The New Laptop, 2019 Edition

It's a Dell XPS 13

It turns out as much as I love my PixelBook — and I do — when it comes to writing long-form documents while travel, Google Docs still chokes on large files, and both the Web and Android app versions of Word are really really bad for my particular writing workflow (it’s because they’re terrible). Plus while I generally like the Android app versions of things like Photoshop, it’s also nice to have the full-featured versions when I’m on the road. What I’m saying is that I’ve talked myself into buying a new Windows laptop, and this is it: A Dell XPS 13, the recently-refreshed 2019 edition.

My very early take (as in, I’ve had it less than a day) is that a) it’s tiny as hell and also pretty, which I like, b) it’s very powerful for size and profile, c) the keyboard is nice and clicky, and the screen is kind of ridiculous (it’s 4k, which is hella overkill on a 13-inch screen) and d) Windows is still a bit of a pain in the ass and if I didn’t really just need the full-sized Word in order to write I would happily never use it again on a laptop. One of the reasons I love my PixelBook is that on an OS level it just works for laptops and doesn’t leave me waiting for anything. If Google Docs would just stop choking on any file over 15k words, I’d never look back.

(Incidentally, this is not your cue to tell me about your favorite alternate word processor and/or suggest I go over to a Mac or Linux or whatever. I use the tools I use because those are the tools that work for me, folks. Just be glad that I don’t have, like, WordStar 3.1 as my favorite word processing tool, like George RR Martin does. Say what you will about Microsoft Word, at least it is readily available.)

This is the second Dell laptop I’ve owned; the first was the XPS 12 2-in-1, which I got about five years ago. It had a tablet mode which one activated literally by flipping the screen around, which was a neat bit of engineering but ultimately not especially practical; I only ended up doing that a couple of times. There’s an XPS 13 2-in-1 as well, but in general I’ve found that turning one’s laptop into a tablet is generally better in theory than in execution — my PixelBook is also a 2-in-1 and I use the tablet mode rarely if at all. I don’t think I’ll miss flipping this one around. And if I need to flip around my laptop, well, I still have my PixelBook.

I should also note that this doesn’t mean that I’ve entirely abandoned my PixelBook, which again I love and consider probably the best single laptop I’ve ever had. It’s going to find use during the times where I’m not actively working on a novel, and also around the house when I’m just casually looking at things online (which is, uhhhhh, a lot). But this Dell is my new workhorse for when I travel, which is, these days a lot. I expect a lot of the next novel will be written on it. And probably the one after that. And possibly the one after that, too.

33 Comments on “The New Laptop, 2019 Edition”

  1. I’m curious about what issues you’re having with Google Docs. Do you mean you can’t load files over 15,000 words or that it is slow or something else?

    The reason I ask is because I use Google Docs a lot myself and have run into several issues and I’m curious to see if they are the same as the ones I’ve seen or something different. I will say that it has gotten much better over the years but still has a ways to go.

  2. “this is not your cue to tell me about your favorite alternate word processor and/or suggest I go over to a Mac or Linux or whatever”

    B-, bu-, but John……..!! We could help you, we really could! Nah – fair point we will leave you alone (this time!)

  3. Agree re. Windows. At this point the main thing keeping me on Windows is, believe it or not, Backblaze. They have Linux support as well, but it’s priced differently.

    It frustrates me how Windows 7 was, by almost any metric, the best consumer version of Windows ever, and it was followed by an ill-fated attempt to put Windows Mobile (or whatever this iteration was called) around the neck of Regular Windows like a friggin’ albatross.

  4. “[T]his is not your cue to tell me about your favorite alternate word processor and/or suggest I go over to a Mac or Linux or whatever”

    There used to be a time when, as a fully cult-ivated Mac user, I’d have had to fight back the urge to extol all the wonders of the shiny Apple laptops. But Apple’s laptops are pretty disappointing these days. If you have a good clicky keyboard—yeah, none of the laptops from Cupertino are going to be much competition if you want to use your laptop to actually, y’know, type things.


  5. I’m curious how much RAM your PixelBook has and if that was the limiting factor. Does the ~15k word doc choke on literally every device you try and access it from? Or just the PixelBook?

  6. As a pretty long-term Dell employee (yeah, since 2004) yay for deciding one of our products would be a best choice for you! But … mnyehhhhhhhhhh? … about XPS product line, which has had its good years and its bad years over history. Because I always look for reliability over performance, I’ve always stuck with the stodgy corporate-line Latitude laptops and OptiPlex desktops. (I did have to break down and buy my artist son an Inspiron ‘cos he wanted a bigger screen and touch capability.) But still after all that … yay that you chose us!

  7. I have a Lenovo laptop and one nice thing about it is that you can use tablet mode without flipping it around. In particular, it means that I can always move easily between typing and touching the screen while filling out a form or the like, which has come in handy at times. This wasn’t a consideration when I chose the laptop, but it’s proven a nice feature.

  8. I love a clicky keyboard as well – heck, I still miss the Selectric style keyboard from my old IBM AT back in the day. That keyboard had some serious click to it! Good tactile feedback is, I think, critical to any touch typist and something that most laptops are sorely in need of more of.

  9. Nice, that one is at the top on my list if my current laptop should ever die. The XPS line. has been 🤘🏿 solid for a few years now

  10. Whoops, auto emoji replacement kicked in there. Meant to say “rock solid” of course. Also, we’d *never* suggest the current MacBooks to a writer!

  11. Yes, yes, but I have to tell you about this wonderful laptop you should have gotten instead! It’s by Dell, and it’s their 13 inch screen in the XPS line. That’s the one you really should have gotten!

  12. I have a touch screen HP laptop, though no tablet mode. I don’t use the touch screen all that much, but it definitely makes playing Mahjong easier. As for word processors, whatever makes sense for you is what you should use. My favorite has always been Word Perfect, even though I use Word for anything I have to share or convert or import or export. WP is apparently still available to purchase, which surprised me. My version is decades old, but for certain functions (like labels) it just works so much easier.

  13. My son just got a paid internship (he’s a HS senior) to work at Dell next year during his senior year. So thanks!!! For all the things. :)

  14. Is the keyboard wide enough for you to type for long periods in comfort? My personal bugbear is keyboards where they’re so compact, you either need the shoulders of a 7 year old, or run the risk of rsi from cranking your wrists at an angle all the time. When laptops went widescreen, i found it made using them for actual typing much easier as they had a full size keyboard (although they were v heavy).

  15. The kind of convertible laptop with a 360 degree hinge for the screen doesn’t work well for hand-holding the system as a tablet. It’s just too heavy to hold for any length of time. For that, you want a system with a detachable keyboard, like the Microsoft Surface Pro.

    A convertible with the 360 degree hinge does work well in a couple of other scenarios. First, it works pretty well for an artist who will put it on a flat surface like a desk and use the touch screen as a drawing surface. (For that, you want one with a screen with stylus support, such as the 2-in-1 version of the XPS.) The other is using it in tent mode for displaying information to a group of people – at a meeting or as a small display at a table at a conference.

  16. What happened to the old laptop? Five years isn’t stone-age. Wheels were invented. Gutenberg lived.

  17. My takeaway from this is that there are times you’re “not actively working on a novel”.

    Shocking! Does your publisher know?

  18. Our laptop has a tablet mode, too, which, when we were buying thought was pretty cool. Like you, we have rarely used it. But we do like the laptop, so no real issue.

  19. Glad you like your new acquisition, and I hope it continues to serve you well. I am absolutely certain that I will enjoy the heck out of what emerges from it.

    I was a Dell customer for a long while, but the most recent laptop I got from them a couple years ago Sucked Giant Rocks Through A Bendy Straw (TM), so I’m trying an Asus now. It’s not bad, certainly better than the last Dell, but I don’t approve of the placement of the characters around the ten-key adder portion. When everyone else puts the decimal point on the bottom next to the zero, why on earth it occurred to Asus to put the “enter” key there and stick the decimal point way up on top is an ongoing mystery. Accountants do not approve of such creativity.

    I absolutely require a full-size keyboard, a screen that I don’t need a magnifying glass to read, and the ten-key panel on the keyboard, which definitely limits my options. I also need Windows and Microsoft applications, because spreadsheets in other formats do not meet my requirements.

    And that’s exactly why there is such variety in computer offerings, of course – what works perfectly for you would drive me bonkers, and vice versa. “One size fits all” is no more true with technology than it is for clothing.

  20. When you travel, I think you should just write it all in longform, and in cursive. Then scan in those pieces of paper and then run OCR when you get home. That’ll work. :)

  21. … I don’t have, like, WordStar 3.1 as my favorite word processing tool, like George RR Martin does.

    Suddenly the delay in producing the GoT books is explained.

  22. If Multimate was good enough for grandpappy (by which I mean me in the 1980s) then it’s good enough for me (by which I mean it’s not made anymore and I can’t get it to work on my Mac).

  23. Try Scrivener. It works across platforms and is great if you are a plotter. For a pantser, it won’t help you at all. Files have lots of meta info and help you organize. Also, you can save to the cloud and open files on other devices.

    No, I get no kickbacks.

  24. I am curious on your choice of this over something like Microsoft Surface – a lot of people comes to me for recommendations for Windows stuff, and I always point them to Surface as it gives them the Windows bits and the tablet bits. Should I change my recommendation to something like this?

  25. I have a 2-in-1 laptop from Acer. I like using tablet mode when traveling to watch streaming video. It makes a pretty nice stand. I don’t think I’ve used tablet mode for anything else, now that I think about it.

  26. Thanks for this review. I’m using a 2-in-1 myself these days, and I… don’t know why? As in, it was inexpensive enough, does what I want it to, etc., etc., but my worst issue with it is that it sometimes irritatingly goes into tablet mode when I don’t want it to– which is basically ever. I’ve deliberately used tablet mode maybe three times?

    What I’m saying is that your review is… very attractive! Hmmm.

    Hmmmm indeed.

  27. I’m still laughing about a 4K display on a 13 inch screen! Wow, overkill? Heck that’s using a tank to hunt deer… Why, oh why? Oh, I know, marketing! Gotta check that box. ;-)

  28. I remember when word processors gave you a choice: They came with a selector switch (or dial) so you could turn on the clicky sounds for your keyboard… and I think most of us did so.

    Also, I remember when the hum of an electric typewriter motivated me to keep writing: So I wouldn’t be wasting electricity.

  29. I assume everyone has read Matthew Miller’s account of what happened to his personal data, including all his information stored on Google Drive and Google Docs, after his primary phone got SIM swapped. Bottom line: everything stored on Google (or any other cloud service) must be backed up to an offline storage system (not another cloud account). Much more info in the story at ZDnet.

  30. Not my cue to tell you about my favorite “alternate” word processor? I love the way you sneak that pc-speak in there. The funny thing is that I am a Mac guy (from before OS X) and a linux-head, I’m still prone to drop into a terminal and use vi at the drop of a hat, AND I have arrived at pretty much the same opinion about word processors: Microsoft Word is pretty much it if you routinely edit big documents with tables of contents, and you want to make global style changes, have tricky headers & footers, etc. Also, Windows 10 is pretty much now as robust (or more so) than Mac OS X, so if I were an award-winning prolific author, with a smile that is just shy of a smirk, and a gleam in his eye, and more hair that I currently have, why YES, I might also prefer a tasty Dell laptop. Party on, Garth!

  31. “Suddenly the delay in producing the GoT books is explained.”
    Yeah, 5.25″ drives are hard to find.

    But seriously (or semi anyway), John why not do a “What’s in My Bag” post showing off the devices, gadgets, stuff and crap you carry. All the cool kits are doing them…

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