the keyboard is sensibly laid out. The Shift, Tab, Backspace and Enter keys are all in their right and proper places, they’re nice and big, and there are no other nasty surprises.
And, as ever, the typing feel of the Dell XPS 13 (2020)’s keyboard is second to none. Although there isn’t a huge amount of travel, you get loads of positive feedback and every time you press a key it’s accompanied by a satisfying, well-damped thunk.
The 113 x 64mm touchpad is just as good, with a silky surface that delivers precise cursor control. It’s large enough to make multitouch gestures a joy instead of a chore.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Display
You have two display options with the Dell XPS (2020): a non-touch 1,920 x 1,200 screen or a 3,840 x 2,400 “Infinity Edge” touchscreen, both of which employ a taller, slightly squarer 16:10 aspect ratio than with the previous model.
Alas, I don’t have the 4K touchscreen to test, which is a shame because the specifications look tempting, but it’s good to know that the cheaper variety is pretty darned good. It gets incredibly bright, peaking at almost 600cd/m2, so it’s the perfect laptop for working in the garden, even on quite sunny days.
A high contrast ratio of 1,777:1 ensures images on the screen have plenty of presence and don’t look washed out. Colour accuracy in the sRGB colour space is exemplary and a matte finish to the screen ensures you get no distracting reflections from overhead strip lights. There’s no support for HDR with this non-touch display, but if you upgrade to the 4K screen you get Dolby Vision and DisplayHDR 400 support.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Performance
As it usually does each year, Dell has transitioned quickly to the latest generation of Intel CPUs, following up its first 10th-gen refresh in late 2019 with another set of 10th-gen CPUs. You have a choice of two CPUs with the 2020 Dell XPS 13: the 1-3.6GHz quad-core Core i5-1035G1 and the 1.3-3.9GHz quad-core Core i7-1065G7.
I have the latter for testing here, accompanied by 16GB of RAM, and it performs slightly better in the benchmarks than the 2019 Core i7 editions of the Dell XPS 13, which were based on the slower 10th-gen Intel Core i7-10510U and the 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8565U.
The Dell XPS 13 is a quick performer, with decent graphics performance evidenced by the scores attained in the Dirt Showdown and Metro: Lost Light Redux tests and speedy SSD reads and writes.
What’s perhaps more impressive is that battery life is now much better than it was in the late 2019 model.
We haven’t yet had the chance to test out the 2020 MacBook Pro 13, unfortunately, so that’s a bit of a hole in our test results. However, as you can see from the graph below, a time of 10hrs 50mins puts the Dell XPS 2020 some distance in front of all its Windows 10 rivals, apart from the Lenovo Yoga C940.
Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: Verdict
The price is the only thing that gets in the way of a five-star Best Buy award for the Dell XPS 13 (2020). Simply put, there are better-value laptops available if your budget is somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500 – the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, for instance.
Above that price, however, the XPS 13 becomes steadily more reasonable and, for the fully tricked out model, £1,800 is a very good price indeed. It’s better value than the Apple MacBook Pro 13 and a better laptop than the Huawei MateBook X Pro (2020) as well. The Dell XPS 13 remains the premium ultraportable to beat, then, but only at the high end.
Dell XPS 13 (2020)
|Processor||Intel Core i7-1065G7|
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Intel Iris Plus|
|Screen size (in)||13.4|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,200|
|Pixel density (PPI)||169|
|Memory card slot||microSD|
|3.5mm audio jack||Yes|
|Graphics outputs||USB C (Thunderbolt 3)|
|Other ports||USB C (Thunderbolt 3)|
|Web cam||720p (Windows Hello compatible)|
|Dimensions, mm (WDH)||296 x 199 x 14.8mm|
|Weight (kg) – with keyboard where applicable||1.23|
|Battery size (Wh)||52|
|Operating system||Windows 10|