Dell XPS 13 (9310) with 3.5K OLED review: Beauty is gained, but battery dips in this nearly perfect laptop

Dell has given its flagship XPS 13 a new optional 3.5K OLED display. While a stunner, you do lose on battery, but that's OK for some.

Xps 13 9310 Oled
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Dell has been pushing boundaries for years now with the XPS 13, XPS 15, and XPS 17. These were the first laptops to use the InfinityEdge display with micro bezels, which started a trend amongst all high-end laptops. For 2020, Dell redesigned the XPS 13 (9300), and it now mirrors its convertible sibling, the XPS 13 2-in-1 (7390), one of our highest-rated laptops to date.

Dell is notorious for not radically revising its laptops for years, but in mid-2021, the company did add a few more options for the XPS 13 for new buyers. New is the slightly faster Intel Core i7-1185G7, in addition to the earlier i7-1165G7 we reviewed in October 2020. But, more intriguingly, is the new 3.5K (3456 x 2160) Samsung OLED screen (full HD and IPS 3.5K are still available too).

But with OLED comes tradeoffs, and that includes battery performance. Nonetheless, XPS 13 (9310) is easily the best 13-inch laptop on the market right now and a contender for the best Dell laptop money can buy. With a jaw-dropping design, outstanding display options, improved keyboard, and notably superior performance, there is nothing wrong with it. Indeed, the new 11th Gen Intel chips make it substantially better than before.

Because of that, the XPS 13 (9310) has earned the rare five out of five stars for this review.

Dell XPS 13 (9310) specs and features

(Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Dell lets you buy the XPS 13 (9310) directly, or you can customize your order with specific specs.

For the processor, there are four choices: Intel i3-1115G4 (4.10 GHz), i5-1135G7 (4.20 GHz), i7-1165G7 (4.7 GHz), and even the i7-1185G7 (4.8GHz). Note, only the Core i5 and Core i7s have the powerful Intel Iris Xe for GPU, while the Core i3 version relies on slightly weaker Intel UHD Graphics.

RAM ranges from 8GB to 32GB of on-board (soldered) LPDDR4x, now clocked at 4,267MHz instead of 3,733MHz. Storage varies from 256GB to 2TB PCIe NVMe solid-state drive (SSD). The SSD is user upgradable.

Dell offers a set of display types depending on want, need, and budget. While all are 13.4-inch 16:10, users can pick between full HD, non-touch with anti-glare, full HD with touch and anti-reflective, 3.5K touch, anti-reflective. And now for 2021, 3.5K OLED display, also with touch and an anti-reflective coating.

The non-OLED screens support 500+ nits of brightness and Dolby Vision, while the 4K model is VESA certified for DisplayHDR 400. The touch versions also have Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for scratch protection.

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CategoryXPS 13 (9310)
OSWindows 10 Home or Pro
Ubuntu 18.04
Display13.4-inches (16:10)
Full HD, non-touch, anti-glare (matte)
Full HD, touch, anti-reflective
4K, touch, anti-reflective
4K OLED, touch, anti-reflective
Dolby Vision, 500 nits
Processor11th Gen Intel Core
i3-1115G4 (4.10 GHz)
i5-1135G7 (4.20 GHz)
i7-1165G7 (4.70 GHz)
i7-1185G7 (4.80GHz)
GraphicsIntel UHD (i3)
Intel Iris Xe (i5, i7)
Memory8, 16, or 32GB LPDDR4X (4267MHz)
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB PCIe NVMe SSD
Expandable storagemicroSD
Front cameraHD 720P (top bezel)
SecurityWindows Hello IR camera (face)
Windows Hello fingerprint (power button)
ConnectivityKiller Wi-Fi 6 AX1650s
Bluetooth 5.1
Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX500-DBS
Ports2x Thunderbolt 4
1x 3.5mm headphone
Type-C to Type-A converter included
Audio2x 2.5W (4W peak) stereo
DimensionsHeight: 14.8mm (0.58") x Width: 295.7mm (11.64") x Depth: 198.7mm (7.82")
Weight1.2kg (2.64lbs.) for non-touch
1.27 kg (2.8 lbs.) for touch
ColorsCNC machined aluminum (outer)
Black carbon fiber (interior)
Arctic white woven glass fiber (interior)

All models come with Killer Wireless with Wi-Fi 6 technology (Killer AX1650s) and Bluetooth 5.1.

Ports are minimal, with just two USB Type-C that support Thunderbolt 4 (DisplayPort and Power Delivery, at 4X), which is a change from the XPS 13 (9300) with Thunderbolt 3.

There is still a microSD reader, as well as a combo headphone microphone jack.

Dell includes a Type-C to Type-A adapter in the box, along with a compact 45-watt wall travel charger with cable extension and folding prongs. Both accessories match the XPS 13's colorway, which is a nice touch.

Pricing starts at $950 for the base Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and full HD non-touch. You can max out the XPS 13 at an eye-watering $2,609 with 4K touch, 2TB storage, 32GB of RAM, and a Core i7 with Windows 10 Pro.

My first review unit (October 2020) was configured in arctic white with a Core i7-1165G7, 16GB, 512GB of storage, full HD with touch, and an anti-reflective display. The original cost was $1,700 but is now down to $1,430. However, the 16GB of RAM option is now only available for the higher-end Core i7 found below.

For July 2021, our review unit featured revised specs. It is configured with an arctic white colorway, a new Core i7-1185G7, 16GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, and the new OLED 3.5K touch display. The total price comes in at $1,568.

Dell still charges an extra $50 for the frost exterior/arctic white interior option on lower-end models, but it doesn't seem to change the price on some models. Likewise, the regular 4K IPS display is an extra $200, whereas the newer 4K OLED option is an additional $250 over the full HD with touch option.

Dell XPS 13 (9310) display and web camera

(Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

In 2021, it is safe to say that all premium Ultrabooks have incredibly good displays, but Dell's Sharp IGZO partnership still takes the crown. And maybe the only thing better is Samsung's OLED technology.

The Dell XPS 13's super-thin bezels and 4K OLED is a beautiful combo.

The 16:10 display aspect is an excellent addition. For too long, the XPS 13 was just too narrow of a laptop due to the tight 16:9 InfinityEdge design. Following last year's 2-in-1 revamp, Dell is now bringing 16:10 to all its XPS line, and Dell deserves applause. This display is now taller, and it shows significantly more information while also looking better.

The full HD touch display here is terrific. Color accuracy is remarkably high with 100% sRGB, 79% AdobeRGB, and an impressive 79% DCI-P3.

Brightness ranges from 62 nits at zero percent (up from 30 nits) brightness to a very satisfying 569 nights of peak brightness (down from 614), making it one of the best and brightest displays on a PC Ultrabook. There is an auto-brightness sensor that I found to be perfectly tuned and not overly aggressive. Calibration is also mostly on point, though the XPS 13 9310 was blue/cooler than the 9300.

Turning to the new OLED panel (made by Samsung instead of Sharp) and it is stunning. This display option is a much higher resolution at 3456 x 2160, which Dell calls 3.5K and is effectively "4K." The color gamut drops a bit from the full HD IPS with 97% sRGB, 72% AdobeRGB, and 72% DCI-P3.

Peak brightness for OLED is also lower at just 390 nits instead of 569 with full HD IPS, although it can bottom out at just 5 nits instead of 62 making OLED better for night use.

I appreciate Dell's use of an anti-reflective coating. While users can opt for a true matte (non-touch) display, anti-reflective is non-matte while retaining color vibrancy and contrast without causing eye strain. Other companies are dabbling with this technology, but Dell does it best right now.

The XPS 13 (9310) is the best-looking laptop available. Period.

With four-sided edge-to-edge InfinityEdge glass, the XPS 13 (9310) is very even and symmetrical.

Dell has squeezed in Windows Hello IR to that 720P web camera. It works very well with dual IR lenses, but users can also use the power button's fingerprint reader. That fingerprint reader is not "single sign-on," meaning you must press it once to power on and a second time to log into Windows 10. I'd prefer to have the choice in BIOS to enable such a feature.

The 720P camera is terrible and years behind Microsoft's Surface web camera or those found on a smartphone. Still, the top bezel placement and IR cameras were the right choices here.

Dell XPS 13 (9310) keyboard, trackpad, and audio

(Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Dell's keyboard on the XPS 13 was getting stale with small chicklet keys and was not very satisfying to use compared to options from Microsoft, HP, and Lenovo. Luckily, the XPS 13 (9300) and (9310) have a new, redesigned keyboard, and it is superb. The key caps are nine percent larger than the 2019 model, and you notice it. The keys are easy to hit, have adequate travel, and feel very even. Two-stage backlighting works well, too, even on the white keyboard (at least in a dark room; with lights on, the contrast is indiscernible).

Notably, Dell did not use its second-generation MagLev keyboard found in the 2-in-1 XPS 13. While I enjoy MagLev, it is still a bit divisive due to the shallow typing experience. The XPS 13's keys are normal scissor-switches with no adjustment curve to learn.

(Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

This trackpad is also the best Dell has ever done. It is 17 percent larger than the 2019 XPS 13, which is directly attributable to that new 16:10 display (since it lets Dell have a more massive keyboard deck). The trackpad uses Microsoft Precision drivers, is glass, smooth, and had no false reading or scrolling errors.

The XPS 13 (9310) has dual 2.5-watt speakers (four-watt peak), a bump from the two-watt speakers of the XPS 13 2-in-1. While the speakers are on the laptop's lower edge, the experience is very satisfying when combined with the Dell CinemaSound 2.0 and Waves MaxxAudio Pro software tweaks. The audio is loud, clear, and has functional resonance. Simply put, these are outstanding speakers.

Finally, dual far-field microphones are found on the top edge of the display, which was satisfactory for VoIP calls on Skype and other teleconferencing software.

Dell XPS 13 (9310) power, benchmarks, and battery

(Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Let's talk performance with that 11th Gen Intel Core i7, Iris Xe graphics, and Intel Evo badge. The short version is it's much more powerful and it gets much better battery life.

The i7-1165G7 is a very impressive processor, partially because it is clocked higher, jumping from 3.9GHz to 4.7GHz. It makes a massive difference as Geekbench scores went up by 200 points for single-core and more than 600 points for multi-core. If you want more power, Dell even has the i7-1185G7 (4.8GHz), which we have also benchmarked for comparison.

Ten hours of battery life is easily achievable with 11th Gen Intel even with a Core i7.

On 3DMark Night Raid, which also uses the GPU, the XPS 13 with i7-1165G7 garnered 15,207, which trounces the average score of 9,408 for a typical 2020-2021 office laptop — a 31 percent difference. The 15-inch Surface Book 3 with an i7 and GTX 1660 Ti Max Q GPU could only eke out 9,448 for comparison on the same test. Throw in the faster i7-1185G7 and Night Raid bumps from 15,207 to 15,348.

Perhaps the best part of this processor and graphics bump, however, is the fact that heat and battery life are not severely impacted. Indeed, the XPS 13 (9310) felt quieter and cooler than ever. That's likely attributable to Intel's aggressive Evo certification. Intel Evo is the second iteration of Project Athena, but more formalized. To meet the criteria, the laptop needs to have a touch display, Wi-Fi 6, 11th Gen Core i5 or i7, Xe graphics, far-field microphones, Thunderbolt 4, and a big focus on battery life.