Laptops

Dell XPS 13 (2018) Review: Still the best in its class

The benchmark of portable laptops

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When talking about premium laptops, the flagship models of PC manufacturers are automatically part of the list. You’ve probably already heard of Dell’s XPS line of notebooks. If you haven’t, maybe you’ve seen it before in a cafe or at a store because it’s pretty distinct. Just look for the notebook with an incredibly thin display bezel, and that’s most likely the Dell XPS 13.

Since its introduction in 2012, the design of the XPS 13 hasn’t changed much. It was in 2015 that the Ultrabook (the name of premium Windows notebooks before) got its recognizable bezel-less display. Dell is not yet ready to give the XPS 13 a major makeover, so the 2018 version only has slight changes. Is it still the XPS 13 we know and love? Here’s my review.


The edge-to-edge design lives on

Let’s first talk about the display because it’s the first thing one would notice about this notebook. Since the introduction of the InfinityEdge display on the XPS line, we’ve been wanting other laptops to have the same design. Dell is able to achieve an 80.7 percent screen-to-body ratio with the XPS 13.

My particular XPS 13 comes with a 4K Ultra HD IPS panel with touch input, but it also comes in Full HD with the base configuration. Dell already claims to have covered 100 percent of the sRGB color space with a 1500:1 contrast ratio. Not only that, it’s got a Corning Gorilla 4 with an anti-reflective coating and it can reach 400-nits of brightness which guarantees optimum screen visibility outdoors.

Watching Final Space on Netflix is way more fun with this notebook

Basically, there’s nothing to complain about the XPS 13’s display: It’s color accurate, bright, and immersive. I can’t say the same for the side stereo speakers, though. While the display excels, the speakers do fall a bit behind. They do sound quite pleasant but distort a bit at max volume.

As with smartphones, there’s a catch to borderless designs. Thankfully, nobody has tried releasing a notebook with a notched display, but the webcam has to go somewhere, and here it’s at the bottom of the display. I’ve been using the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S as my daily driver which also has its selfie camera in an unusual position, so this camera placement isn’t weird for me.

It could be also be called the knuckles cam since fingers get in the view when typing

To be frank, I don’t use the webcam that much. Most of the time, I open it to act as a mirror. When I do need to call someone on Skype or any video-calling service, the camera is looking right up my nose and the quality is so-so.

Good thing it’s not a plain webcam. It has an additional infrared sensor that’s fully compatible with Windows Hello. I never had to type my password or PIN to unlock the XPS 13 because the facial recognition unlock is nearly instant.

Windows Hello works great with the infrared camera

Aside from face recognition, there’s also a fingerprint reader embedded into the power button. So when I wake the notebook from sleep by pressing the power button, it already authenticates and automatically unlocks the device. Pretty neat!

The power key and fingerprint sensor in one button

Moving on to the left side, there’s a couple of USB-C ports with support for Thunderbolt 3 and four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3. So, an external GPU (eGPU) will be able to turn the XPS 13 into a graphics powerhouse.

This will make the XPS 13 both a great laptop on the go and a workhorse when docked. There’s also a 5-LED battery indicator and a Noble lock slot beside these ports.

The battery indicator is a small feature but useful when on the go

On the other side, there’s another USB-C port. This one doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, but it’s DisplayPort-compatible for external monitors. Thankfully, there’s also a 3.5mm port for headphones and microphones but I’m disappointed about the microSD card reader.

It would have been 100 percent better as a full-size SD card reader

The bottom of the laptop hides the unsightly grilles for ventilation and maintenance screws. There are two long rubber feet to keep the laptop in place when on a surface. The back foot is raised a bit higher, making the XPS 13 slightly inclined. You don’t notice this but it actually gives you a better angle when typing.

The heat dissipates away from the user

Speaking of typing, it’s easy to adjust to the layout of the XPS 13’s keyboard. Every key is where I like it to be with a good amount of spacing, and the travel of each key is just right. Overall, the whole keyboard never felt cramped.

What I like more is the touchpad. Despite being a bit constrained due to the size of the notebook, it’s smooth, responsive, and has full Windows Precision Touchpad support. Windows 10 now has many useful gestures and they’re a breeze to flip through.

This notebook has one of the best touchpads on a Windows notebook

The new rose gold exterior with white interior variant is also new on the 2018 version of the XPS 13, and it’s more than a new tint. We’re looking at an “alpine white woven glass fiber palm rest” which claims to be UV- and stain-resistant to prevent yellowing over time and staining. Just like last year’s XPS 13, it’s body is cut from a single block of aluminum.

A powerful yet compact notebook

Now onto the specs, the XPS 13 (2018) is powered by the latest eighth-gen Intel Core processors. The model I have has a quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U processor paired with 8GB DDR4 RAM and Intel UHD Graphics 620. The base clock speed of the new ultra-low power processor is 1.8GHz with a turbo boost to 4GHz when needed.

It’s a specced-out notebook for everyday use and it can handle Adobe Photoshop and some video editing with Adobe Premiere Pro. Gaming is also not an issue for the XPS 13, but don’t expect it to play AAA titles at high frame rates. The likes of CS:GO and League of Legends on low to medium settings is what it can handle.

The XPS 13 boots fast and is zippy. There are some minor hiccups from time to time but that’s pretty normal when Windows 10 is under stress. What grabbed my attention though is how fast apps load. This is probably due to the fast read times of the notebook’s 256GB M.2 SSD storage.

Moreover, the base of the XPS 13 feels pretty cool when on my lap, yet it does get really warm while being charged. Its fans are relatively quiet unless I’m running a game or benchmarking software. Overall, I have nothing to complain about the laptop’s fan noise even when it’s under heavy load.

Long-lasting on a single charge

We buy 13-inch notebooks for portability, but that normally comes at the cost of battery life. Fortunately, the XPS 13 is able to last long on a single charge.

I consider my use of the laptop as moderate, which includes constant Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, Chrome with multiple tabs, and brightness levels staying around 50 percent most of the time. On average, I get about seven and a half hours of power. The longest I got was around nine hours when I mainly used the notebook to binge-watch the whole day.

When it’s time to fill up, the XPS 13 charges through any of the USB-C ports. Ain’t that convenient? It takes about two hours to fully charge the notebook using the included small 45W charger. Maybe a bigger charger with a 65W output can charge the notebook faster.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for the best 13-inch Windows laptops out there, the Dell XPS 13 (2018) should top your list. Why? I have three reasons.

First, the display and design alone will make you want an XPS 13. Second, it’s a portable powerhouse because it can also be an editing and gaming machine with the help of an eGPU. Ideally, I’d use the XPS 13 when I’m on the road, then plug it in at home to a bigger monitor and eGPU to transform it into a capable desktop PC. Lastly, after my more than two weeks of use, I didn’t have any negative experience that left a bad impression.

The lack of full-size ports might turn off some, but living the dongle life is pretty unavoidable with new laptops, especially when they’re this small. As long as it’s got Thunderbolt 3, you’re safe and there are a number of quality and useful adapters already available in the market.

The Dell XPS 13 (2018) starts around US$ 999 in some markets with the base configuration. The particular variant I have here retails for US$ 1,450 in the US, SG$ 2,399 in Singapore, and PhP 99,990 in the Philippines. It’s quite pricey, but you’re getting a premium notebook and not just another Windows 10-powered laptop.

SEE ALSO: Dell Latitude 7390 2-in-1 Review: The complete business laptop

Gaming

Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming Laptop Review: Flaming hot productivity and gaming

Blue, truly is the warmest color

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Gaming laptops are a joy to have, when you own one. You have a device that basically delivers everything you need: productivity and leisure in one package. The only real drawback to even buying one is the price tag, as crazier specs demand crazy prices.

It’s only fairly recently that manufacturers decided that gaming on the go doesn’t have to be expensive. Lenovo has one device that fits the bill in terms of affordability, and also incorporates top-line specs for heavy duty performance. This is what the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming Laptop is all about.


But is it truly a worthy investment? Let’s find out.

It has a 15-inch FHD IPS display, with thin bezels at the side

It comes with a backlit keyboard in the shade of blue

It can literally flex all the way, 180 degrees style

It comes with a powerful NVIDIA GTX 1650 graphics card

An excellent laptop for productive workload

I will just put it out there: the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop is one productive machine. Powered by a 9th generation Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, I could do anything ever so quickly. Multitasking felt like a breeze when using this device, and not a single drop in overall performance all throughout.

Because of the processor and RAM configuration, you won’t be limited to just the usual tasks. On this device, I did manage to do photo and video editing, and the device did not lag at any point. Mix that with document typing, audio and video streaming, and no signs of lag detected.

What bothered me for just a bit was the fact that the device came with a 1TB HDD. If there was an SSD inside, boot times would have been faster. When I first opened the device, it took about five to seven minutes before the device fully booted up. If you’re in a rush to get that paper or report submitted, this could be a problem for you. 

Game like an absolute beast with the GTX 1650

I was thoroughly impressed with the onboard NVIDIA GTX 1650 for this device. It comes with 4GB of VRAM, which allows greater graphics processing at a high rate. I played most popular PC titles at their maximum settings and observed no loss in performance all throughout.

Popular titles like Fortnite: Battle Royale and Apex Legends all peaked at 60 FPs, with highs of 65 to 70 FPS on their highest setting. Every time I got a chance to play, frames rendered in quite smoothly — which is essential for intense gameplay. 

Other titles like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League garnered an average of 113 FPS. Of course, granted that these titles are not the most graphically-demanding compared to the others. Still, I experienced buttery-smooth gameplay, and GeForce Experience did its part with optimizations in between.

A laptop that actually respects your privacy

Every time you get a new laptop, you’re always afraid of the deep web getting to you. So you go on ahead and patch your webcams up with a piece of paper or a bandage. I’m not only to believe that to be honest, but this device does — and has found a solution to it.

The Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop comes with its own physical Privacy Shutter. If you’re too worried about your own privacy, you can just slide that thing to the left. I honestly found this a nifty solution instead of having to waste a good piece of paper or bandage.

Of course, if you don’t like that, you can just simply do it on the keyboard. Nonetheless, this is quite possibly the first device I’ve seen in a while that has that sort of technology. Finally, a laptop that actually cares for your privacy above all else, right?

Long lasting performance, when you’re not gaming full time

On paper, Lenovo promised this device could last up to nine hours with moderate use, at 70 percent brightness. Upon continuous use of the device, I did manage to get only up to seven hours when using it according to the same conditions.

Of course, when you’re gaming full time, the amount of time is cut into half with NVIDIA’s Battery Boost turned on. Still, even on a regular workload, you get the longevity of use you could possibly ask for in this device.

Lenovo also introduced its Rapid Charge technology even with their proprietary charger. I managed to get its charge level to 80 percent in a matter of 20 minutes, which is great for on-the-go users. To me, this is a great feature to have but I was hoping that they took advantage of the Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C as the main charging port.

The areas that can do better

Despite every feature I could possibly rave about, there were others that I couldn’t give a total pass. First, the trackpad failed at the one thing it should be doing: gesture tracking. All but one Windows Precision gesture actually worked — and of all things, it’s the right click. I don’t have a problem clicking the bottom right side of the trackpad, but the fact that they missed out on that gesture is disappointing.

Second, as much as I raved about the webcam’s physical shutter, the webcam itself leaves much to be desired. I understand that it is just an HD 720p webcam, but there are other devices with the same webcam and are relatively better than this one. Photos have a ton of grain on them even just by loading the camera alone.

Finally, this device’s backlit keyboard was not astounding. I do prefer full-sized keyboards, plus key travel was easy to get used to. It’s the backlighting of the keyboard that was under par, in my opinion. It has three levels of back-lighting, but its brightest level does not properly stick out. And I’ve seen devices with brighter backlit keyboards even in full light.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

At PhP 49,995, the Lenovo IdeaPad L340 Gaming laptop is one powerful machine. You get the latest hardware necessary for productivity and powerful gaming, all in one package. It delivers powerful performance for productivity tasks, photo and video editing — perfect for content creators.

Gamers can easily get a kick out of this device thanks to the NVIDIA GTX 1650 inside. Playing popular titles feel like an absolute breeze, especially in high-octane moments just to score the victory. Although if you do want to play a little longer, you will need to bring the charger everywhere you go.

Overall, you can look for nitty-gritty design flaws all you want. You can admire all the other features the device offers. But, when it comes right down to it, this gaming laptop does exactly what you need it to do — and so much more. 

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix Scar III: Falling in love with a gaming laptop

This, coming from a Mac user

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I haven’t used a Windows laptop for an extended period in close to a decade now. And in recent years, I’ve done most of my gaming on a PS4. This is why getting the chance to use the ROG Strix Scar III was a welcome experience.

I’m reluctant to call this an actual review because of my inexperience in using gaming laptops. But I’ll try anyway. Let’s begin by taking a quick look at the design.


Sleeker but still very much ROG

First thing that jumped out at me is how much sleeker the Strix Scar III looked compared to the previous ROG gaming laptops I’ve seen. Instead of screaming GAMING at you, it feels more subdued but definitely still has a lot of that gaming vibe.

Behind it you’ll find these ports: ethernet, HDMI, power adaptor

The rest of the ports are on the right: All USB 2.0

It’s worth noting that this comes with a wired mouse. Very useful 

And it’s hard to see here but the carbon-patterned interior is sexy AF

The trackpad doubles as the numpad but I didn’t really use it much

And there’s this nice subtle branding just right underneath the bottom left of the display

In terms of how it looks, it’s not as loud as previous ROG laptops, but it is still unmistakably ROG. One time, I whipped it out during a meeting and got WOAH reactions.

However, that’s probably because the people I met with were also into gaming. For its size — 36(W) x 27.5(D) x 2.6 (H) cm | 14.19(W) x 10.83(D) x 1.02(H) inch — it’s probably not the laptop you would want to be carrying around for meetings.

I also think the way it’s built lends itself nicely to cooling. It has what ASUS ROG calls an enhanced air intake from a wide, ventilated 3D Flow Zone. All that matters to me, is that works the way it’s supposed to.

Adjusting to a Windows laptop 

I work a lot. On any given weekday, if I’m not sleeping or daydreaming about TWICE’s Momo, I’m usually in front of a laptop writing, copy editing, or video editing.

In terms of writing and copy editing, I didn’t have much of a problem. In fact, I would dare say I enjoyed the Backlit Chiclet keyboard of the ROG Strix Scar III more than I ever did my near five-year old MacBook Pro.

It’s an absolute joy typing on this thing. And those keys that had plenty of travel translated to whatever task I was doing, even on gaming. We’ll get to more of that later on.

Quick note, I also blasted music on this while writing. My holding-on-to-dear-life MacBook Pro has a busted right speaker so it was such a pleasure having a laptop with speakers that actually work.

The bigger adjustments came when dealing with photos, videos, and just Windows overall.

Working with images and videos

I take a lot of screenshots. On Mac, it feels easy and natural. I can’t say the same for Windows. It feels like I have to go through more steps than necessary just to get a screenshot.

Video editing was another thing, too. I’ve been editing on Final Cut Pro ever since I started video editing professionally. I wanted to try Davinci Resolve but some of the work I had to do required the edits to be done quickly — something I could only do on FCP.

But that speaks more to my comfort level on the software more than anything else. I did try editing something and the laptop had no trouble whatsoever with it. Same thing with the light photo editing I usually do. It’s like child’s play for the ROG Strix Scar III.

Other than that, Windows 10 has been a pleasant surprise. I can’t even remember the last iteration of Windows I used, but this was clean and functional. However, 11 out of 10 times I would still choose macOS. 🤷🏻‍♂️

The gaming part blew my mind

One of my biggest regrets is that I worked on the ROG Strix Scar III more than I gamed on it. I only got to play one game — Devil May Cry 5 — and it was more than enough to convince me that this laptop delivers where it should.

It wasn’t something I was totally expecting since I thought, while working, that the display on my MacBook Pro looked… crispier. But when I fired up Devil May Cry 5, boy oh boy it was such a visual spectacle.

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 was really doing its job. I was hooked at how good it looked I played well into the wee hours of the morning despite knowing I needed to wake up early the following day.

While I’m used to holding a controller while playing, I did play my fair share of Counter-Strike and NBA Live waaaaay back in the day. So the mouse and keyboard setup wasn’t too much of an adjustment.

The keyboard was just truly a dream. I’ll go as far as saying this is probably the best keyboard I’ve ever used on any laptop.

And then you have that display. With an 81.5 percent screen-to-body ratio, it’s hard not to feel like you’re so much closer to the game than you actually are.

Is the ROG Strix Scar III your GadgetMatch? 

From a Mac user, my gaming and working habits are pretty far off from who this gaming laptop might target. Despite that, I had a grand time with the ROG Strix Scar III. If you asked me to completely switch to this I wouldn’t be totally opposed to the idea.

It has more tricks that I wasn’t able to dig deep into. There’s plenty of customization to make your gaming experience more tailored to your preferences. I’m inclined to say that if you’re out on the market for a gaming laptop that has all the oomph you could possibly want, then this is the one for you.

The variant we reviewed (i9, 240hz screen) retails for PhP 169,995 (US$ 3,252). It’s available at ROG Mall of Asia and other ROG concept stores in the Philippines. For more information on other variants visit the ROG Strix Scar III product page.

If that’s well within your budget, you won’t regret getting the ROG Strix Scar III. It’s a perfect blend of sleek and power without being overbearing. It’s a gaming laptop that’s easy to fall in love with.

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IFA 2019

ASUS ProArt StudioBook One Unboxing and Hands-On

For the content creators!

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This is our ASUS ProArt StudioBook One Unboxing and Hands-On.

Packed with an NVIDIA Quadro RTX6000 laptop, Asus’ new creator-centric laptop is a beast but expect it to also break the bank!


SEE ALSO: NVIDIA Quadro RTX 6000 is the world’s most powerful GPU

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