An Ubuntu User’s Review Of Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Edition

Brief: Sharing my feel and experience about Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ubuntu edition after using it for over three months.

During Black Friday sale last year, I took the bullet and ordered myself a Dell XPS 13 with the new Intel Kaby Lake processor. It got delivered in the second week of December and if you follow It’s FOSS on Facebook, you might have seen the live unboxing.

Though I was tempted to do the review of Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu edition almost at the same time, I knew it won’t be fair. A brand new system will, of course, feel good and work smooth.

But that’s not the real experience. The real experience of any system comes after weeks, if not months, of use. That’s the reason I hold myself back and waited three months to review Dell XPS Kobylake Ubuntu edition.

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Edition Review

Before we saw what’s hot and what’s not in the latest version of Dell XPS 13, I should tell you that I was using an Acer R13 ultrabook book before this. So I may compare the new Dell system with the older Acer one.

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Edition System Settings

Dell XPS 13 has several versions based on processor. The one I am reviewing is Dell XPS13 MLK (9360). It has i5-7200U 7th generation processor. Since I hardly used the touch screen in Acer Aspire R13, I chose to go with the non-touch version of XPS. This decision also saved me a couple of hundreds of Euro.

It has 8 GB of LPDDR3 1866MHz RAM and 256 GB SSD PCIe. Graphics is Intel HD. On connectivity side, it’s got Killer 1535 Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 and Bluetooth 4.1. Screen is InfinityEdge Full HD (1 920 x 1080).

Now, you know what kind of hardware we’ve got here, let’s see what works and what sucks.

Look and feel

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ubuntu Edition

At 13.3″, Dell XPS 13 looks even smaller than a regular 13.3″ laptop, thanks to its non-existent bezel which is the specialty of the infinite display. It is light as a feather with weight just under 1.23 Kg.

The outer surface is metallic, not very shiny but a decent aluminum look. On the interior, the palm rest is made of carbon fiber which is very comfortable at the rest. Unlike the MacBook Air that uses metallic palm rests, the carbon fiber ones are more friendly, especially in winters.

It is almost centimeter and a half high at it’s thickest part (around hinges). This also adds a plus point to the elegance of XPS 13.

Overall, Dell XPS 13 has a compact body and an elegant body.

Keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad mix well with the carbon fiber interiors. The keys are smooth with springs in the back (perhaps) and give a rich feel while typing. All of the important keys are present and are not tiny in size, something you might be worried of, considering the overall tiny size of XPS13.

Oh! the keyboards have backlit support. Which adds to the rich feel of this expensive laptop.

While the keyboard is a great experience, the same cannot be said about the touchpad. In fact, the touchpad is the weakest part which mars the overall good experience of XPS 13.

The touchpad has a cheap feeling because it makes an irritating sound while tapping on the right side as if it’s hollow underneath. This is something that has been noticed in the earlier versions of XPS 13 but hasn’t been given enough consideration to fix it. This is something you do not expect from a product at such a price.

Also, the touchpad scroll on websites is hideous. It is also not suitable for pixel works because of difficulty in moving little adjustments.

Ports

Dell XPS 13 has two USB 3.0 ports, one of them with PowerShare. If you did not know, USB 3.0 PowerShare ports allow you to charge external devices even when your system is turned off.

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ubuntu edition ports

It also has a Thunderbolt (doubles up as USB Type-C port). It doesn’t have HDMI port, Ethernet port or VGA port. However, all of these three can be used via the Thunderbolt port and external adapters (sold separately).

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ubuntu edition ports

It also has an SD card reader and a headphone jack. In addition to all these, there is an anti-theft slot (a common security practice in enterprises).

Display

The model I have packs 1920x1080px. It’s full HD and display quality is at par. It perfectly displays the high definition pictures and 1080p video files.

I cannot compare it with the qHD model as I never used it. But considering that there are not enough 4K contents for now, full HD display should be sufficient for next few years.

Sound

Compared to Acer R13, XPS 13 has better audio quality. Even the max volume is louder than that of Acer R13. The dual speakers give a nice stereo effect.

Webcam

The weirdest part of Dell XPS 13 review comes now. We all have been accustomed of seeing the webcam at the top-middle position on any laptop. But this is not the case here.

XPS 13 puts the webcam on the bottom left corner of the laptop. This is done to keep the bezel as thin as possible. But this creates a problem.

Dell XPS 13 webcam
Image captured with laptop screen at 90 degree

When you video chat with someone, it is natural to look straight up. With the top-middle webcam, your face is in direct line with the camera. But with the bottom left position of web cam, it looks like those weird accidental selfies you take with the front camera of your smartphone. Heck, people on the other side might see inside of your nostrils.

Battery

Battery life is the strongest point of Dell XPS 13. While Dell claims an astounding 21-hour battery life, but in my experience, it smoothly gives a battery life of 8-10 hours. This is when I watch movies, browse the internet and other regular stuff.

There is one strange thing that I noticed, though. It charges pretty quick until 90% but the charging slows down afterward. And it almost never goes beyond 98%.

The battery indicator turns red when the battery status falls below 30% and it starts displaying notifications if the battery goes below 10%. There is small light indicator under the touchpad that turns yellow when the battery is low and it turns white when the charger is plugged in.

Overheating

I have previously written about ways to reduce laptop overheating in Linux. Thankfully, so far, I didn’t need to employ those tricks.

Dell XPS 13 remains surprisingly cool when you are using it on battery, even in long runs. The bottom does get heated a little when you use it while charging.

Overall, XPS 13 manages overheating very well.

The Ubuntu experience with Dell XPS 13

So far we have seen pretty generic things about the Dell XPS 13. Let’s talk about how good a Linux laptop it is.

Until now, I used to manually install Linux on Windows laptop. This is the first Linux laptop I ever bought. I would also like to mention the awesome first boot animation of Dell’s Ubuntu laptop. Here’s a YouTube video of the same:

One thing I would like to mention here is that Dell never displays Ubuntu laptops on its website. You’ll have to search the website with Ubuntu then you’ll see the Ubuntu editions. Also, Ubuntu edition is cheaper just by 50 Euro in comparison to its Windows counterpart whereas I was expecting it to be at least 100 Euro less than that of Windows.

Despite being an Ubuntu preloaded laptop, the super key still comes with Windows logo on it. It’s trivial but I would have loved to see the Ubuntu logo on it.

Now talking about Ubuntu experience, the first thing I noticed was that there was no hardware issue. Even the function and media keys work perfectly in Ubuntu, which is a pleasant surprise.

Dell has also added its own repository in the software sources to provide for some Dell specific tools. You can see the footprints of Dell in the entire system.

You might be interested to see how Dell partitioned the 256Gb of disk space. Let me show that to you.

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu edition disk partition
Default disk partition by Dell

As you can see, there is 524MB reserved for EFI. Then there is 3.2 GB of factory restore image perhaps.

Dell is using 17Gb of Swap partition, which is more than double of the RAM size. It seems Dell didn’t put enough thought here because this is simply waste of disk space, in my opinion. I would have used not more than 11 GB of Swap partition here.

As I mentioned before, Dell adds a “restore to factory settings” option in the Grub menu. This is a nice little feature to have.

One thing which I don’t like in the XPS 13 Ubuntu edition is the long boot time. It takes entire 23 seconds to reach the login screen after pressing the power button. I would expect it to be faster considering that it uses SSD PCIe.

If it interests you, the XPS 13 had Chromium and Google Chrome browsers installed by default instead of Firefox.

As far my experience goes, I am fairly impressed with Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu edition. It gives a smooth Ubuntu experience. The laptop seems to be a part of Ubuntu. Though it is an expensive laptop, I would say it is definitely worth the money.

To summarize, let’s see the good, the bad and the ugly of Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu edition.

The Good

  • Ultralight weight
  • Compact
  • Keyboard
  • Carbon fiber palm rest
  • Full hardware support for Ubuntu
  • Factory restore option for Ubuntu
  • Nice display and sound quality
  • Good battery life

The bad

  • Poor touchpad
  • A little pricey
  • Windows key still present :P

The ugly

  • Weird webcam placement

How did you like the Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu edition review from an Ubuntu user’s point of view? Do you find it good enough to spend over a thousand bucks? Do share your views in the comment below.

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Can you give the PPA links for DELL, as I installed ubuntu on windows version, but always keeps wondering if there can be performance improvement with the DELL PPA's

Thank you for this review, Abhishek!
I'm waiting for the one I ordered on the website, had to get a Windows version to get a more fair price and the 16 GB feature I was looking for, though. Planning to put Arch on it.

just got my XPS 13 last week. Ubuntu was so buggy that i get rid of it and install Arch with Antergos. Work fine since then. Never had this problem with System76 system.

Hello Abhishek,
I really appreciate your time in putting up this..

Though I haven't try this before.. But am looking forward to new system and I think with your review.. I should try this.. It will be awesome..
Thanks for sharing your experience about its features.

Greetings
Sulaiman from wesharethis

>> There is one strange thing that I noticed, though. It charges pretty quick until 90% but the charging slows down afterward. And it almost never goes beyond 98%.

It is Ok for all devices.

I do have the same laptop and totally same experience . so happy with the battery, also kept stock Ubuntu, doing well. I'm more an xubuntu guy, but wanted to keep dell's edition bidding on optimal performance .

quick note, itsfoss is not on diaspora, just on closed social media , would love to find you as well on a diaspora social network pod ;)

Author
Abhishek Prakash

I used Diaspora when it was in invite only mode. Didn't know that it was still being used. Perhaps time to activate my old Diaspora account :)

does this version have touch? then how is the touch experience? Please add that in the review

Author
Abhishek Prakash

No. This one doesn't have touch.

I really love my Lenovo T460P (generation previous to Kaby) - everything worked out of the box and in 16.04, everything is getting more and more solid. Keyboard is quite legit as well and its more rugged. I looked at the Precision version with Linux with a quad core as well, and I realised I fly alot an will smash the edge of the screen by accident - that was my nogo.

What abou troubles with wifi, bluetooth devices, not booting sometimes, graphics, network card need restart after hibrnate... And even newest kernel can not solve all. Sad.

Author
Abhishek Prakash

I didn't notice any such issue so far.

While it is commendable that Dell does indeed sell laptops with Linux installed on them, the puzzling part about all this is: Why "hide" it on your site? Is it that you're ashamed or embarrassed that you have them? Why make people rummage about your site looking for it? I think they're only doing it for the money and that if they could they'd STOP selling them.

As for hardware and the keyboard, I find chiclet keyboards a pain in the butt! The keys are fragile, there's hardly any travel and that makes for lots of typing errors. As for the placement of the camera? Pure stupidity. Anyone who uses a webcam for business? would do well to purchase and external one and use that instead. And finally, why in the world are these laptop makers REMOVING PORTS? I mean granted, no one uses a DVD/CD-ROM drive much anymore, but if you're going to remove that giant piece of real estate, why not include oodles of connectivity ports for USB....Thunderbolt...SD cards etc. Its infuriating to know these machines are priced so high...but that you need to purchase a SEPARATE connector in order to use them! I for one will stay with my ThinkPads (T-420's and T-430's) Seems that's the only model that "got it right" when it comes to connections. From VGA...to Display Ports...to USB's...AND SD Cards! And while they might not have the latest versions of the i5's and i7's?...once I upgraded them to 16GB of RAM?...and installed 1TB Solid State drives?...they work just fine. They may not have the HD displays of these newer machines, but Fedora and OpenSuSE work just FINE for people who use their laptops for more than just watching movies, like programming, and command line remote administration. As far as I'm concerned these newer laptops are just overpriced "half-attempts".

Author
Abhishek Prakash

I think the idea behind removing the ports is to keep the laptop thin. And that's the reason why they provide it with bare minimum ports with additional ports available through connectors.

Thanks for such a great review.

Author
Abhishek Prakash

You're welcome George

It's nice to know that Dell does laptops with pre-installed ubuntu. It'll be interesting to see how it deals with updates. I usually do a completely clean install every year or so (usually the LTS versions) rather than update the installed version, as a way of getting rid of junk and starting again.
What is missing in your review is info about the battery. In particular, is it removable. I will NOT buy a laptop that does not have a user-removable battery. Oftentimes, it is difficult to find out the information, unless you actually go into a store and look at the demo models - not possible with Dell. I suppose I could download and rummage through the manual.
Also, I don't really agree with you about the screen definition. Although there's hardly any video that's more than HD, I find it useful to have a very high definition screen. That way I can have several different documents, web sites, reference works, all on the screen at the same time.
I don't agree with you about

Author
Abhishek Prakash

Hello Salvador,

I am not sure about removable battery. The information is missing even with the manual and the Dell website doesn't provide any info on this.

Why don't you just take a look at the one you bought ?

Author
Abhishek Prakash

If you are talking about the battery that could just be removed from the outside, then the answer is no.

I also bought this one at the end of last year. also with ubuntu preinstalled. but i decided to go for the qHD display.
I had to try diferent linux distributions (ubuntu, ubuntu mate, xubuntu, kubunto, ubuntu gnome...etc) and all of them where poorly supported. random freezes, the qHD in ubuntu is really bad suported at the moment.

So, I decided to switch to Fedora 25, and everything just works perfectly, I have no complains about resolution, freezes, or being slow.
If you have one of those XPS, I'd recommend trying that distro ;)

Author
Abhishek Prakash

Fedora with GNOME I presume. It could be the Wayland factor?

I'm not sure about that. but it might be. the latest fedora 25 (gnome) is really stable IMHO

The Ubuntu version does not support official Dell adapters which are essential for external monitors and Ethernet.
Touchpad is also poorly supported.
Random freezes happen once a week that force the user to reboot the system.
DellPro support does not help at all and I had to find a partial solution myself for the big issue of external monitors.
The whole adapter incompatibility is a key issue preventing a potential buyer from buying it.

Author
Abhishek Prakash

The Ubuntu version does not support official Dell adapters which are essential for external monitors and Ethernet.

I am not certain about it. Will have to check.

So far, I haven't encountered any random freezes, touchwood!

I just got the new XPS 13, and have the small 4-way thunderbolt-to-hdmi-vga-nework-usb adapter (DA200), which worked out of the box - even the VGA port (i dont have an hdmi display so I can't say anything about this)

I was really surprised...

lets face it, its still gonna be hard to install arch edition with those fancy hardware stuff, such as wifi, webcam, touchpad

Arch was a breeze to install, everything works out of the gate, just make sure you install xf86-input-libinput. By the way, this laptop runs great under Wayland, even at 4k.

Author
Abhishek Prakash

I don't think so. Newer hardware generally have better hardware support.

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