I don’t want to start a PC versus Mac fangirl war here, but when it comes to ultraportable laptops, the Apple MacBook Air has been pretty hard to beat. Thin, light, with a long-lasting battery, it’s the perfect everyday laptop.
Now Dell has come along with a very worthy competitor.
Starting at $800, the Dell XPS 13 manages to pack a 13-inch display into the body of an 11-inch laptop, making it even more compact than the 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s also fast, and has amazing battery life. I’ve been using it as my primary laptop for the past week, and I’ve been very happy with it. I have no hesitation recommending the XPS 13.
Right away, I was struck by the XPS 13’s design. At 7.88 inches tall by 11.98 inches wide and 0.6-inch thick, it’s about 23 percent smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Air. I never thought of my MacBook Air as particularly “big,” but after using the XPS 13 for a few days, it looked and felt gargantuan.
Dell was able to pull this off by reducing the size of the bezel around the screen. Compared to the MacBook Air, which has a 0.75-inch bezel, the XPS 13 has a 0.2-inch frame. The one downside of that, though, is that the webcam is now located in an odd spot in the lower left-hand corner. Trust me when I say that this does not make for a very flattering view on video calls (hello, double chins!).
The model I reviewed features a 1,920 by 1,080-pixel non-touch display. It was bright and sharp enough for working on documents and watching movies. It would be nice if the XPS 13 came standard with a touchscreen, since the Windows 8.1 operating system is optimized for use on a touch display. There are touchscreen models of the XPS 13, but it will cost you — between $1,300 and $1,900. You do get a big bump in screen resolution, though — up to 3,200 by 1,800 pixels. Just be aware that it draws more power, and will affect battery life.
Despite the compact size, the keyboard and touchpad didn’t feel small or cramped. The island-style keys are backlit and easy to press. I haven’t met many Windows trackpads that I’ve liked, but the one on the XPS 13 is quite responsive and precise. The cursor went where I wanted it to, and it registered all my clicks correctly. That said, two-finger scrolling isn’t as smooth compared to the MacBook Air.
Along the left and right sides of the laptop, you’ll find various ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a mini display connector and a headphone jack. It lacks an Ethernet jack and HDMI port.
The XPS 13 ships running Windows 8.1, with (thankfully) little bloatware. It’s worth pointing out to those who aren’t tied to a specific OS that Windows 8 hasn’t been well received by consumers or business users. Among the problems cited: It relied too heavily on a touch-based approach, and didn’t take into account the traditional laptop and desktop users who use a keyboard and mouse. As a result, many people have been slow to adopt it. Microsoft is hoping to fix some of the issues with its new operating system, Windows 10. Dell said the XPS 13 will be upgradeable to Windows 10 when it launches later this year.
General performance was smooth and swift. The XPS 13 is one of the first laptops to ship with Intel’s latest processors, which promise better battery life and improved performance. My review unit came with a fifth-generation Core i5 processor (along with four gigabytes of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive), which sits in the middle of the range, but you can configure the laptop up or down depending on your needs and budget.
The laptop booted up quickly, and compared to other Windows laptops I’ve tested, I thought it was a hair faster when launching applications. I streamed movies on Netflix, and also played a couple of games, like FIFA 14 Ultimate Team, and didn’t experience any interruption in playback or gameplay.
Battery life on the XPS 13 was some of the best I’ve experienced from a Windows laptop. For my harsh battery test, I set the screen brightness to high, turned off all power-saving features, and left Wi-Fi on to fetch email while continuously playing a video. The XPS 13 lasted an impressive 9.5 hours. That’s about 45 minutes short of the results we got for the MacBook Air, but in day-to-day usage, I found the two to be comparable, providing enough power to get through a full work day, and then some.
If you’re in the market for a Windows laptop, the XPS 13 should be at the top of your list. But if you’re not tied to a particular operating system, Apple is expected to refresh its MacBook Air line soon, so you may want to wait a bit and see what the company has to announce.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.