ITS SO GOOD – Dell XPS 13 9300 (2020) Review
This is the new XPS 13, and I know some of you might be thinking didn’t you just take a look at one like six months ago? Yes, I did, that was the XPS 13 2-in-1 notebook/tablet hybrid. It was one of the first devices to hit the market featuring Intel’s 10th gen Ice Lake CPUs and the performance was actually really good. However, I did have some issues with the functionality of the device and some things just didn’t add up. If you are interested in checking out my full review of the XPS 13 2-in-1 you can do so right here.
This new model on the other hand is a standard XPS 13 that is updated for 2020 with the newest processors. Last year’s model was offering Comet Lake CPUs on their standard models and while I can rant about Intel’s Ice Lake and Comet Lake mobile processors that’s not what we are here to talk about. We are here to find out what’s new with this ultrabook and if it’s worth the upgrade from something like a basic laptop or if you’re actually shopping for a new ultrabook.
Price & Options
The first thing that I want to tackle is pricing for the new XPS 13. It starts at $1,200 USD, which isn’t too bad if you think about it when you are getting a premium build notebook with efficient specs. In this case you get a Core i5-1035G1 CPU featuring 4 cores/8 threads, 8GB of RAM with wicked fast DDR4-3733 memory speeds, a 256GB NVMe SSD, and a Full HD+ non-touch display. Now you can spec this thing all the way up to $2,000 USD with a marginally faster processor, twice the RAM, four times the storage, and a 4K touch display, but the configuration that we have on-hand is somewhere in the middle and it costs about $1,750 USD. It would have been nice to see Dell offering some AMD options, but I guess one can only dream.
From the outside Dell hasn’t made any major changes to the XPS 13, this is still be best looking ultrabook that money can buy. It is crafted from aluminium and then polished by CNC, it is definitely something that you will have to feel for yourselves. It’s really, really that good. The hinge is excellent, it’s nice and rigid, and even if you use it as a touchscreen the display doesn’t wobble. Honestly, it’s built like a tank and it’s the little attention to details that Dell has nailed here. I also love the fact that you can open the laptop with just one hand. However, there is one thing that did start bothering me. As you can see, the lip around the screen is not magnetic, which means if you close the notebook it’s not going to stay flush. As you can see, there is quite a bit of gap between the main body and the lid if you hold it in your vertical orientation. This may or may not be a deal breaker, but I thought that it was worth mentioning.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The major design changes have been done on the inside, Dell has expanded the keyboard edge to edge versus the smaller layout on last year’s model. You are getting bigger keys, which is nice, but in my opinion the biggest improvement is that the keys themselves are way better. They are not using the maglev mechanism like on the 2-in-1, so there is proper feedback this time and a bit of travel distance. If you type a lot this is a really good keyboard. Unfortunately, the LED backlighting still struggles to shine through properly during low light environments. I personally think this has to do with the white keyboard, because if you are trying to shine white light through a white surface there isn’t proper separation. Therefore, if you value keyboard backlighting I would highly recommend picking up the silver and black carbon fiber model. That is actually what I would get because this Alpine white model costs an extra $50, so that’s something to keep in mind.
The power button also acts as a fingerprint reader if you are looking for a secure authentication method to log into Windows. I had a fantastic time using the trackpad on the XPS 13. They made the trackpad slightly larger, and it still has a glass surface and Windows Precision drivers, so navigating through Windows was a breeze. What is even cooler is that the integrated primary left and right buttons sound awesome. You really have to listen to them in person, or just by clicking right here. I think that Dell has really nailed the functionality of both the hardware and the software on the new XPS 13.
Now everyone has been raving about the display on the new XPS models. The XPS 15 and XPS 17 were just recently announced and they look absolutely gorgeous. As much as I would love to get my hands on them as soon as possible I’m here stuck with the XPS 13, but I’m not complaining because I have to give it to Dell for stepping things up to the next level. They have basically managed to implement a 16:10 aspect ratio into an 11-inch body, and the result of that is a stunning four-sided bezel-less screen. It’s absolutely an engineering Marvel, and the best part is that they have kept the webcam where it’s actually supposed to be at the top instead of the lame nose cam setups that we are seeing on notebooks these days.
The screen itself is another icing on the cake. The resolution is 1920 x 1200 – which is perfect – and that’s due to the 16:10 aspect ratio. That taller ratio means you get more vertical screen real estate when you are working with different apps. It is also IPS, so expect beautiful colors with good contrast. In fact, if you edit photos this should be at the top of your list because it covers 80% DCI-P3, 100% sRGB, and 77% Adobe RGB, which is really good for a notebook this size. There is an ambient light sensor built in that dynamically adjusts the brightness of the display depending on the exterior lighting conditions, which is really cool. I should also mention that the screen does get really bright, we are talking close to 500 nits, which is awesome. At the level outdoor visibility shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, the weather is slowly getting better outside so I can comfortably take this with me onto my patio to get some work done. You can also opt for a 4K display that is slightly more color accurate, but keep in mind that that is going to be an expensive addition.
Speakers & Webcam
The speakers are located on the side and they sound really good for a notebook this size. In fact, there is more body to the sound depending on the type of genre that you are listening to. I think the only thing that I’m a little bit picky about is that there isn’t proper clarity in the details or the high ends, and that is because there isn’t a dedicated tweeter built into the notebook. Honestly though, for a notebook this size the speakers sound phenomenal.
This is the webcam test on the XPS 13. It’s not the greatest quality out there. In fact, I don’t think we can expect a great quality webcam on notebooks these days, but this should get the job done. The microphone sounds okay, so it should be fine for casual Skype calls or Zoom meetings. I feel like Zoom is getting more popular than Skype these days, that’s an interesting fact but totally off topic though.
Moving on to the I/O, and this is where you start making compromises. You get two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and that’s it. How you view this port selection really depends on how you use your notebook on a regular basis. If you are someone who relies on external accessories that require a USB Type-A port that is something that you are going to have to compromise on, unless you are willing to accept the ‘dongle life’. Dell does include a Type-C to Type-A adapter, which is still pretty limiting because you could just have one of those USB Type-C ports being used for power and that leaves just one port remaining. This lack of ports could definitely turn into a limiting factor for a lot of people. However, I also understand that this notebook is geared for people who travel a lot, and they don’t often use a lot of ports. It’s a debatable topic, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer in this, but I would have preferred to see a USB Type-A port on his laptop. Having said that, looking at the design of the XPS 13 it’s nearly impossible to include one because this laptop is just really thin.
The included power adapter is compact and it matches the Arctic white model, plus the connector has an LED light notifying that it’s charging the notebook. There is also a little light at the front indicating the same thing, it is a nice touch. I’m not sure if this is just me, but I really miss the battery indicator from the older XPS models. There used to be a little button on the side that would give you a little indication as to how much battery life you have left regardless of whether your notebook was open or closed. That was just an awesome signature feature of XPS devices, and I just really miss that.
If you’re looking to upgrade the XPS 13 later down the line, it is pretty limited. As you can see the only thing that you can possibly upgrade is the NVMe SSD. The drive speeds on my sample were good, they are not the fastest that I have come across since Razer tends to take the edge in that department. The battery life on the XPS 13 is outstanding, this thing has a 52Wh battery and it ended up lasting the longest among our other thin-and-light notebooks. On our light load test that consists of refreshing a Chrome webpage for 15 seconds, the notebook lasted for more than 11 hours, which is just insane. Heavy load scenarios were also very impressive, we ran RealBench on a loop and it lasted for more than 3 hours. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you are looking for an ultrabook with the best battery life look no further than the XPS 13.
Time to get into performance, the Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 CPU on this notebook is fast for a thin-and-light low power design. This is especially true when it comes to single threaded tests. Multi-core performance on the other hand is a bit of a struggle, especially compared to Intel’s Comet Lake U-series offerings. That is because those CPUs are still banking on an old architecture with higher clock speeds, so they have a significant edge over Ice Lake in that regard. In some of our tests, the XPS 13 did trail behind the Razer Blade Stealth 13 featuring the same CPU, but honestly for this size it’s respectable because it’s thinner than the Blade.
Switching over to some real world tests, and we are starting with Adobe Premiere. The new update that leverages AMD and NVIDIA GPUs doesn’t really come in handy here because this notebook doesn’t have a discrete GPU so render times aren’t the best. Ultrabooks aren’t geared towards video editors, sure you can do some casual work but nothing serious. For some reason I’m still having trouble rendering our 10 minute DaVinci Resolve project, it’s still a mystery with Ice Lake and this application so keep that in mind.
Now before I get into gaming performance, I should mention something very important: The XPS 13 is by no means a gaming ultrabook. In fact, there are other options out there offering Ice Lake and Comet Lake CPUs with discrete graphics like a GTX 1650 or a GTX 1660 they will give you much better frame rates. However, if you are just looking for casual gaming once in a while, this notebook can handle a little bit of that. Let’s see how it does. As you can see, with less demanding games like CS:GO, Overwatch, and Rocket League, this notebook can push respectable frameworks at 1080P and medium to low settings. It is obviously nowhere near what discrete graphics can offer, so that is something to keep in mind when you’re shopping for an ultrabook. Are you going to be dedicating 50% for gaming and 50% for productivity or 90% for productivity and 10% for gaming? I think that is the question that you need to answer before making that buying decision.
Frequencies & Temperatures
Now some of you might have noticed that we have started to include temperatures and frequencies over time to see how the CPU behaves under certain conditions and workloads, especially with desktop CPU reviews. Moving forward, we have decided to include them on notebooks as well, so let’s see how the XPS 13 does. Starting with Blender, the CPU clock speeds start strong at 3.5GHz on all cores, but naturally as temperature rises the frequencies take a dip averaging between 2.0Ghz to 2.5GHz. What is really interesting about the boost algorithm is that whenever the CPU temps hits 72°C the algorithm says “Hey, I have thermal headroom, let’s boost those clock speeds” and it shoots up to 3GHz, but it doesn’t stay there long. Temperature hit 90°C and the clock speeds dip again, and that gets repeated over and over again. Instead of these peaks and valleys it would have been really nice to a balance between clock speeds and temperatures that stays consistent. Switching to Adobe Premiere, this one needs a bit of an explanation. Since rendering utilizes both the CPU and GPU – and both are on the same package – they contribute to the overall package power and temperatures. That means the CPU clock speeds take a hit, averaging around 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz while maintaining temps around 73°C. The frequency seemed to be held back by power rather than heat.
Exterior surface temperatures were not that bad, but it does get warmer when you place it on your lap while rendering files. With regards to fan noise, this laptop was dead silent under idle scenarios. In fact, on my sample I didn’t experience any coil whine or that weird hum that was a known issue on previous XPS notebooks, so that’s pretty awesome. Now during load the fans do pick up speed, but they don’t sound like a jet fan and it’s pretty tolerable.
I think it’s time to conclude my thoughts on the new XPS 13, and the first thing that comes to my mind is the fantastic design and build quality. This is the gold standard of ultrabooks, it’s really that good. The display is also one of the best, it’s bright and color accurate, and I can’t really complain about it. I would honestly love this notebook if I were a student, because it has amazing battery life, and good performance given the form factor. I think that is what we are all looking forward to when shopping for an ultrabook. Excellent performance, solid battery life, and good design plus built quality, all of which this thing delivers.
The price is also very reasonable. Oddly enough, in the reviewer’s guide that Dell sent us I did see a Core i3 model for $999 USD, and another model with 32GB of RAM, so maybe Dell will launch those models later on. For now, if you are shopping for an ultrabook this should be at the top of your list. If you are someone coming from a basic $400 to $500 laptop and you are looking to upgrade to something like the new XPS 13 you are in for a treat. The only thing that you need to watch out for is lack of I/O, because you are only getting two USB Type-C ports, and if you are willing to overlook that you are getting an awesome ultrabook in this new version of the Dell XPS 13.