updated 06:00 pm EST, Fri January 13, 2012
Dell XPS 13 tested on the show floor
We've at last had a first-hand look at the upcoming Dell XPS 13 on the CES show floor. The ultrabook on an initial glance bears more than a passing resemblance to the MacBook Air, down to the side port layouts and the single-piece, multi-touch trackpad; there's no question of who inspired the design. It remains something of its own beast, however, and the combination of aluminum (mostly on the lid) as well as a tightly constructed body give it a much more premium feel than we're used to from Dell.
The primary catch is weight: it's considerably heavier than a MacBook Air, and while still very portable, it's clear Dell made some tradeoffs.
Inside, the performance is much like that of most ultrabooks. The system at the show carried a 1.6GHz Core i5 and a 128GB solid-state drive, and the combination of the two led to apps opening quickly and the overall notebook being very responsive. We're not the largest fans of the display, though: while dim, colored lighting didn't make for the best testing area, it seemed slightly more washed out than on the MacBook Air.
The keyboard may be a highlight: it's accurate and responds quickly without large amounts of noise. Dell's choice of trackpad is somewhat mixed, however; it's good for general mousing, but it feels a bit stiff to click down and is somewhat fussy about right clicks, which require a sometimes overly deliberate press on a specific part of the trackpad. Apple still has the edge here.
For $999, the XPS 13 promises to be a reasonably good value with a bigger screen, more base RAM (4GB) and twice as much SSD space at 128GB than Apple offers at the same cost. We're not sure the $200 savings over a same-size Air is necessarily worth it, but among Windows-based ultrabooks, it's on the short list for ones we'd consider.