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Dell XPS 13 2020 review: a fantastic but flawed laptop | Technology

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Dell’s XPS 13 squeezes more screen, more power and even Windows Hello face recognition into a tiny frame, but trips up over software issues.

The XPS 13 is Dell’s top-of-the-line compact laptop and starts at £1,349. Various models with different processors, storage and screen resolutions are available.

The XPS line is where Dell shows off its design chops. It is a premium Windows 10 rival to Apple’s MacBook Pro and more recently Microsoft’s Surface Laptop line.

Dell’s standout feature has been squeezing the biggest screen possible into as small a frame as possible by shrinking everything in the lid section of the laptop that isn’t screen – much like the modern all-screen smartphone design. The 2020 XPS 13 has the biggest display yet, at 13.4in with a 16:10 ratio, and tiny bezels all the way around the edges.

Thin bezel at the top of the screen



The thin bezel at the top of the screen has a webcam with infrared face recognition. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

That means you get a relatively large display in the body of what would traditionally have been a laptop with just an 11in screen. And what a screen it is. The version tested had the 4K touchscreen option, which is crisper than practically anything else, super bright, colour accurate and all-round gorgeous. It supports HDR video, including Dolby Vision. Models are available with either touch or non-touch FHD+ screens too.

The body of the laptop is made from aluminium, with your choice of black carbon fibre or white glass fibre on the laptop’s deck. It feels solid, sleek and unique. The wedge-shaped laptop weighs just 1.27kg and is only 14.8mm thick, with a smaller footprint than most of its competition.

The new, slightly larger keyboard is great. Well spaced, stable, fairly quiet, with 1mm of key travel and good feedback when pressed. The large precision trackpad is responsive, with a tactile but muted click that hopefully shouldn’t annoy those around you.

Windows Hello

Power button



The power button is also a fingerprint scanner. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The XPS 13 ships with not one but two biometric systems for securely logging you into Windows without a password.

The new design has a Windows Hello infrared face recognition camera squeezed into the bezel at the top of the screen and a fingerprint scanner built into the power button. That means you can either log in with a press of the power button or simply by looking at the screen when you open the lid. Both are fast, accurate and work brilliantly.

Specifications

  • Screen: 13.4in LCD 4K (3840 x 2400) or FHD+ (1920 x 1200)

  • Processor: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7

  • RAM: 8 or 16GB

  • Storage: 512GB or 1TB

  • Graphics: Intel UHD or Iris Plus

  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home or Pro, Ubuntu 18.04

  • Camera: 720p widescreen HD with Windows Hello

  • Connectivity: Wifi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, microSD, headphone

  • Dimensions: 198.7 x 295.7 x 14.8mm

  • Weight: 1.27kg

Hot hardware, but USB-C problems

One side has a Thunderbolt 3 port and a microSD card slot



One side has a Thunderbolt 3 port and a microSD card slot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 2020 XPS 13 ships with your choice of 10th-generation Intel core chips. Most models have the Core i7 common to all top-spec computers, including the new MacBook Pro, Surface Laptop 3 and Huawei MateBook X Pro. The model tested for this review had a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and a 4K screen.

As such the XPS 13 has lots of power on tap, making it capable of just about anything, short of high-end gaming. Intel’s Iris Plus graphics are a step up from the previous HD integrated graphics, which you immediately notice when you start editing images on a 4K external screen.

Used on battery the XPS 13 is nearly silent, with only low-level fans audible when pushed a little. Connect the machine to power and start doing demanding things and it will get a bit hot, with the fans going fairly strong. Even with fans at maximum, they’re not quite as loud as some competitors.

The deck of the laptop doesn’t get overly warm, but you could feel some heat behind the R, T, Y, U and I keys. The vents on the bottom of the laptop are easily blocked by soft furnishings, meaning the machine really needs to be used on a hard table, desk or lap.

The XPS 13 has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphones socket and a microSD card slot, which is very welcome. When one USB-C port is taken up by the charger, that only leaves one port for connecting accessories, such as a monitor, meaning you might need a dock or similar if using home-working tools.

The other side has the second Thunderbolt 3 port and the 3.5mm headphones socket



The other side has the second Thunderbolt 3 port and the 3.5mm headphones socket. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

A bug in a BIOS update for the XPS 13 broke compatibility with some USB-C to HDMI adaptors while I was reviewing the machine. The laptop threw up errors for two adaptors after the update, but continued to work with a USB-C to HDMI cable and a USB-C to DisplayPort dock. The bug remained until the end of the review period.

A Dell spokesperson said: “We’re investigating the issue and will update on our findings. We thank customers for sharing their experience on the Dell Community.”

Battery life wasn’t great, averaging only five and half hours of work between charges, including 90 minutes of photo editing, lots of browsing and word processing, with the screen brightness set to 70%. The 2020 MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 each lasted 7.5 hours under similar conditions. Lighter use saw closer to seven hours between charges. Models with the lower-resolution FHD+ screen, rather than 4K, will are likely to last significantly longer as the screen is one of the biggest power drains.

A full charge took 2.5 hours with the included 45W USB-C charger in optimised mode, but well under two if using Dell’s fast-charge setting with the laptop off.

Sustainability

The lid is smooth aluminium with a chromed Dell logo in the centre



The lid is smooth aluminium with a chromed Dell logo in the centre. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The XPS 13 is one of the most recyclable laptops you can buy, and is generally repairable. It is designed to enable repairs by authorised service personnel in the field, not just in a service centre, including replacement of the battery.

An out-of-warranty screen repair costs £299.41, while a battery replacement costs £171.66. Dell also has an advanced power-management utility that can extend the useful lifespan of a battery by altering when, how and how much it is charged, either automatically by learning from your usage and charging habits or manually via various profiles.

Dell offers free recycling schemes, even for products from other brands, while its packaging is made from recycled materials. The firm has a number of sustainability and environmental impact schemes under way for 2030, including the recycling or reuse an equivalent product per purchase and use of recycled material. Dell publishes the carbon footprint of its products.

Windows 10 Home

dell xps 13 2020 review



The keyboard and trackpad are great. Firm, responsive and precise. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The XPS 13 ships with a choice of Windows 10 Home or Pro, and it is one of the few laptops that can be bought with Linux instead of Windows, with Ubuntu 18.04 models.

As tested with Window 10 Home, the XPS 13 ships with a lot of Dell utility apps, most of which are useful, such as the advanced Dell Power Manager. Many can be safely ignored or removed, but one particular utility for the included wifi chips caused no end of trouble.

The Killer Networking utilities, which are advanced software components for the gaming wifi chip Dell chose to use here, prevented the machine from going to sleep when the lid was shut, which is a cardinal sin for a laptop as it can lead to it turning on in a bag and cooking itself.

No update, clean install or troubleshooting could fix the sleeping issue. Disabling the Killer utilities with the manufacturer-provided tool was the only way to fix it. Killer Networking chips, made by Rivet Networks (recently acquired by Intel), are aimed at gamers and allow traffic prioritisation and other advanced features, but are notorious for causing these sorts of software problems, which makes it a puzzling inclusion in the XPS 13, which is by no means a gaming laptop.

Observations

The speakers fire out of grilles along the sides



The speakers fire out of grilles along the sides. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • Occasionally the laptop would come back from sleep with Bluetooth disabled, requiring a reboot.

  • The mics were poor for video conferencing at a distance, but the camera was pretty good.

  • The down-firing speakers could get very loud indeed, but lacked any bass and were pretty shrill.

  • There’s an option to turn on the laptop when the lid is opened, even if the XPS 13 is fully powered off.

Price

The Dell XPS 13 (9300) 2020 with Windows 10 Home, a FHD+ non-touchscreen, 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD costs £1,399 with a Core i5 processor or £1,549 with a Core i7 processor.

The models with a FHD+ non-touchscreen, Core i7 and 16GB of RAM cost £1,599 with 512GB SSD or £1,699 with 1TB SSD. The model with a FHD+ touchscreen, Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD costs £1,749.

The models with a 4K touchscreen, Core i7, 16GB of RAM cost £1,749 with 512GB SSD (as reviewed) and £1,799 with 1TB SSD. Some models are also available in white.

Ubuntu Linux models cost £1,349 with a FHD+ non-touchscreen, Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD, £1,699 with a 4K touchscreen, Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD, or £1,749 with 1TB SSD.

For comparison, the Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 starts at an RRP of £999, the Huawei MateBook X Pro costs from £1,299.99 and the 13in MacBook Pro starts at £1,299.

Verdict

The Dell XPS 13 is a fantastic laptop held back by a few failures, most of which are issues traditionally associated with Dell and others.

The design, build, look and physical function of the laptop is top-class. The 4K screen is simply gorgeous, with tiny bezels all around. At 13.4in on the diagonal with a 16:10 ratio, it has a surprisingly large amount of real estate for getting work done, while videos obviously look stunning. It really is a very large screen for such a small laptop.

The keyboard and trackpad are great, and so is having Windows Hello in both an IR face recognition camera and a fingerprint sensor.

There’s plenty of power on tap for doing everything you could want from a 13in laptop outside of gaming. Two Thunderbolt ports, a headphones socket and a microSD card slot are very welcome. It could do with one more USB-C or USB-A port, but not many machines have more than two USB-C ports these days. Battery life could also be better, but if you want it to last longer then buy the one without the 4K screen.

The big issues are the fights I’ve had to have with the add-on Killer Networking utilities, which required disabling to get the laptop to sleep properly, and the bug in the BIOS update that crippled a few of my USB-C to HDMI adaptors. These are things that should not happen in a premium laptop costing this much.

The Dell XPS 13 is a five-star laptop hampered by problems traditionally associated with Dell and other third-party manufacturers that give Windows computers a bad name, which is a real shame.

Pros: fantastic screen, great design, good keyboard, good trackpad, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, microSD card slot, 10th-gen Intel chips.

Cons: short battery life, only two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, software/BIOS issues, expensive, mics not great for video conferencing at a distance, speakers are shrill.

The thin, aluminium and black carbon fibre wedge is svelte



The thin, aluminium and black carbon fibre wedge is svelte. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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DoorDash settles with DC AG over claims it misled users

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A DoorDash Inc. delivery person places an order into an insulated bag at Chef Geoff’s restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

DoorDash reached a $2.5 million settlement with the attorney general of the District of Columbia over claims that the company misled consumers on how it would allocate tips for workers, the AG’s office announced Tuesday.

AG Karl Racine sued DoorDash in November 2019 over allegations the company misled customers into believing their tips would directly increase drivers’ pay. Instead, Racine alleged at the time, those tips were used to offset the minimum payment DoorDash promised its workers under the previous tipping model in effect between 2017 and 2019. DoorDash has since revised the policy.

Under the settlement, DoorDash will be required to continue ensuring tips go to workers without reducing their base pay and provide accessible information about its payment model and policies to customers and workers.

The settlement will include $1.5 million in relief to delivery workers, $750,000 to the District and $250,000 to two local charities, according to a press release from the AG’s office.

“Today’s settlement rights a wrong that deceived D.C. consumers and deprived workers of monies that they should have been paid,” Racine said in a statement. “Gig economy companies provide important and necessary services, especially during the pandemic. However, the law applies to these companies, just as it does to their brick and mortar counterparts.”

DoorDash did not immediately provide a comment.

The settlement comes less than two weeks after DoorDash filed its prospectus to go public. DoorDash said in its filing that failing to “cost-effectively attract and retain Dashers” was a significant risk factor to its business.

DoorDash is not the only gig company to have gained attention for its tipping policies. Racine filed suit against grocery delivery company Instacart this summer, claiming it misled customers into thinking an optional service fee went to workers, when it instead went to the company. In a statement at the time, Instacart said it always discloses to customers that tips are separate from service fees and notes that those fees goes toward its operations. It said 100% of customer tips go to workers.

Both companies have been active in pushing back on regulation that would classify their workers as employees rather than contractors. They backed the successful Proposition 22 in California alongside Uber, Lyft and Postmates to keep app-based delivery and transportation workers as independent contractors. Employment status could bring additional costs to the companies.

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WATCH: How gig workers are surviving the pandemic


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Senate Democrats ask YouTube CEO to remove election misinformation

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Susan Wojicki CEO of YouTube speaking at the 2019 Code Conference on June 10th, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Asa Mathat | Vox Media

Several senate democrats wrote a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki Monday evening, inquiring about the election misinformation it is still hosting on its platform and demanding that it be removed.

Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Gary Peters of Michigan, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and Gary Peters of Michigan wrote the letter, asking the company if it will commit to removing content containing false or misleading information. 

The letter outlines the risk of misinformation ahead of a Jan. 5th Georgia runoff races for Senate, which will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, adding Youtube must “take responsibility” and “immediately stop the spread of misinformation.”

“We write to express our deep concern regarding the proliferation of misinformation on your platform during and immediately following the 2020 elections and in light of the upcoming Georgia run-off elections,” the letter says. “We urge you to immediately remove all election outcome misinformation and take aggressive steps to implement prohibitions, as other social media companies have done, regarding outcomes in future elections.”

While the letter may not result in any material action, it comes as Google-owned YouTube has escaped the bulk of criticism surrounding misinformation relative to social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.

However, in recent weeks, YouTube has faced backlash and national attention after hosting videos that make unsubstantiated claims that Donald Trump won and that Democrats are committing voter fraud against Republican ballots, despite the company admitting itself the videos are “demonstrably false” and “undermines confidence in elections.” 

The company’s answer has been to remove advertising and demote the videos in rankings, but it has failed to enforced it consistently, resulting in videos with misinformation going viral across the internet.

In response to the letter from the Senate Democrats, a YouTube spokesperson said the most popular election videos on the site come from “authoritative news organizations.” The spokesperson also said it removes videos that violate its policies. But the spokesperson also said the company allows videos that discuss the outcome of the election and the vote-counting process.

“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” the YouTube spokesperson said in a statement.

In their letter, the senators gave an example of a YouTube video claiming evidence of voter fraud in Michigan that was viewed more than 5 million views, despite any evidence of such fraud.

“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the letter stated. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The letter continues, asking YouTube what steps it’s taking to make sure the platform doesn’t suppress votes, incite violence or make false claims about ballots. It also asks YouTube for data on videos spreading misinformation as well as to quantify the revenue it has received from hosting election result misinformation.

The senators asked for a response to questions by Dec. 8. 


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Amazon and U.S. government agency partner to inspect counterfeits

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An Amazon fulfillment center in Frankenthal, Germany.

Thorsten Wagner | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon is joining forces with a U.S. government watchdog group to conduct counterfeit inspections, the company announced Tuesday, in its latest effort to address a problem that’s plagued the e-commerce platform for years.

The company will work with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a task force that’s overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to “analyze data and conduct targeted inspections aimed at preventing counterfeit products from entering the U.S. supply chain,” Amazon said. Any evidence collected from their inspections will be used to expand ongoing investigations and go after bad actors.

The initiative, referred to as “Operation Fulfilled Action,” is led by Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit. The team was launched earlier this year and is made up of former federal prosecutors, investigators and data analysts who mine the site for information and work with federal prosecutors.

Amazon’s marketplace, launched in 2000, now accounts for more than half the company’s overall sales. While it’s been a key driver of Amazon’s overall business, it has also faced a number of issues related to counterfeits, as well as unsafe and expired goods. Knockoff goods have been especially harmful for Amazon’s relationships with some brands, such as Nike and Birkenstock, who quit Amazon following a surge in counterfeits.

The company has ramped up its efforts to stamp out counterfeits on the platform. It has pursued counterfeiters in court, rolled out various programs to seek and detect sales of counterfeit goods and continues to block millions of suspected bad actor accounts and listings.


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