It can feel, sometimes, like the new Dell XPS 13 9310 is defying the rules of science. While this Ultrabook is small, thin and gorgeous enough to be easily overlooked by those who need something robust and powerful, it’s a lot more capable than it seems. It’s capable enough, in fact, to see you through some of your photo editing and 4K video editing tasks while you’re on the go – or at least its higher-end configurations are.
Not that we’re taking a dig at its size and design, of course. We appreciate that the Dell XPS 13 9310 is portable and compact enough to be extremely travel-friendly, and stunning enough with that signature woven look to show off to clients, colleagues, and even strangers at a cafe. At the same time, this is also a classic example of how you mustn’t judge a book by its cover.
Portable, attractive, and most importantly, powerful enough to handle creative workloads, the Dell XPS 13 9310 is a necessary addition to your content creation arsenal, especially if you need one that you can effortlessly slide into your backpack or travel bag before boarding a flight. In fact, we rate the Dell XPS 13 so much, it holds a firm spot in our pick of the best laptops for graphic designers (opens in new tab).
Dell XPS 13 review: Price
Even today, we still have to pay a premium for portability, and that’s certainly the case here – though that isn’t going to be a surprise if you’re already familiar with Dell’s flagship prosumer line.
The Dell XPS 13 9310 starts off at £898/$999, which gives you an 11th-gen i3, Intel Xe graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage, alongside a 1080p non-touch display. That’s pretty pricey for a configuration that you won’t likely enjoy editing images or video with, as it will certainly eat up a chunk of your workday just exporting them.
The higher you go up the configuration ladder, however, the more this portable Ultrabook is worth your money. It keeps relatively the same weight while giving you more power and, therefore, a better performance that’s more suitable for creative workloads.
The configuration we tested here, which boasts an i7 processor, 16GB memory, and 512GB storage while keeping the same integrated graphics, is a whopping $1,619/£1,549.
For around the same price, if only slightly higher, its direct competitor, the MacBook Pro 13-inch M1 will give you a much more robust chip touting an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU alongside the same amount of memory and storage. There’s also the MacBook Air M1, which will set you back a couple of hundred quid/bucks less than the Pro for pretty much the same specs. Though both options do mean you’ll be switching over to the macOS ecosystem if you’re a Windows OS user.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to stick to a more affordable Windows option, the Acer ZenBook 13 is among the best value 13-inch laptops out there, setting you back several hundred dollars less than the Dell XPS 13 9310 and both MacBooks for a similar configuration.
Dell XPS 13 review: Power and performance
The Dell XPS 13 9310’s lower configurations are unlikely to handle graphically-demanding tasks smoothly. However, this higher specced one does a decent job, even though it doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card. The 11th-generation Intel Core i7 and 16GB of memory do help, allowing it to do a decent job of tackling Lightroom and Premiere Pro tasks.
During testing, it’s able to handle batch processing and exporting of high-resolution images, as well as 4k video rendering admirably. Realistically, this laptop is never going to be as snappy as a notebook or desktop PC with a discrete graphics card - first, because it simply physically cannot deliver that much speed or power, and second, because it doesn’t have enough space in its thin chassis for better airflow, which means its components can potentially throttle due to heat. And, it definitely gets pretty hot when performing intensive tasks.
Still, the Dell XPS 13 9310 is able to handle such creative workloads, albeit slower and perhaps not as smooth and elegant as say a MacBook Pro 14-inch. It takes about 28 to 30 seconds to import 55 high-resolution RAW images in Lightroom, and more than 3 minutes and 30 seconds to export all of them in JPEG at 7952 x 4472 resolution with minimal editing and 15 seconds to export them in RAW. That’s while Google Chrome is streaming content. Without media streaming, it cut that down to about 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, it took about 18 minutes to transcode a 10-minute 4K video to 1080p in Handbrake and about 7 minutes and 41 seconds to render and export a 10-minute-34-second 4K video in Premiere Pro.
That isn’t exactly fast, but it hasn’t done a bad job, either. Giving credit where it's due, for a laptop that wasn’t really designed for such graphics-intensive processes, the Dell XPS 13 9310 surprisingly holds its own. We’ve also seen this run 20 Google Chrome tabs – three of which were streaming 4K content - without stuttering or showing signs of slowing down. And, as long as you’re not hoping to do 3D design or 8K video editing on it – or hoping to use it as your primary computer, for that matter – it’ll definitely meet your expectations in terms of performance.
This laptop is more for seeing you through your productivity and creative needs when you’re away from home or commuting to and from work. This is a joy to travel with and work on when on the go, thanks to its blissfully thin and light form factor.
We only wish that the battery life is better. Dell promises up to 8 hours and 12 minutes of battery life on this 4K model (and up to 14 hours on the FHD+ one). However, it falls a bit short of that, mustering a 7-hour-and-41-minute’s worth of power on the PCMark 10 Battery Life. Best not to leave that charger at home. Luckily, the charger itself is just as compact as well.
Dell XPS 13 review: Display
While the Dell XPS 13 9310 comes with a 1920 x 1200 non-touch display and a 3456x2160 OLED touch one, the 13.4-inch UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge touch display on our review unit might just be the sweet spot. It boasts a glorious 600-nit peak brightness, making it much brighter than most laptop displays out there, 100% sRGB and 90% DCI P3 color gamut, VESA certified DisplayHDR 400, and Dolby Vision.
That’s more than enough to get you by when tackling your creative workloads and consuming media at the end of the day. The HDR is well-executed, even if it’s only HDR 400, as you can really see the difference in dynamic range when watching content, especially those with Dolby Vision support. Video editors might find the 90% DCI P3 coverage a bit lacking, but then again, this laptop is never meant to be their main tool anyway.
This display is not only stunning to look at; it’s also got more screen real estate thanks to those impossibly-thin bezels. Having upgraded for the 2019 display, the line now has a 16:10 display that’s 6.8% larger while keeping the laptop’s form factor as compact as ever. It’s not necessarily the most ideal aspect ratio for streaming content. However, it certainly lends itself well to creative and productivity workflows.
Dell XPS 13 review: Features
Of course, no media consumption is complete without speakers. On that, the Dell XPS 13 9310 has a set of great ones. The two 2.5W speakers built into this small and thin laptop might not be much next to a proper set of external stereo speakers, but the sound they produce is detailed and clear with decent soundstage and plenty of volume – more than enough for you to clearly hear dialogue from across the room.
While we’re on the subject of peripherals, you will appreciate the premium keyboard and trackpad on the Dell XPS 13 9310. The keyboard itself is a pleasure to use, comfortable and satisfying while also fast and accurate and with decently-sized keys. Meanwhile, the trackpad feels luxurious to touch while also incredibly reliable. You’ll be glad to know that even if you don’t pack your keyboard and mouse, you won’t miss them thanks to this keyboard and touchpad combo.
We only wish that the webcam offers a resolution higher than 720p. A 1080p resolution at this point, especially with everybody now relying on video calls, feels necessary. However, it’s still a great webcam, delivering crisp and clean video quality with minimal noise even in low light situations, face tracking, and an HDR feature you can toggle on.
The only thing that might disappoint creative professionals and hobbyists here is the measly number of ports. There are only two Thunderbolt 4 ports here, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a microSD card slot. To make up for that, somewhat, Dell has included a USB adapter. However, it doesn’t really add another port; it just gives you another type on hand.
Dell XPS 13 review: Should I buy it?
The Dell XPS 13 9310 is a premium notebook worthy of its steep price tag. But, whether or not you should invest in it depends on what you need a laptop for.
This Ultrabook is a surprisingly powerful one, capable of handling even the more intensive 4K video rendering, albeit at a slower, less snappier pace. This means that it’s more than enough for less graphically-demanding creative workflows – as well as your everyday productivity tasks and media consumption.
That combined with the fact that it’s completely travel-friendly and comes with all the right, top-notch features that render being tethered to a desk bedecked with peripherals unnecessary make the Dell XPS 13 9310 just as great of a tool for creative professionals as it is for users whose computing needs aren’t as demanding.
But, rather than serving as the main machine for all your editing and graphic design needs, it’s best for less intensive and on-the-fly workflows when on the go.
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