The computer you see above is a Brother BCP521V. It’s so old, a Google search turns up nothing (well apart from me). It has less power than your toothbrush. Even if your toothbrush is a manual one.
But at 25 odd years old, it’s still recognisably a laptop.
Laptops are the grandaddy of mobile computing and, although they’re now sleeker, thinner, lighter and obviously way more powerful - that basic clamshell design remains unchanged.
The last five years have seen all the excitement saved for tablets and smartphones. But now, their design has also matured into something that barely changes with each new generation.
It’s all gotten a bit boring really. Where is a laptop with a design to get excited about? Steve Jobs probably got the last genuine gasp from a crowd when he pulled the original iPad Air out of a manilla envelope back in 2008.
After a long wait, famous for solid but dependable tech company Dell has drawn a gasp, at least from me, with the lovely 2015 version of the Dell XPS 13.
This isn’t a review really. I’ve not had long enough with this XPS 13 to put it through its paces. I can tell you that under the hood, it has all the horsepower you’d expect from a modern ultrabook, with i5 and i7 variants of Intel’s latest mobile processors available and between 4GB and 8GB of memory.
Being an ultrabook, the hard drive is of the solid state variety and you can start at 128GB and spend your way all the way to 512GB.
Whichever specification you choose, you’ll get a machine that nips along nicely, untroubled by office applications or heavy-handed use of Google Chrome. It’ll even play a few games - although this is not what it’s for. Don’t expect the latest and greatest to run at all, but casual games and older classics like Portal 2 work a treat.
This is all sounding very ordinary though - so why the fuss?
Well, it’s that screen. The chassis is about the size of a typical 11.6” laptop (the one in the picture above is a 12"). Sleek and light. But that screen is no less than 13”!!
Dell have achieved this by virtually removing all the bezel from around the edge. Called the ‘Infinity Display’, this glorious piece of gorilla glass and LCD fills your view as you work and it’s near mesmerizing in its beauty.
Not only is it a large panel for the body - it’s a fantastic one. The top of the range model, which I have here is a QHD display, which means it’s a 2K model with a resolution of 3200*1800 and it’s so sharp you could shave your eyebrows with it.
Even basic work-a-day stuff like using Google Docs to write this post, I’m struck by just how clear and sharp everything looks. Photos look gorgeous. Especially as you navigate and zoom around big high resolution ones. Video, even streamed from the internet looks great and generally surfing around the internet, poking at the touchscreen and using the multi-touchpad is very pleasant indeed (although I’ll concede that the touchpad is not as nice as an Apple one by any stretch, but I’m inclined to blame Windows for that).
All this beauty and engineering does come at a price and you’re looking at spending over £1000 to get this touchscreen. It’s hard to recommend to everyone at this price - but if it’s important to you, I don’t think you’ll look back. Do note though that the basic model at £799 comes with a 1080p non-touch display that is still likely to be more than good enough.
Any downsides? Well, some desktop applications that I installed didn’t look so sharp. I can only imagine they need a tweak to display natively on such a high resolution and instead Windows is scaling them up. I also found that the thin bezel made it fiddly to use some of the swipe gestures on the touchscreen, for example from the left to switch between open applications.
The really strange outcome of removing the bezel, is that there is no where for the webcam to go. It has one, but where it’s landed is a bit of a surprise….
The rest of the laptop looks great, with its aluminum chassis (machined from a single piece, so it’s strong) and carbon fibre detail. I did find the keys travel a little too short, but I’m a very heavy handed typist used to a desktop computer, so you may not find you agree. I do like the fact that the ‘F’ keys give you the media controls without having to press the ‘Fn’ key first.
Finally the battery life is quoted at 12 hours (15 for the 1080p version). I’d be inclined to say that this is on a very good day and budget for a few hours less when busy.
So what we have here is a laptop that is actually interesting. Apple have just launched their new MacBook, which embarasses all with its thinness. However the single port and slower processor suggests it might be a product ahead of its time.
The XPS 13 represents a peak of design for today. Cramming even more screen into a tiny portable, that still has all the connectivity (SD, 2x USB 3, mini-displayport and a Kensington lock) and horsepower that you expect for your hard earned.
Dell are really starting to innovate around their product line and I for one am starting to see them as quite a cool brand. Definitely worth checking out.