It’s hard to improve on what’s long been the best Windows laptop, but the latest Dell XPS 13 finds some subtle, smart ways to do just that. Dell’s new flagship slims down what was already one of the thinnest and lightest notebooks around, all while coating it in two gorgeous new colors that’ll look great in your home office or on the road. Couple that with the XPS 13’s predictably great display, keyboard and battery life, and you have a superb and super-portable Windows notebook for getting work done from anywhere.

However, in shedding some weight, the new XPS 13 also gets rid of some useful features from last year’s model, and faces especially stiff competition from the new MacBook Air M2. So is it right for you? Here’s what I think after a week of working and playing on Dell’s latest.

The best Windows laptop

The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop you can buy, offering a stunning display, a great keyboard and long battery life within an attractive, slim design that’s easy to take anywhere.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Just when I thought the Dell XPS 13 couldn’t get more attractive, Dell managed to whittle down its flagship laptop even further — and coat it in a gorgeous new coat of paint. Measuring just 0.55 inches thin and weighing an airy 2.59 pounds, it’s one of the most lightweight and compact laptops I’ve ever held, and it was a breeze to transport from room to room as I alternated between daytime writing and off-hours web surfing. It’s a hair thinner and lighter than the already sleek 2021 model, and the extra slimness was immediately noticeable when I put the two laptops side by side.

But the real star of the show is my review unit’s stunning Umber shade, which covers the laptop in a slick maroon-like finish. There’s also an attractive Sky option, if light blue is more your thing. Either way, I was delighted to see Dell mix things up this year with new colors — both of which are understated enough for the office but distinguished enough to stand out from the sea of silver and gray notebooks that typically crowd my desk. Whereas the recent Dell XPS 13 Plus goes too minimal, sacrificing basic comfort and usability in the process, the new Dell XPS 13 takes a design that already works and simply makes it look better.

Of course, alluring aesthetics don’t mean much if a laptop doesn’t feel good to use, and fortunately, the XPS 13 continues to deliver one of the best laptop keyboards I’ve ever touched. The notebook’s snappy keys offer tremendously satisfying feedback, generous travel and a smooth soft-touch coating, keeping my hands comfortable throughout long hours of hammering away at documents and emails. It’s right up there with the excellent Magic Keyboard on Apple’s latest MacBooks, though the deeper and softer-feeling keys put the XPS over the top for me.

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Dell didn’t make any changes to the XPS 13’s display this year, and it didn’t need to. This machine’s 13.4-inch InfinityEdge display remains one of the best you can find on any laptop, with barely there bezels and solid overall picture quality that makes it easy to get immersed in whatever you’re doing. I tested a model with a 1920 x 1200 display, and while it’s not as sharp as the optional 4K upgrade, it still provided a gorgeous canvas for working and playing.

I love the way colors popped off of the XPS 13’s vibrant screen during my bingeing hours, whether I was admiring a pro wrestler’s bold black-and-yellow ring gear or taking in the stunning oranges and greens of an 8K nature video on YouTube. And thanks to the display’s deep blacks and strong contrast, I was able to sift through Slack chats and write and edit in Google Docs all day without any strain. As with all XPS machines, I also appreciate that Dell offers an optional touchscreen, which made it easy to scroll and zoom through webpages when I didn’t feel like using the touchpad.

The XPS 13’s display isn’t quite as bold and rich as the OLED option that’s available on the Dell XPS 13 Plus (more on that later), but it’s still one of the best screens I’ve used on any laptop — and makes a perfect complement to the new model’s extra-sleek design.

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You can confidently take the Dell XPS 13 out for a full workday on the road — and leave the charger at home. Dell’s latest laptop lasted an impressive eight hours and 31 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous 4K video playback at 50% brightness. That trounces both the Dell XPS 13 Plus (5:33) and the MacBook Air M2 (5:21), though it doesn’t quite live up to the whopping 11 hours and 11 minutes we squeezed out of the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360. Either way, this is a laptop that will get you through most of the day, whether you’re bingeing Netflix or cramming away at work. And it’s a great companion on that long-haul flight.

I found the XPS 13’s 720p webcam to be perfectly suitable for my daily video calls, capturing my face and clothing with warm, accurate colors. The photos I captured on Dell’s camera looked a little blurry — especially when compared to what I got from the MacBook Air M2 — but unless you plan on streaming to Twitch or making YouTube videos, you won’t need to spring for a dedicated webcam for this laptop.

The laptop’s speakers were likewise dependable for hearing colleagues during calls and watching videos, though I’d recommend breaking out your headphones for serious music listening — the system’s speakers muddied my usual rock tracks at higher volumes.

I tested a Dell XPS 13 with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5 processor and 16GB of RAM, which proved to be plenty of power for my usual routine of hopping between Slack chats, video calls and an ungodly number of Chrome tabs — oftentimes while splitting the screen between two windows at once. But I ran into some significant slowdown during more demanding tasks, such as streaming live TV from Sling while chatting on Discord, or simply reopening the machine after putting it to sleep with lots of apps open. These limitations didn’t impact my typical day-to-day use much, and things improved when I switched to Ultra Performance mode (which cranks up speed at the expense of heat and noise) in the My Dell app. But it’s worth keeping in mind if you plan on doing anything beyond basic web surfing, streaming and emailing.

The XPS 13’s relatively limited real-world performance was backed up by our benchmarking tests, where it often fell behind the competition. On Geekbench 5, which gauges overall processing power, the Dell XPS 13’s multi-core scores were nearly half of what we got from our Dell XPS 13 Plus (powered by a Core i7 CPU) and MacBook Air (powered by Apple M2).

You’ll likely get much better performance if you outfit the XPS 13 with a Core i7 processor instead of the Core i5 it starts with, though that upgrade will bring the machine’s cost to at least $1,349. By comparison, the new MacBook Air M2 starts at $1,199 with Apple’s blazing M2 chip, which offers the fastest performance you can get on a laptop in this price range.

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The latest Dell XPS 13 is the most minimal yet in terms of ports, packing just two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connections while ditching the headphone jack and microSD slot from previous models. To Dell’s credit, the laptop includes a USB-C to USB-A adapter for using older accessories, and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter for wired headphones. Still, if you rely on lots of wired peripherals and external displays, you’ll likely need to spring for a USB-C hub.

This limited port selection is fairly common on mainstream laptops, but compared to the competition, Dell’s laptop is especially barren. The MacBook Air M2 is also limited to just two Thunderbolt 4 ports, but it also has a dedicated MagSafe charging port as well as an actual headphone jack — both of which keep the USB-C connections free for accessories. The new Surface Laptop 5 offers one USB-C port and one USB-A port, making it the better option for folks who depend on a lot of older gear.

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After falling in love with the Dell XPS 13 OLED last year, I was super bummed that this year’s model has no such display option. The most recent lineup limits the OLED screen to the higher-end Dell XPS 13 Plus, which is more expensive with less battery life and a more cumbersome design. The standard XPS 13’s display still looks fantastic as is, but I’d love the option to upgrade to OLED for even more immersive movie bingeing.

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Dell XPS 13 Plus product card

 

MacBook Air M2 product card 2

 

Processor 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1230U / i7-1250U 12th Gen Intel Core i5 / i7 Apple M2
Memory 8GB / 16GB / 32GB 8GB / 16GB / 32GB 8GB / 16GB / 24GB
Storage 512GB / 1TB SSD 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD
Display 13.4-inch 1200p display (touch optional) 13.4-inch 1200p / 3.5K OLED / 4K display (touch optional) 13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display
Camera 720p 720p 1080p
Speakers Stereo speakers Quad speakers Quad speakers
Ports Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), USB-C to USB-A adapter included Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), USB-C to USB-A adapter included Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), MagSafe charging port, headphone jack
Battery life (rated) Up to 12 hours Up to 13 hours Up to 18 hours
Size and weight 11.63 x 7.86 x 0.55 inches, 2.59 pounds 11.63 x 7.84 x 0.6 inches, 2.71 pounds 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches, 2.7 pounds
Price

$999



$1,299



$1,199

The Dell XPS 13 retains its title of the best laptop for Windows users with this new iteration, delivering a gorgeous and immersive display, a best-in-class keyboard and enough battery life for a full day of work. The fact that it’s somehow even thinner this time around — and comes in Dell’s most attractive color options yet — makes the deal all that sweeter.

That said, the new XPS 13 is held back a bit by its slim port selection and lack of an OLED display option, and you’ll need to spring for a model with Core i7 for reliable speeds. If you care about having the best possible performance for the money (as well as a superior webcam), the MacBook Air M2 is still king. If having an OLED screen is a priority, you can track down a previous-gen XPS 13 or try out the more polarizing XPS 13 Plus. But for everyone else who just wants a great, lightweight Windows laptop, it’s hard to do better than the latest Dell XPS 13.

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