Keyboard and Screen
The Dell XPS 13's keyboard contains all the standard keys arranged in a typical fashion with dual-purpose arrow keys on the bottom right edge. If you plan on using this keyboard for reading navigation, you'll need to use two hands to accomplish page-up or page-down. The same goes for the Home and End keys when you're editing text.
Maybe that's not a big deal for everyone, but if you do a lot of reading or text editing it might be a pain to get used to. One nice touch: the backlit keys come in handy in low-light situations like when they dim the lights on an airplane.
Function keys have dual uses with the first priority set by default. The specialty functions, including keys to increase/decrease the screen brightness and sound, come behind them. You can configure the function key behavior using Windows Mobility Center.
Launch Windows Mobility Center by right-clicking on the battery icon and selecting that option. You can also adjust the keyboard backlight brightness using the Windows Mobility Center app. You have to use the Fn key (lower left corner) to access the alternate usage. The Pg up, Pg Dn, Home and End keys are under the directional arrow keys and require the same Fn key for them to work.
Managing Battery Life
The XPS 13 sports a six-cell, 47 watt-hour battery with a suggested max usage of up to eight hours. As with any other Ultrabook, the battery life numbers vary widely with use. The default power profile is set to "Balanced," which will not give you the power savings of automatic screen brightness and dimming control.
Expect to get more like five hours of normal use, which is an improvement over most laptops. For watching movies with brightness all the way up, you'll get a little more than three hours –not quite enough to watch two full-length movies on that cross country flight.
The Dell-customized default Power Plan sets the times for dimming the display, turning the display completely off and putting the system to sleep to 2, 5 and 15 minute increments. The Microsoft default power saver plan is 2, 2 and 10 minutes. If you right-click on the battery icon, you’ll see a number of choices including Dell Extended Life Battery options, Power Energy Smart savings and Desktop Mode Battery charge mode.
The Desktop Battery Charge mode will attempt to intelligently charge the battery when the power level is above 50 percent in an effort to extend the life of the battery. That feature is not enabled by default, so you’ll need to change the setting if you plan to use the extra feature.
The Dell XPS 13 is a comfortable Ultrabook to use in all types of situations. It's light and small, so it won't take up much room in your briefcase or backpack. The keyboard is usable with the exception of a few keys, and the palm rejection on the touchpad is excellent. It is missing some features like a wired Ethernet port and HDMI that could make it a non-starter for some folks.
Paul Ferrill has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and has been writing about computers for more than 25 years. Publications he's written for include PC Magazine, PC Computing, InfoWorld, Computer World, Network World, Network Computing and Information Week.
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