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Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu/Windows versions review for developing on - Kieron Howard
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A couple of months back I needed a laptop to work from for a project. Doing a bit of research narrowed it down to the Dell XPS 13 as my best option. One of the things that attracted me was the option of having an out of the box Ubuntu version.

After ordering from Dell it turned out the laptop was coming from China surprisingly, so took just over a week to arrive. Opening the box I was impressed by the build quality and finish of the laptop. It feels sturdy but nicely compact.

The bevel on the screen is really tiny, so the footprint of the laptop is impressively small, something I wanted as I didn’t want to have a big bag to lug it round in.

 

Booting up the Dell for the first time went through the standard Ubuntu install and setup procedure, with everything working straight away without the need to touch any settings.

Well. Nearly everything, there seemed to be a problem with the trackpad. It would often just freeze, or suddenly shoot the cursor across the screen randomly. Googling turns up quite a few other people with the same issue

I messed around with drivers and other settings for a while but to no avail. Time was running out and I needed a laptop to start this project.

Speaking to a friend with a XPS 15 (who didn’t have the trackpad issue) he suggested just buying another laptop from a shop where I could test the trackpad was working and then send the old one back.

Looking around I couldn’t see any Ubuntu versions for sale locally, but a shop did have a Windows version for only £10 more than what I paid for the Ubuntu version. So deciding I could always dual boot Ubuntu anyway I drove down to the shop and bought my second Dell.

Getting back home I’d resigned myself to having to ring Dell and mess around dealing with getting an RMA and all that palava. However I got straight through to a helpful support technician who ran me through updating the firmware on the original laptop, which didn’t fix the issue, then, to my amazement told me that they would send an engineer out to my house with a replacement trackpad! Really impressive customer service. I told the support staff that I’d just purchased a replacement and can I just send the laptop back. Again, no fuss, they would send a courier out to my house to pickup the laptop. This was all done in a matter of minutes and has cemented my trust in Dell as a brand.

Thankfully the replacement laptops trackpad worked fine.

Back to the review, the Windows version of the XPS 13 I got as a replacement has a higher resolution (3200×1800) gloss screen compared to the Ubuntu versions 1920×1080 matte screen. Initially I thought I wouldn’t be fussed about having such a high res screen on just a 13″ device, but that’s not been the case. Going back to my wife’s 1920×1080 MacBook Pro feels like using Ceefax. One downside of the higher res screen has been that quite a few apps just don’t support it, Netbeans being one. I switched IDE’s wholesale over to Sublime as that works fine. The matte screen was preferable to the gloss one, as there is quite a bit of glare when the sun is behind you. That said, the screen is bright and very very crisp, easily the best laptop screen I’ve used.

Battery life seems good, they claim something  silly like 22 hours on the 1920×1080 one, but with the screen brightness down Iv’e spent a good afternoon developing and still had plenty of juice left. I’d guess you’d get about 8 hours if you were careful, however, playing Eve Online with brightness on full seemed to drop it down to about 2 hours.

I went for the 16GB version, as I like to run lots of things at once and just alt-tab rather than closing and opening all the time, the SSD is really fast, so apps open up instantly, and the boot time from cold is also rapid.

Whilst checking the stats to write up this post I was reminded that the 3200×1800 version is touch screen. I’d totally forgotten, I simply don’t use it or see the point, but I guess at least its an option I suppose.

The speakers aren’t great, but then I’ve never really used a laptop with speakers to write home about, and for working on it’s not an issue. The XPS 13 only has the option of onboard graphics, but I can run Eve at a high res with everything on max and it’s buttery smooth, which came as a nice surprise.

The only minor issue I’ve had is that running Docker I don’t seem to be able to sleep the laptop all the time, I suspect this is something to do with how Docker handles network devices as I’ve had a similar issue on my desktop. There is also no dedicated pagedown button, you need to use fn and cursor up/down, which is slightly annoying when navigating large code files. However the trackpad support 2 finger scrolling which is nice and fast.

Overall I’m really impressed with the Dell XPS 13, not only to work on, but also to play games on and just use as a general browsing machine, something that I really hadn’t intended to use it for. In addition installing Bash On Ubuntu On Windows has seriously diminished my desire to go back to a pure Linux environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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