The more Ultrabooks that get unveiled here at CES, the more convinced I am that it’s silly to discuss them as if they were a coherent new class of portable computer. No two manufacturers seem to agree on what an Ultrabook should be. That’s neat, since it means they’re experimenting. And on Tuesday, Dell introduced my favorite answer so far to the question “What is an Ultrabook?” in the form of its new XPS 13.
The company is an old hand at building laptops that aim for a MacBook-air level of wafer-thin panache, having first tried its hand at the idea back in 2009 with its first Adamo. But the XPS 13 looks way better than the rather odd Adamos–and it doesn’t look much like a MacBook Air at all.
Closed, it’s only a slosh larger than 11.6″ version of the MacBook Air, a machine which, while neat, has a display that’s decidedly on the dinky size. Open the XPS up, though, and you see that it’s got a much more spacious 13.3″ screen. Dell says that the display is frameless” and “edge-to-edge.” That’s pushing the facts of the matter a bit, but the border is thin, allowing for the incorporation of a surprisingly big screen in a highly portable form factor. It also uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which protects it from damage and helps to reduce flex.
The system weighs in at just 2.99 pounds and is three-quarters of an inch thick; it has an aluminum lid and a carbon-fiber bottom. (The use of carbon fiber makes the XPS pleasant to hold and helps keep it cool, a plus if you do indeed use your laptop in your lap.) It has a backlit keyboard and a roomy touchpad, and you’ll be able to order it with an Intel i7 processor and up to 256GB of solid-state storage, uncommonly powerful options for such a diminutive machine.
Like Apple (and unlike some other Ultrabook makers) Dell chose to cut down on the number of ports to make the XPS thin and small. It’s got one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 one, and Mini DisplayPort, but there’s no built-in HDMI or slot for SD cards.
In person, this is an impressive computer. The fit and finish on the one I saw when Dell recently demoed the machine for me was impeccable, and the design elements just all come together in a manner that’s worthy of comparing to Apple even though there’s nothing particularly Apple-like about the aesthetics. It’s a computer that comes off as being comfortable in its own skin.
Pricing for the XPS 13 starts at $999–which seems reasonable given its posh feel–and Dell plans to ship it in late February.
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