There are many ultrabooks, but not all of them are given a specific introduction by Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini. That honor was reserved for Dell’s new XPS 13 during Tuesday’s Intel keynote. So what’s so special about it?

To find out, we meet with Dell representatives packing not only the new XPS 13 but also a number of competing ultrabooks. One of the main points that Dell made during the Intel keynote was that the XPS 13’s Gorilla Glass display allows for thin bezels, in turn reducing overall display size and allowing for a reduction in the laptop’s dimensions. Though it has a 13” display, it is much smaller than many other thin laptops such as the MacBook Air and the ASUS UX31.

The use of Gorilla Glass combined with the XPS 13’s machined aluminum lid creates a rigid structure. Some ultrabooks available today have problems with display flex, as Dell demonstrated with a Toshiba Protégé ultrabook they brought along. Another smart decision is the XPS 13’s display hinge, which is nearly as wide as the chassis. A large hinge such as this reduces display wobble, a problem that can occur when typing on some ultrabooks.

The bottom of the XPS 13 is made of carbon fiber covered with soft-touch paint. I asked Dell’s representatives if the entire bottom of the chassis was carbon fiber, something I doubted due to reasons of cost. They insisted that it was. 

Using carbon fiber of course saves weight, but in this case it isn’t used to provide an ultrabook that is lighter than anything else on the market. At about 3 pounds, the XPS 13 is only on par with the competition. Instead, the weight savings appears to have been re-invested in the use of sturdier materials, such as the wide hinge that I mentioned earlier.

Open the XPS 13 and you’ll be introduced to a black interior coated in soft touch paint identical the bottom of the chassis. The contrast between the interior and the silver aluminum creates a complimentary aesthetic that reminds me of a tuxedo. Using the soft touch paint also gives the laptop a warmer, more inviting feel. I am a little worried that the paint will end up absorbing oils from your hands over time, but it looks and feels great when new. 

As for the keyboard, well – it’s average. It uses plastic keys with a semi-touch coat in the typical island style, creating the laptop’s least attractive feature. Mind you, key feel is okay and there’s nothing functionally wrong, but I do think flatter keys with a completely matte finish would have been more appropriate. Backlighting is standard and turns on automatically when the webcam detects a low-light environment. Quality was a bit hard to judge during my time with the device because we were in a brightly lit area. 

Touchpad quality struck me as excellent. It’s large and integrates the left/right buttons into the touchpad itself. Materials match the surrounding palmrest in color. I had only a few chances to try multi-touch scrolling, but it seemed to work well.

Standard equipment includes a Core i5 low-voltage processor and a 128GB solid state drive. As a result, the laptop boots within about 10 seconds and can resume in between 1 and 2 seconds. These are not Dell’s official claims, but rather what I observed personally. Display resolution is the standard 1366×768. I can’t say much about quality as I didn’t have the chance to view test images. 

Dell has included a 47Wh battery in the XPS 13, which should provide up to 9 hours of battery life. This claim is made during testing with WiFi off and should be viewed as a best-case scenario. I anticipate that we’ll see about 6 hours of life during standard usage with WiFi on. If the XPS 13 can manage that, it will be above average for the category. 

Pricing starts at $999, which is less than I expected given the quality of this device. Because ultrabooks all have extremely similar hardware it is traits like design and battery life that will distinguish the winners from the losers. From my brief time with the XPS 13, it seems Dell may have one of the winners. I will be looking to grab a review unit over the next few weeks so the laptop can be tested in full.

Hands-on With the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook - Mobile  1

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