Review: The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop is nearly perfect

It has a good battery, has a great screen, is sturdy, is fast and, most important, supports (and ships with) Linux

The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop is nearly perfect
Credit: Dell

I'm a portable man—I like laptops and tablets. It's been years since I've owned a desktop PC. Between frequent travel to tech conferences and my predilection for doing my work done from the comforts of donut and coffee shops, I just can't be tethered to a desk.

That means I ask a lot of my mobile gear. I need them to perform with desktop power. Compile code, edit video, play games—they need to do it all. And do it well.

Enter the newly updated Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.

The model I got for review comes with a 6th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16 gigs of DDR3 RAM, a half a terabyte solid state drive and Intel's Iris 540 GPU. Port wise, it has two USB 3 slots, an SD card reader and a Thunderbolt port (which I will only ever use with an HDMI adapter because, seriously, does anyone actually use Thunderbolt ports?). The machine is pretty doggone beefy by anyone's standards.

Oh, and the screen: 13 inches and 3200x1800 resolution. Gorgeous. Absolutely friggin' gorgeous. This is the nicest 13-in. display I've had the pleasure of using. In testing various Linux distributions on it, I ended up needing to lower the resolution by half for desktop environments that just weren't built for such high DPI displays. Not a bad problem to have.

The keyboard is full size, and the keys feel satisfying to type on. I've written roughly 30,000 words on this XPS keyboard over the past two weeks, and I have no complaints about it whatsoever. It's not perfect, but it is extremely good. It isn’t quite as enjoyable to write on as, say, the Lenovo Thinkpad 11e. But it’s several light years better than the keyboard on a MacBook Pro.

The laptop itself is sturdy. There’s no flexing or bending when you pick it up by an edge. It feels high quality. I like to touch it. And I touch it a lot.

Comes with Ubuntu

When I received this unit, it came pre-loaded with Ubuntu 14.04. It may be a 2-year-old version of Ubuntu, but, hey, it ships with Linux. I'd be happy if it came with a 10-year-old version of Slackware.

After using it for roughly a half hour, and quite satisfied at the performance, I decided to let Ubuntu update to the latest version that it was able to update to: 15.10 (16.04 wasn't available to update to just yet). Upon completion of the update, Ubuntu failed to boot. After monkeying around with it for about five minutes, I realized I didn't want to run Ubuntu on it anyway and quickly grabbed a flash drive with openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. (Note: I don't blame Dell for the trouble with updating Ubuntu. I've had similar upgrade troubles with Ubuntu in the past and on multiple machines.)

I tested this little beauty out with multiple systems: elementary, openSUSE Leap and Ubuntu MATE. Every single one ran beautifully. The only hiccup I encountered was that elementary didn't automatically find the Wi-Fi chip. But after some quick searching, it looks like that would likely be a simple fix. And, quite literally, everything else worked perfectly with no tweaks whatsoever.

Battery life when running openSUSE and using xmonad as my window manager—yeah, I'm hardcore like that—was a little better than six hours. Not bad, especially for a laptop with these high-end guts.

Performance is fantastic, which you would expect considering the stellar specs the XPS 13 has. This rig handles all of my video editing and gaming without batting an eye. Resolution and detail cranked to the max on every game I tried—with no stuttering at all.

I love it. Absolutely love it.

Worth the price

The cost isn't cheap—at a hair over $2,000 (USD). But considering the amazing capabilities of this rig, coupled with its high portability, the price is absolutely fair. This isn't a laptop for everyone. If you just want a web-browsing machine, this is beyond overkill. But if you need a lightweight laptop that's small enough to fit in just about any bag—and you'd like to be able to run multiple high-performance virtual machines or do some serious video editing—this bad boy is worth every penny.

For comparison purposes, this laptop is cheaper (by a few hundred dollars) than a MacBook Pro configured to have somewhat similar specs—except the Dell has a nicer (and higher resolution) screen and a faster CPU. And it doesn't have an Apple on the back of it (that all of your Linux-loving friends will make fun of).

If I'm being extremely picky, the one thing I wish was changed in the XP13 Developer Edition is the Thunderbolt port. It's just not that useful. Get rid of that mostly useless hole and give me one dedicated HDMI port so I don't need to bring an adapter with me when I want to do a presentation or plug the XPS 13 into a big screen.

But other than that one tiny annoyance—and it really is a small nitpick, all things considered—this is damn near the perfect laptop. Good battery. Great screen. Sturdy. Fast as hell. And, most important, it supports (and ships with) Linux.

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