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Alienware 13 with OLED hands-on: Your favorite game has never looked better

The arrival of OLED is important, but the small handful of PCs adopting the technology aren’t what you’d expect. Most are convertibles with small screens. They aren’t the first choice for gaming, photo editing, or any of the tasks that benefit most from OLED’s superior picture.

Alienware’s 13-inch system with an OLED display is the exception. Unlike the others, it is built specifically with gaming in mind. When the system debuts this spring, it will be purchased by thousands looking for the best portable gaming experience, and they’ll receive visuals that are far beyond any other gaming notebook.

The superb display makes the most of the GTX 960M’s visual power.

That’s a big advantage. Because of its size, the Alienware 13 can only equip a GTX 960M graphics chip. While it can handle any title at 1080p, many new games will need to have detail reeled back a notch from maximum. Gamers using the system may miss out on the most detailed textures and most complex lighting effects.

But the superior display counteracts that disadvantage with enhanced contrast and superior color. When we laid hands on the Alienware 13 we found Call of Duty: Ghosts the only game installed – not exactly the newest title, or the most visually impressive. But the OLED display provided an illusion of depth and punchy colors that, at times, made the aging game look downright beautiful. Even the introductory cinematic looked slick.

Related: OLED is here, and you won’t believe your eyes

Alienware is also touting the OLED’s response times, which it says dip as low as one millisecond, and never exceed two milliseconds. That’s not the kind of trait that’s noticeable at a glance, so I can’t comment on its accuracy, but if correct it would make the Alienware 13’s new panel one of the quickest available with a laptop.

Alienware-OLED-laptop_5709

What about the rest of the notebook? Well – it’s an Alienware 13. The only aesthetic change is a red cover that we think looks incredible, adding a subtle spice to the system. But its inclusion in the final production unit is not certain. Dell wants to see how gamers react before putting it into production. If their support seems lacking, the OLED model will ship with the subdued silver scheme of previous versions.

The notebook’s stagnant design seems disappointing, as the system seems rather bulky at over an inch thick and over four and a half pounds in weight.

I say “seems” because calling it too big is unfair. There aren’t any slimmer, more powerful 13-inch gaming notebooks. Still, the rise of viable external graphics card docks at CES 2016 does pose a potential challenge to the Alienware 13’s existence. Yes, this notebook has an external graphics adapter available (in fact, it had one sooner than anyone save MSI), but what’s the point of relying on external graphics if it doesn’t result in a super-slim notebook?

This potential flaw may be excused by the price. Alienware says the OLED, which will be sold with 1440p resolution, should match the current model with a 3,200 x 1,800 display in terms of price. If that proves correct, it means the OLED model will sell for about $1,400, far less than Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga with OLED, which is $1,650. Honestly, a $1,400 price tag feels like a bit of a bargain for a notebook on the bleeding edge of PC display technology.

Related: Dell and Oculus partner for Alienware VR bundles

Though this pint-sized portable is showing its age, I’m hopeful it’ll prove a strong pick when it arrives later this year. It remains an attractive system, with a good keyboard and touch, and the new panel will grant it a class-leading display (and it’s already no slouch in that area). Competitors like the Razer Blade Stealth may be slimmer, but they can’t hope to match the immersion OLED provides.

Highs

  • Excellent contrast
  • Fast display response time
  • Reasonably priced for OLED

Lows

  • No design update
  • Thick and heavy