The Dell XPS 13 Display

For anyone that has skipped straight to this section of the review (rather than reading it in order): remember that we are testing a model using the 1920×1080 screen rather than the 3200×1800 screen. They will likely perform very differently in terms of our analytical testing and will clearly present a different set of concerns when it comes to Windows scaling settings, glare, etc.

First, let me give my thoughts on the screen just from a user’s perspective. The 1080p screen is incredibly sharp at 13.3-inches but 100% scaling, treating the screen in its default state, I found that with my 33 year old eyes that text was too small and icons not big enough to be used optimally. I asked others in the office for their feedback and both Ken and Allyn agreed – 100% scaling at 1080p is still a bit too high resolution for a 13.3-in screen. That means some scaling was in order and I found that the 125% setting was just about perfect. It increases the size of text and icons, at least those that adhere to the Windows 8.1 rendering cues, but still keeps things sharp and clear. Of course, as was the case since Windows 7, Microsoft’s scaling capability is not perfect and programs that integrate their own rendering engines do not necessarily pay attention to the Windows setting. You will still find applications that just look off and need either manual tweaking in their settings, or if those don’t exist, you just need to get over to it — or get over them.

This issue will actually be more prominent with the 3200×1800 screen that Dell offers on the XPS 13 as well, where you’ll need at least 150% scaling and maybe even 200% to get things at comfortable level. Yes, text and images that scale correctly will look even better there than they do on our screen but anything that is mishandled at 1080p will be even more so at 3200×1800. Just keep that in mind when you decided between these screen options.

Another consideration is the matte versus high gloss debate. The 3200×1800 option is high gloss only and includes a touch screen which means you’ll see more glare and fingerprints, but the colors will pop much more and look more vibrant than on the matte screen. Matte finishes dull things a bit and limit maximum brightness though I personally prefer that to glare from overhead lights or the sun creeping in my blinds.

Let’s take a look at the screen on our XPS 13 through our Spyder 4 colorimeter and see how it performs.

The Dell XPS 13 Notebook Review - Broadwell and Battery Life - Mobile 2
Dell XPS 13 (1080p)
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Unsurprisingly, based on my nearly daily usage of the laptop since our sample arrived, the Dell XPS 13 and it’s 1080p matte screen implementation is very closely matched to the RGB standard for color reproduction. It slightly overproduces in the green but not nearly as much as we have seen with OLED displays on smart phones and tablets. The high quality IPS panel is able outperform the other options on the table today.

MSI’s GS30, part of an upcoming review, does not perform particularly well in our RGB color testing, going outside of the spec on the yellows and orange but producing more dull colors in terms of blue and greens. Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro is much closer to the result of the XPS 13 with a similar off-standard level at the green output.

Another area that users should be concerned over when comparing notebook displays is minimum and maximum brightness. A high brightness peak allows users to user their machines in outdoor environments at the expense of running down the battery faster. A lower brightness on black levels will give you great contrast as well, producing an HDR-like image.

A matte finish on the screen usually lessens maximum brightness on a panel and you can see some of that effect on the Dell XPS 13. Maxing out at 287 lux, set to 100% brightness on a white screen, the XPS 13 should be bright enough for most outdoor settings and is usable in direct sunlight. The Yoga 3 Pro has a glossy finish screen and does get brighter, crossing 330 lux at 100% brightness. Interestingly, the light level on a solid black screen is only 1 lux on the XPS 13 and 6 on the Yoga 3 Pro, giving the XPS darker blacks, generally, across the board.

Viewing angles on the XPS 13 are superb, able to be read at the most extreme head positions. The benefits of IPS displays are so apparent when you have TN machines sitting around at direct comparison.

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