Dell XPS 13: Gray with MacBook Air envy
Using Dell's flagship Ultrabook isn't quite like driving a MacBook Air, but it's still a sweet rideFollow @EricKnorr
It's a Windows world
Despite Dell's obvious attempt to imitate the Air, cross-platform comparisons go only so far. From my standpoint, the real benchmark is my fondly remembered Windows 7 machine, the ThinkPad X220, which has an MSRP of $1,529 but can be bought at this particular moment on the Lenovo website for around $900 -- and includes 320GB of spinning disk, a zippy 2.3GHz i5, and a 12.5-inch screen.
The XPS 13 has a slightly larger 13.3-inch widescreen display, with a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, powered by an Intel HD 3000 graphics controller. The image is clear and bright, although the Gorilla Glass surface is too reflective for my taste. As with almost every laptop these days, you'll find a little cam staring at you from the top of the screen. With the default Dell Webcam Central software, the image produced is less sharp and color-accurate than that of FaceTime (the comparison had to be made).
The XPS 13 keyboard successfully imitates the spacing, backlighting, and tactile response of a MacBook keyboard, right down to the similar arrangement of special function keys along the top row, though you get both Backspace and Delete, of course. For what it's worth, I prefer the arrangement, response, and textured feel of the ThinkPad's keys to those of the Dell.
The XPS 13's trackpad is MacBook-like, too. Must we, Dell? A trackpad that doubles as a mouse button and supports gestures makes sense for a MacBook, I guess, but not so much for a Windows 7 laptop. Call me a Philistine, but I want two real buttons.
One surprising note: The XPS 13's audio isn't bad for a laptop. Sound from the speakers bounces from under the unit and from a baffle near the screen hinge, and although I wouldn't say you can actually hear bass notes, the midrange is stronger than usual. Strong stereo separation lends a nice sense of presence.
As for the XPS 13's battery life, Dell says you can get "up to 8 hours and 53 minutes," almost two hours longer than what Apple claims for the Air, but nowhere near what I experienced personally with the ThinkPad X220 (using the nine-cell battery option).
Lastly, I tested Dell's claim that the system would come alive from a cold boot in 8 seconds. It turned out to be more like 15 seconds, but that's still nice and quick.
How would I rate my first Ultrabook experience? The XPS 13 is a fine, well-made, durable-seeming laptop. I feel uncharacteristically stylish using it. Yet personally, if it were my money, I would opt for a faster processor and a lot more storage -- and I don't care if that means a spinning disk.
You can argue that Ultrabooks are all about portability, but that's clearly not the case. For example, the ThinkPad X220 may not be as thin as the XPS 13, but it's only a tad heavier and roughly the same depth and width -- though homely by comparison.
Yes, the real story here is style. I only wish that Dell hadn't tried quite so hard to make the XPS13 so similar to the Air. The desperate yearning for the Apple glow is a little embarrassing. Has it ever been hip to buy a knockoff?
Or it may just be that the thin and shiny woo-woo factor is lost on me, but apparently not on a lot of other people. According to Dell, demand for the XPS laptops has exceeded expectations. At this writing, they're back-ordered for about six weeks.
This article, "Dell XPS 13: Gray with MacBook Air envy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.