1-month update! See the bottom of the post.
6-month update! See the bottom again.
1-year update! Seriously, see the bottom.
2-year update at the bottom!
Finally, a 3-year update!
As a programmer I needed a laptop that was powerful, lightweight, had a keyboard I liked, and ran Linux well (no driver issues especially with WiFi.)
The Dell caught my eye because it’s almost exactly on par, price and specs wise, with a Macbook Air. (The big difference being battery life: Apple is boasting 12 hour stats that nobody else can touch. But I don’t mind carrying around a charger.)
I considered the competitors: Lenovo X1 Carbon, ASUS Zenbook UX301, System76 Galago UltraPro, Chromebook, but either the keyboard layout or Linux compatibility seemed iffy; the Dell is the only one that comes with Linux out of the box aside from System76. It’s obvious that Dell has put significant work into making their laptop compatible with Ubuntu, so I figured I’d support that effort and try it out. The others may work just fine with Linux, or you may be alright with their keyboards/trackpads; up to you! I just can’t stand nub-mice, trackpads that require effort to click, mushy keyboards, layouts that omit function keys, or layouts that place navigation keys in weird places.
Firstly, Dell’s website leaves a lot to be desired. The only way to find the XPS13 Developer Edition is to filter by OS and choose Linux; otherwise you’ll only be able to see the XPS13 with Windows. Way to make Linux feel like a second-class citizen!
When narrowing down my final ultrabook options a Dell chat representative popped up, so I asked some questions about the 21 day return policy. The rep’s answers were good enough to convince me to try the Dell out, but he quoted me a system with an Atheros AR9462 a/b/g/n Bluetooth 4.0 network card instead of the Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 + Bluetooth 4.0 quoted on the website. He assured me that this was an upgrade, but in hindsight I think there’s a reason the Atheros was cheaper. Many reports online of Dell Support exchanging defective Atheros cards for Intel cards.
Finally, the rep asked me for my credit card info via chat; which, according to my tests, was not encrypted via HTTPS. My warning bells rang all over the place; that can’t be acceptable business/security practice. Finally, my billing address is different than my shipping address, but the quote I received via email didn’t reflect this; I asked about it and the rep assured me my correct shipping address was entered correctly. The order also said it’d take two solid months to ship, but the rep assured me he’d expedite the order and I’d get it much sooner. He finally called me to complete the order (cell phones are more encrypted than HTTP, I guess) but the whole affair felt very shoddy, and my gut was telling me something would go wrong.
A few weeks later (hey, fast!) I got a Fedex tracking number and sure enough it had the destination of my billing address, not my shipping address. Great, so much for promises. Good thing I can forward stuff between addresses without too much pain. None of the rep’s other promised communications happened, just the chat, invoice, and tracking number. Oh well. All’s well that ends well I guess, except I can’t shake the feeling that I’d have been better off trusting my gut and ordering from the website instead of via a representative, and I can imagine some horror scenarios where everything didn’t turn out fine. Definitely go with the website instead.
Update: looks like I saved a few hundred dollars because the Dell rep ordered me an XPS without a touchscreen; so while all the options on the website are expensive models with touchscreens, mine isn’t. Can’t complain, I’m not big on the idea of touchscreen laptops anyway (especially in Linux.)
Update update: looks like I actually got sold the prior-year’s model for a few hundred bucks off. Shitty bait-and-switch, but then again I’m happy with the end result? QUIT PULLING MY HEARTSTRINGS, DELL.
I was worried at first because the shipping box was pretty beat up from its two trips, but the actual product box was unscratched and very sleek. Apple-inspired plastic wrapping around the laptop itself, fabric scratch-resistant sheets, recycled paperboard, etc. Continue reading