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The $1,100 Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows ultrabook for most people because it has a big, beautiful screen, the longest battery life of any Windows ultrabook, a great keyboard, and a decent trackpad. Above all, it’s the smallest, lightest, best-designed ultrabook we’ve tested. We came to this conclusion after 70 hours of research and testing with seven different ultrabooks.
The Dell XPS 13 (non-touch) is the best Windows ultrabook for most people.
Who is this product for?
Ultrabooks are best for people who need a super-portable, long-lasting laptop and don’t mind paying a premium for it. They’re overkill if you just want something you can leave on a desk and use for a couple of hours after work. The ideal ultrabook has enough processing power to get work done and sufficient battery life to survive a cross-country flight, while still being slim and light enough to go anywhere.
Thinner and lighter than the competition, the $1,100 Dell XPS 13 offers the best battery life of any Windows ultrabook so far, as well as a great screen, a nice keyboard, and a good trackpad—it’s simply the most machine in the smallest package you can get.
The Dell XPS 13 (top) has the same screen size as the 13-inch MacBook Air, but a higher screen resolution and a much smaller body.
The XPS 13 packs an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a stunning, 13.3-inch 1080p display in a laptop barely larger than the 11-inch MacBook Air. Our favorite version doesn’t have a touchscreen, but you can choose a touchscreen model if you don’t mind spending more and getting shorter battery life.
Although the MacBook Air remains unmatched in battery life, the non-touch Dell XPS 13 lasts longer than any other Windows ultrabook. In CNET’s battery drain test, the XPS 13 lasted 12 hours, 6 minutes, compared with the 2014 MacBook Air’s 16 hours, 26 minutes.
The XPS 13 has a good keyboard that’s responsive and comfortable to type on, thanks in part to the soft-touch plastic covering its palm rest. Once in a while the trackpad dropped strokes in our tests, but it was accurate and responsive most of the time.
Compared with other display types, the Dell’s 13.3-inch, matte, IPS screen provides superior viewing angles, and it’s especially immersive because of its tiny 5.2 mm bezel. It’s great for doing work, but the webcam placement is terrible. Sitting below the bottom-left edge of the screen, the camera produces an unflattering view up your left nostril.
The Dell XPS 13 can get warm on the bottom, but not uncomfortably hot. Fan noise increases when it’s warm, but that doesn’t interfere with quiet audio.
The runner-up pick
If our main pick is sold out or if you want a convertible, backflipping ultrabook—and if you’re willing to put up with a larger, heavier laptop—you should get the $1,000 HP Spectre x360. Specifically, choose the configuration with a 1080p touchscreen, an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive.
The 360-degree hinge of the HP Spectre x360 allows the laptop to flip around into tent mode.
This HP ultrabook provides the same specs as our top pick for less money, and it has a touchscreen, a webcam in the right place, and an HDMI port, unlike the Dell. But its keyboard is mushy and has an annoying backlight, its trackpad is unnecessarily wide, and its hinge is loose and wobbly.
A budget option
If your budget is limited, we recommend the $700 Asus ZenBook UX305. Inexpensive, slim, and light, this model offers great battery life, a decent keyboard, a reliable trackpad, and plenty of memory at its price range. It’s the best ultrabook we’ve found for anywhere near its price—you have to spend $200 to $400 more to get a better one. We recommend the $700 UX305FA-ASM1 configuration with a 13.3-inch 1080p screen, an Intel Core M-5Y10 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive.
If you’re on a budget, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is a great ultrabook.
The downside? The UX305 runs on a slower, Core M processor and carries a last-generation 802.11n Wi-Fi card. It also lacks a few amenities, such as a touchscreen and a backlit keyboard. But those are worthwhile sacrifices if you need a good, cheap Windows ultrabook.
The $1,100 Dell XPS 13 is the top ultrabook for Windows users because it offers a thin and light design plus excellent battery life. The XPS 13’s comfortable keyboard, good trackpad, brilliant screen, and reasonable price make it the best option for getting work done in the office or on the go.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com.