18/06/2012 11:15 | By Cliff Joseph, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Dell XPS 13 review

One of the most compact 13.3-inch laptops we’ve seen so far, with good battery life, too

Dell XPS 13 is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Dell)

What is it?
Dell's first shot at a super-slimline Ultrabook.

What's great?
One of the most compact 13.3-inch laptops we've seen so far, with good battery life, too.

What's not?
Expensive, and it won't handle the latest 3D games.

Bottom line
First-class design and construction justifies the high price tag.

Dell has taken its time getting in on the Ultrabook action, but its new XPS 13 is a classy laptop that will give its rivals a real run for their money.

Like all Ultrabooks, the XPS 13 has an extremely thin and lightweight design - it measures just 18mm thick at the back where the screen and keyboard meet, and tapers to a mere 6mm at the front edge. However, the thing that really stands out is the quality of the machine's construction.

The XPS 13 feels great the moment you pick it up. It weighs only 1.36kg, but it feels really sturdy and solidly built. The base of the unit is made of carbon fibre that is strong yet has a pleasantly soft and tactile feel to it. The trackpad and keyboard panel have a similarly soft finish, while the individual keys themselves are moulded for a more comfortable feel.

Even the 13.3-inch screen is something special. A layer of super strong Gorilla Glass prevents scratches and keeps the entire screen panel really rigid and firm, providing good protection when you're on the move. It doesn't affect the clarity of the screen, though, so photos and video look great.

The strength of the Gorilla Glass also means Dell has been able to reduce the size of the border around the edge of the screen, with the result that the XPS 13 is even smaller than most of its 13-inch Ultrabook rivals. In fact it's only half an inch wider than the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is pretty good going.

See also - Dell XPS 12 review

The only drawback of that slimline design is that - like the MacBook Air - the XPS 13 is a bit short of connections and ports. The two USB ports are fine and there are connections for an external monitor and headphones. However, there's no Ethernet port for connecting to a wired network, which means you're entirely reliant on its built in wi-fi for networking. And, of course, there's no room for an internal DVD drive, so you'll need to provide an external drive of your own in order to install software off CD-ROM or to play DVD films.

Inside that sleek chassis you'll find an Intel i5 processor that runs at 1.6GHz. That's a fairly modest speed, and the XPS 13 won't be able to handle the latest 3D action games, but the dual-core i5 chip will still provide more than enough power for browsing the web, watching video and doing a bit of word-processing or spreadsheet work. It also has 4GB of memory and a super-fast 128GB SSD (solid state drive), which should be large enough to store most of your files - although you might need a larger external drive if you've got a really large library of music and videos.

Battery life is good, too. We got a full five hours out of the XPS 13 when using its built-in wi-fi to stream full-screen video off the BBC iPlayer, so you should certainly be able to stretch that to six hours or more for less strenuous work.

As always, though, the lightweight design comes with a heavyweight price - £949 for the basic model shown here, going up to about £1300 for a model with a more powerful i7 processor. However, that's about average for an Ultrabook at the moment, and the sheer quality of the XPS 13's design ensures this - one of the lightest and most compact 13-inch laptops currently available - really stands out.

Dell XPS 13 is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets

Essential info:
Typical online price: £949
URL: http://www.dell.com/uk/p/xps-13-l321x/fs
Screen: 13.3-inch, 1366x768 resolution
Processor: Intel i5 at 1.6GHz
Memory: 4GB
Hard disk: 128GB solid-state drive
Weight: 1.36kg

Also consider
Asus Zenbook - slightly more expensive Ultrabook rival, but with a more powerful i7 processor.
Acer Series 3 - a similar spec to that of the XPS 13, and the cheapest ultrabook we've seen so far.