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Dell XPS 13 review: MacBook Air fanboys, look no further for your rumored unicorn

Gordon Mah Ung | Jan. 29, 2015
Dell's XPS13 shoehorns a 13.3-inch monitor into the body of an 11-inch laptop.

As PC fan boy No. 42, I cannot lie: Apple's MacBook Air 11 has had us whupped. It's slim and light, offers great battery life, and damn--the $900 price tag of the entry-level configuration just can't be beat by most PC vendors.

PCs are all about great performance at low, low prices, right? Oh, the burn!

Well, I'm here to tell you that the MacBook Air just lost all its luster. Dell's sexy new XPS 13 just rolled into town with a list of features that eerily sound like every MacBook Air rumor story you've read on for the last few months.

Dell's new ultralight is essentially the storied-but-not-yet-released MacBook Air unicorn that every Apple fan wants, but just can't have. (At least not yet.)

The XPS 13 has Intel's latest Broadwell U CPU; 8GB of DDR3/1600; an M.2 SSD; great battery life; and a sexy aluminum-and-carbon-fiber shell. Then there's the real star of Dell's show: a 13.3-inch, practically bezel-less display. Most manufacturers would have settled for an 11-inch display in a body this size (see Apple's current MacBook Air lineup for evidence).

The XPS 13 body itself is just 12 inches by 7.8 inches. It's 0.6 inches at its thickest.

Put the XPS 13 next to the vaunted MacBook Air 11 and the MacBook Air 13. Give all three laptops a nice, long stare. It looks like someone took the display from the MBA13 and put it into the MBA11. Except Apple didn't do it--Dell did it, and then posted "first" on the Internet.

Beautiful screen in a tiny space

The real burn for Apple users, though, will be the panel in the XPS 13. Dell offers base 1920x1080 and high-res 3200x1800 versions.

For people who think only in Retinametrics, that's a pixel-per-inch count of roughly 276. The 13-inch MacBook Air, with 1440x900 display, is 128 ppi. The 11-inch model actually offers slightly more Retinameters of 135 ppi. But even the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro Retina's high-res screen is but 227 ppi.

Both sizes of XPS 13 display are superior to the MBA in technology as well as resolution. The MacBook Air models use mere TN screens (albeit better examples of the genre), while the XPS 13 uses IPS. For anyone who does color-critical work such as photo editing or design, TN can't beat IPS. The XPS 13 I reviewed also includes 10-point touch. 

Ultrabooks aren't known to offer very bright panels and usually hover in the 300-nit range. The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon I used for comparison, for example, is rated at 300 nits, and I measured it at about 259 nits smack-dab in the middle. The XPS is rated at an eye-searing 400 nits, and I measured 399 nits. 


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