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You should buy the Dell XPS 13 — just not with the 4K display

Dell XPS 13 2018 Model
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
Matt Smith/Digital Trends

The new Dell XPS 13, like the old model, is a fantastic laptop. It’s small, yet quick. Portable, yet versatile. And it still looks fantastic. The 13-inch laptop category remains incredibly competitive — but, once again, the XPS 13 has come out on top.

But wait! Before you open your wallet to buy the best version you can, there’s something you should know. The most expensive XPS 13 isn’t the best.

The problem is the display. The top-tier model has upgraded from the old, awkward 3,200 x 1,800 panel to a new 4K screen that’s more competitive with other laptops in its category. Sounds great, right? Yet in our testing, the 4K version scored behind the 1080p model in color accuracy and contrast. The upgraded screen looks sharper, but colors don’t appear as vibrant, and images have less depth.

Then there’s battery life. The 1080p model endured for 13 and a half hours in our video loop test, while the 4K version lasted three hours less. That’s a big difference. It likely doesn’t help that the 4K model we reviewed had a more powerful, and more power-hungry, Core i7 processor.

Despite those disadvantages, you must pay for the privilege of owning a 4K screen. Adding it to one of the less expensive configurations tacks an incredible $400 on the price. Yet, as we’ve just shown, all you receive for the money is a higher display resolution. The screen is actually inferior in some regards — and will chew through the XPS 13’s battery far quicker.

That’s not $400 well spent, is it?

Dell doesn’t struggle with the problem of 4K alone. Other laptops we’ve tested have had similar issues if upgraded to 4K. We’re sure that some buyers do crave the added resolution, falling into the old trap of assuming more is better. In fact, it would’ve been stupid for Dell not to include it as an option. Many competitors offer it, so Dell would’ve looked behind the times if it were missing. This is the trend.

The fact an option is offered doesn’t mean you have to check the box, however — and in the case, it’s smart to show restraint. We reviewed the $1,199 and $1,899 version of the XPS 13 side-by-side, and our verdict was clear: The less expensive model was better. You can even opt for the Core i7 processor while retaining the 1080p screen if you really need the extra performance.

Shop smart. Save money. Leave the 4K display at the factory.

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