Dell 13″ Ultrabooks

The first few drafts of my last article touched on this but in the end, I edited it out because it was off topic. Nevertheless, this subject is worth a few words I think.

As I mentioned in that article, not long after I joined my current workplace we standardised on Dell for our mobile hardware. There are plenty of advantages for us in doing so; Dell generally give excellent pricing to the Education sector, they sell direct so you don’t have to go through resellers and for their Enterprise level kit and Business line equipment at least, their support is generally excellent. I have never had problems with Dell Business technical support and without exception, every Dell or Dell contracted engineer I’ve received to do work on a server, SAN, laptop or desktop has been excellent. But that’s my experience, I’m sure yours is different.

Although we decided to standardise on Dell, we hadn’t decided which specific line until relatively recently. This means that we have a couple of different models of 13″ Ultrabook knocking around so I thought I’d write a quick piece comparing them. Specifically, we have the Dell XPS 13 (9560) and the Dell Latitude 7000 (7390 and 7390). I’m not going to do any kind of benchmarking with them but I’m going to compare the specifications of the two lines, attempt to look at their build quality and say which one I prefer.

Dimensions and Weight

The XPS 13 is shaped like a wedge of cheese; it’s taller at the back than it is at the front. At its thickest point, it is 15mm/0.6″ thick. It is 304mm/12″ wide and 200mm/7.9″ deep. The weight of the device is dependant on the spec that you choose but it starts at 1.2KG/2.7lbs

The Latitude 7390 is more traditionally shaped, it’s as thick at the front as it is at the back. It is 16mm/0.64″ high, 304mm/12″ wide and 208mm/8.2″ deep. Again, the weight of the device depends on the spec that you buy but it starts at 1.17kg/2.6lbs.

Winner –  XPS. Just.

The two systems weigh the same but the XPS is slightly but smaller. However, it’s barely 1/2cm smaller on the height and depth and the same width so it’s not really significant.

Screen

Both laptops are available with touch and non touch options. Both come with 1080P screens as their default option but the XPS can be bought with a 3200×1800 screen.

The XPS 13 has what Dell call an InfinityEdge screen. They boast that they’ve managed to squeeze a 13″ screen into what would otherwise be a 11″ frame. This is undeniably true; the laptop does have very narrow bezels and they are a uniform size on both sides and at the top. The laptop is certainly smaller and sleeker because of that.

The Latitude has the same screen and it also has equally narrow bezels on the sides of the screens but it has a more standard sized bezel on the top of the screen than the XPS does. For this model, Dell claim to have put a 13″ screen into the same sized chassis as a 12″ notebook.

Winner – XPS

The XPS has smaller bezels and has a higher resolution screen available for it.

Webcam and Biometrics

The XPS has its webcam on the bottom edge of the screen. It is a “Standard” webcam. The positioning of it is downright stupid, anyone who you talk to with it ends up looking up your nose. It can’t be used with Windows Hello to unlock the laptop. Windows Hello fingerprint scanners are an optional extra.

Since the Latitude has the thicker bezel at the top of the screen, it has room for the webcam in a more sensible position. Infra-red cameras which are compatible with Windows Hello are also an option with this line of laptop, as are fingerprint scanners.

Winner – Latitude

The webcam is in a better place and it has more biometric options. Easy win for the Latitude here I think

Connectivity

The XPS has:

  • an SD card slot
  • Two USB 3.0 Type A ports
  • A Thunderbolt/USB Type C port
  • A headphone port
  • A Wireless card manufactured by Killer

The Latitude has:

  • A headphone port
  • A uSIM port for optional WLAN
  • a Micro-SD card slot
  • Two USB 3.0 Type A ports
  • An Ethernet Port
  • When bought with 1.6GHz or above CPUs, a Thunderbolt3/USB C port
  • An HDMI port
  • A Smartcard slot
  • A Wireless card manufactured by Intel

Winner – Latitude

From the point of view of a consumer device, the ports that the XPS has are probably good enough, although if you want to connect to an external monitor or a wired network you need a dongle. The uniform thickness and that extra 5mm that the Latitude has certainly gives you gets you some useful additions. The Latitude also has a slot for an optional WLAN card so you can connect to the internet on the move without having to tether it to a mobile phone. I mention the WiFi card because Killer don’t exactly have a reputation for high quality drivers which may be a concern. From an Enterprise point of view, the Latitude is the clear winner.

Specifications

The XPS is available with 8th Gen Core i5 and i7 CPUs. It comes with an SSD on an M2 slot and the SSDs that they will sell with it use the NVMe bus. It can come with up to 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM which is soldered to the laptop’s motherboard.

The Latitude is available with the same 8th Gen Core i5 and i7 CPUs. It also comes with SSDs on an M2 slot which can be either SATA or NVMe. The maximum amount of RAM that it can take is 16GB of DDR4. However, the RAM on a Latitude is a standard DIMM so it can be expanded later on if you so choose. As mentioned in the connectivity part of the article, the Latitude comes with an extra M2 slot in which a WLAN card can be fitted.

Dell sell both with SSDs up to 512GB but I would be seriously surprised if you couldn’t expand that later on if you wanted to.

Winner – Latitude

Out of the box, it comes with very similar hardware internally. They both use the same CPU lines. However, the fact that you can upgrade the RAM in the Latitude and fit it with a WLAN card later on if you want to means that it wins this category for me. It’s amazing what an extra 5mm of thickness gets you.

Battery

I can’t really do any real world comparisons of battery life with these laptops for two reasons. The first reason is that all of the XPS laptops that we have are assigned to someone so asking for them back to run some battery benchmarks would result in some funny looks. Secondly, the XPS laptops that we have are a couple of years old while the Latitudes are a lot newer. It would be unfair to compare a two year old battery with a brand new one, not to mention that each new generation of Core CPU generally improves on battery life anyway. So I’m just going to quote Dell’s figures here and make a judgement on that.

The XPS has a 60WHr battery built into it. Dell claim you should be able to work for 22 hours from a full charge.

The Latitude has either a 42WHr or 60WHr battery in it. Dell claim up to 19 hours of working life from a full charge. I would imagine that’s with the 60WHr battery fitted.

Winner – XPS

That LPDDR3 memory probably counts for something – the XPS is claimed to have longer battery life.

Touchpad and Keyboard

Both laptops have pretty similar keyboards, they have the same kind of chiclet keys that manufacturers have been using for the past eight to ten years. They both have backlit keyboards. They’re much of a muchness. I’ve used better keyboards but I’ve also used much worse. They’re both on a par with the scissor style keys you got on Unibody MacBooks. The layout of the keyboards are the same with the CTRL and FN keys in the correct places. The top row of keys on both laptops double as traditional function keys (F1 etc) and as keys to control the brightness of the screen, keyboard backlight, wireless, volume and media playback.

They do have different touchpads however. The XPS has a touchpad similar to one on a Mac where the entire surface is a button whereas the Latitude has two separate hardware buttons. Both touchpads are recognised by Windows as being Precision Touchpads so they support the Windows multi-touch gestures.

Winner – Draw

There is no clear winner here. The keyboards are near enough identical and the touchpads are a matter of personal preference. I prefer the ones on the XPS ever so slightly but there isn’t enough in it to declare an overall winner. That said, both completely suck compared to the touchpad on a Mac using macOS. Seriously PC manufacturers, Apple got the touchpad and touchpad gestures just perfect with the first generation of unibody MacBooks and Snow Leopard. That was coming on for ten years ago. For God’s sake, just copy that already.

Finishes

Both laptops come with a range of different colours and finishes.

The XPS can come in silver, white or rose gold.

The Latitude can come in aluminium finish, a carbon fibre finish or a dark grey magnesium one.

Winner – Draw

The XPS looks more like a consumer device while the Latitude looks more like a business device. You wouldn’t be ashamed to get either out at a meeting but the XPS would look better at a LAN party!

Support

Out of the box, the XPS comes with 1 year On-Site warranty while the Latitude comes with three years. You can buy up to four years support on the XPS and up to five on the Latitude

Winner – Latitude

It comes with a longer warranty and can be warrantied for longer as well.

Durability

This last one is harder to quantify as the XPS laptops that we have are older so it’s harder to say which is the more rugged laptop. However. At least one of our XPS laptops appears to be coming apart, there are visible gaps at its seams. I don’t know if we have a dud or if there is a quality control issue with these things. From hands on experience though, I would personally say that the Latitude feels like the more solid laptop. We will see.

Winner – Not enough data

We don’t have as many XPS laptops as we do Latitudes and the XPS laptops that we do have are older. My thoughts about the Latitude feeling like a more solid laptop are fairly preliminary so I’m not going to say one way or the other.

Price

I’m not going to quote the exact pricing that I get from Dell for these laptops as it won’t be the same as what’s on their website or the same as what your account manager will give you. That said, generally speaking, whenever I get a quote for an equivalently specified Latitude and XPS with the same warranty length, the Latitude is around 3/4 to 4/5 of the price of the XPS.

Winner – Latitude

The Latitude line is always the cheaper one when I ask Dell for a quote. It is on the Dell website when you ask for them with the same warranty as well.

Conclusion

Well, this “few words” has turned into more than two thousand words! The easy thing to do here would be to count how many wins each line has and declare that line the winner. For the record, that’s the Latitude with five wins to three and two draws. I don’t that it’s quite as clear cut as that though. My personal preference would undeniably be the Latitude. It’s more expandable. It has better support. It has more ports. Its webcam is in a more sensible place and you don’t need dongles to connect it to a monitor or a wired network. It’s also cheaper. However, that’s what’s important to me. You might have other ideas. But from my point of view, buy a Latitude. If nothing else, you get more laptop for your money.

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