Review | Dell XPS 13 (2021): He Remains King of the Playground Windows
Few companies can maintain a line of notebooks getting new products every year for a long time. The shortlist includes names like Apple and their MacBooks, IBM (now Lenovo) with the ThinkPad and Dell with the XPS 13. The latter has recently been updated with new processors, but still wants to be king of the playground in the Windows world.
I've spent the last few weeks with the 2021 version of the XPS 13, which put 11th gen Intel Core i7 chip inside, accompanied by plenty of RAM, fast SSD , gorgeous 13.4-inch screen, comfortable keyboard and still small. Not everything is perfect here and one of the tricky points is the total absence of any non-USB-C ports. In the next few paragraphs I'll tell you about my experience with this notebook in hand, while I worked even writing this review.
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Dell XPS 13 (2021) Review on Video
Starting with the design, the Dell XPS 13 is pretty much the same as its predecessor and this is far from a bad thing. It still has a metal body on the outside, weighing just 1.27 kilograms and smaller in size than a conventional notebook, with the same 13-inch screen.
On the inner side, the palm rest and all parts that are not keyboards or touchpads are made of carbon fiber. Dell makes a point of making the choice of this material clear in the visual part, but to the touch the fiber looks like something rubbery. I really like the feel delivered by the notebook, but I was wondering if in the long run, with a few years of use, this place still has the same softness.
When closed, the XPS 13 manages to have only 1.48 cm and this is great for the beauty of the product, its portability in the backpack without competing for so much space with other things, but at the same time it is a dilemma for connections. You only have two USB-C ports, but at least you can charge the battery in either one.
Choosing this type of connection is obvious for 2021 on a high-end model like the XPS 13, but it's also tied to the fact that the computer is so thin, as a traditional USB port doesn't fit here. At least Dell didn't repeat Apple and kept a microSD card slot – but no conventional SD card slot.
If on the one hand having only USB-C can be a limitation, on the other hand this generation of XPS 13 put the recent Thunderbolt 4 on both ports, in addition to a DisplayPort connection.
Looking again at the outside, there is only one LED illumination and it is hidden under the keyboard. The indicator is unobtrusive enough to announce some information such as battery and recharge status.
Closing this topic, there is something you can do with this model and I love it a lot: lift the lid with just one finger, without holding the base. Fantastic detail and few companies do this.
keyboard and touchpad
The XPS 13 sold in Brazil comes in the ABNT2 standard and that means the presence of “Ç”. Also, the keyboard comfort is good, whether for those with big hands, or even for those with small hands. The Touchpad is of the larger type, with plenty of room for gestures in Windows, but it could be bigger.
Another detail of this component is negative: it is not made of glass. The problem is not in the activations or in the comfort, but in the cleanliness. Leaving fingerprints there is a commonplace of use and plastic helps when it's difficult to remove them.
On top of the keyboard a fingerprint reader does the job of authenticating the user, without the need for any password. I liked that it has a tactile edge that doesn't exist on any of the other keys, but it could have some indicator that there is a biometric sensor there.
screen and sound
In addition to the look adopted on the outside, the screen has also been following the trend of this line of notebooks by putting an aspect ratio of 16:10. This makes the borders at the top and bottom even smaller, increasing the viewing area for pages, programs and everything else you want.
This kind of detail is important for optimizing space, which Dell managed to keep even with its webcam squeezed on top. It's still just 720p in full pandemic with virtual meetings every day, but at least it's Windows Hello compatible and does face-to-face user recognition.
Dell sells two different models, offering either Full HD or 4K display options. I tested the higher resolution version, which is also equipped with a touchscreen. I still think it's overkill to put 2160p in just 13.4 inches of area. To give you an idea, Windows itself recommends displaying the operating system's interface and all contents at 300% of actual size.
Setting it to 100% makes it practically unfeasible to use, an eye test for those with very good eyes. Anyway, going beyond resolution, the XPS 13 has a WVA panel display with extremely generous viewing angles, with very high maximum brightness at 500 nits, covering 90% of DCI P3 and 100% of sRGB.
The XPS 13 screen was already great in past generations and always figured as the best I used in several reviews I've done of this product. Now, in 2021, the comment remains the same: if you want the best display on a notebook far from being a gamer, the XPS 13 remains the best choice.
She's great overall, but can lose for those who love high hertz, very low response time and everything else that is always in models aimed at gamers.
If in the image the XPS 13 impresses, in the sound the thing is not quite the same. It has two nice speakers, but the tiny size of the entire product takes its toll here. While the reproduced content makes good use of the highs and mids, the bass is practically non-existent.
It's not a bad thing, mind you…but it doesn't shine in the eyes…or better in the ears, as the display does.
Hardware and performance
Inside, the unit I tested uses an 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor, with up to 4.8GHz speed, along with 16GB of RAM, with a 1TB SSD. The set makes Windows 10 rotate with its feet behind its back.
Booting takes just a few seconds and opening programs can be as fast as on a smartphone. Even the work on image editing in Affinity Photo with many layers, which is more processor-intensive, was done without any complaints. Of course the XPS 13 flies higher on the take than on the battery.
As the focus of this notebook is productivity, I'm not even going to comment that it doesn't run well even on mobile games, like Asphalt 9. This game does well even on an intermediate from last year, but not on the Iris Xe GPU around here.
Dell soldered components that could be upgraded over time, such as RAM. Okay, 16GB for work-focus is enough memory for years and years with great performance, but be aware that the configuration you buy will be the same until you switch PCs.
The battery is 52 Whr, which was enough for seven hours of work. Around here I've always run Chrome up to date on the latest version, with somewhere between four and six tabs at all times. I went through some photo editing with a lot of layers, which took an hour of the day. I also listened to podcasts and saw some YouTube videos in Full HD.
I started the test at 13:00 and Windows 10 turned off the XPS 13 when it got close to 20:00. At all times I didn't turn on the battery saver mode, always leaving the highest performance – not at the maximum, but close to it. Autonomy is enviable, very good indeed. In the socket, the laptop took just over two hours to recharge the entire tank.
Windows 10 comes pretty clean, but Dell puts some of its own solutions inside. The list includes Dell Mobile Connect, which still does a better job than Microsoft's Your Phone app, along with a driver update wizard. The downside is the insistence of McAfee antivirus, present in a test for a limited time.
I could complain about the amount of pre-installed apps and programs, but the presence of the antivirus really bothered me. It can be uninstalled easily and…seriously, do you use any antivirus on your PC? I abandoned it completely some time ago, I'm just using Microsoft Defender for Windows itself – along with being careful not to enter strange sites.
it is worth it
The answer is yes, it is. If you're looking for the best Windows notebook to work with, whether at home or in the office, I don't know a better option with such a small size, light weight, performance to spare and looks so beautiful.
The XPS 13 has been the MacBook of PCs for some time now, and it remains the king of the playground. Of course, all this firepower, along with the beauty and autonomy away from the socket will not please any user who wants to play games. So stay tuned to that.
Even raving praise, this XPS 13 isn't perfect and it annoyed me to have only two USB-C ports, one of which must be getting power…so that leaves you with just one to spare for everything.
Another important detail is the price. The 4K screen still sounds like a waste of power and performance to me on a 13.4-inch display. The good part is that you can take this notebook with the Full HD option. Even with this economy, the XPS 13 costs R$ 12 thousand and in that amount you can already find the MacBook Air with an M1 processor.
Okay that on Apple's side the storage is only 256 GB, but the extra performance of the ARM processor is very important, along with the much longer battery life. In this case, the choice is up to you: go Windows or macOS?
Dell XPS 13 (2021): data sheet
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