Dell’s XPS 13 Should Hold the Lead for Windows Ultraportables With 2019 Update

The Dell XPS 13 is generally (though not universally) regarded as one of the top Windows machines available, thanks to a sleek design and a great value. Dell’s gentle revision of the laptop continues into 2019, notably including the most requested change.

Dell lowered the curtain on the latest refresh at CES, drawing crowds with a headline feature: the camera is now exactly where you expect it to be. Previous iterations sought the thinnest screen bezels possible, and achieved this by sticking the webcam below the main panel. This inelegant design quirk was quickly christened the “nose cam” for its habit of peering directly into the user’s nostrils. Thanks to a redesigned module and a soldered ribbon cable instead of the usual plug, the pinhole 720p cam can now squeeze into the top bezel with only a tiny, and entirely agreeable, extra space added.

Elsewhere the changes for the XPS 13 are harder to spot. It’s still what I think of as a carbon fiber sandwich, with the patterned carbon visible on the keyboard deck and palmrest surrounded by machined aluminum on the lid and bottom. It still looks great in either white or black, and the base configuration ($900 this year) still starts with just 4GB of RAM. (And yes, we still recommend the RAM bump, even if you’re trying to keep the price down.) The only other sore spot is the speakers, which remain tiny grilles on the left and right edges, and akin to something you’d see on a cheap tablet. The fingerprint reader, if you opt for the upgrade, is now cleverly hidden in the power button.

Otherwise, it’s the same design all of you know and many of you love. The most expensive configurations include brilliant 13-inch 4K touchscreens, though naturally a conventional 1080p screen is available, which might be preferable for those who desire battery life over visual fidelity. Dell says the laptop can last for up to 21 hours on a charge, which seems optimistic at best. Strangely the online configurations max out at 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage at the moment. I/O includes three USB-C ports for power, data, and Thunderbolt video (no old-fashioned USB-A ports will fit), a headphone jack, and a MicroSD card reader.

Note that at the time of writing, the new model (9380) uses the same 8th-gen Intel Core processors as last year’s design. They’ll probably be replaced during Intel’s upcoming product cycle, without any other major changes to the body. XPS fans looking to upgrade may want to wait, or simply search for a deal on the 9370 design and trim their nose hairs before any important Skype calls. Ready to pull the trigger? Dell is taking orders for the 2019 machine now.

The Best Keyboards For Your Gaming PC

Building or buying a new gaming PC? Awesome. Just don’t forget to save a little room in your budget for your accessories. A comfy keyboard with fast, reliable switches is an important part of your setup, and we’ve found the best ones available.

Mechanical keyboards with Cherry switches are where it’s at for current keyboard designs, though we’ve included one with more conventional membrane keys (like you’ll find on most cheaper keyboards) for those who prefer them. Otherwise we also have choices for gamers who want something small, something sans wires, or something that won’t break the budget.

The Best Overall Gaming Keyboard: Ducky Shine 7 ($160)

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“Ducky” isn’t a household name for PC accessories, but it’s well-known among the keyboard enthusiast community. And if you’re looking for a big, bombastic board to pair with your bodacious gaming PC, the Shine 7 is it. Coming with full 108-key layout and an gunmetal or black zinc alloy finish, it’s big and heavy enough to literally put a dent in your enemies.

The Shine 7 also offers some gaming-friendly features that set it above the rest of Ducky’s line, and justify its high price tag. High-quality PBT plastic on the interchangeable keycaps, a wide selection of key switches including Cherry MX Silent Red and MX “Speed” Silver, and even compatibility with the Razer Chroma software suite for the RGB LED lights are among them. Ducky’s software can program any keybind or macro you like, so this is a full-function gaming keyboard.

And while there’s no accounting for taste, I appreciate the more subtle styling on the metal case that doesn’t scream “I am a gamer who buys Mountain Dew by the keg.”

The Best Non-Mechanical Gaming Keyboard: Cooler Master Masterkeys Lite L ($60)

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So you’re not down with the whole mechanical craze, but you’d still like access to some neat lighting and programming for your PC games. It’s hard to find a decent gaming-focused keyboard with a conventional membrane build now, but Cooler Master is still making them. The Masterkeys Lite L is the best of the bunch, offering RGB lighting (in wide zones instead of individual keys) and full key and macro programming.

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Don’t Bother With USB-C Headphones (For Now)

The headphone jack is fast disappearing from high-end phones and even bigger devices like the new iPad Pro. So it’s time to head out and get a decent pair of USB-C headphones, right? Not so fast.

Unlike the accommodating analog port that’s been around for decades, getting audio out of a USB-C port alone requires a little digital finagling. And that’s a problem, because digital formats are more complex, and all too often incompatible.

While there are a few sets of headphones on the market with a USB-C port, they’re generally of pretty middling to poor quality, unlike some of the options available for Apple’s similar Lightning port. Between a poor selection and poor compatibility, they’re just not worth bothering with, at least until the market settles on a more reliable standard.

The Selection Sucks

Your fancy new phone might come with a pair of USB-C headphones as a sort of apology for being incompatible with all the other ones you already have. If it does, hang on to them. Odds are that you’re not going to find a better pair any time soon.

While there are a handful of vendors of USB-C headphones on Amazon on the like, there are precious few options from reliable manufacturers… most of whom seem more interested in selling Lightning-equipped headphones, if they want to go for a non-analog option at all. Google sells a set of wired Pixel buds for its phones and Chromebook laptops, and they’re reasonable at $30. Ditto for HTC, OnePlus, and Xiaomi. But beyond that, your choices get progressively slimmer, especially if you don’t care for in-ear buds.

Razer sells a pair of USB-C “Hammerhead” buds, which are poorly-reviewed even if you do like the lime green color and gamer branding. JBL makes a set of buds called the Reflect Aware C, but they’re not even being sold anymore—and perhaps that’s for the best, since users say they had a nasty habit of simply dying. The best choice for a premium set of USB-C buds appears to be the Libratone Q Adapt, which sport hardware noise cancellation in multiple levels. But $120 is a lot to pay for a pair of wired headphones that only work with one of your gadgets.

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Lenovo Takes on the Surface Studio with the Yoga A940 All-In-One

All-in-ones tend to come in two flavors: a budget machine for novice users or an all-out monster with style and flexibility. Lenovo has taken the latter option with its new Yoga A940, a top-of-the-line machine meant for artists and creators.

Announced at CES, the 27-inch machine includes a 4K touchscreen and a double-hinged display stand, which can move from a 90-degree vertical to a drawing-friendly 25-degree angle with a smooth sweep. The internal components, featuring Intel Core 8th-gen processors and up to 32GB of memory, plus a Radeon RX 560 GPU, are housed in a beefy base. But it’s the stuff around the guts that’s interesting. The top of the main assembly is a shelf for the included wireless keyboard when you’re ready to go full touch, and the smaller area on the side can recharge your Qi-enabled smartphone. Five Dolby Atmos speakers hide inside as well.

Take a look ’round the back and you’ll find four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI-in (for using the display with another machine), and Ethernet if you need something faster than Wi-Fi. On the side, accessible without reaching is another USB 3.0, USB-C, a headphone jack, and an SD card reader, handy for pro photographers who don’t often need MicroSD. Other nice touches include a work light on the bottom edge of the screen and a manual shutter over the webcam.

But it’s the included “Smart Dial” that will make artists do a double take. This gadget is analogous to Microsoft’s Surface Dial but comes with the package for free. It also displays some surprising ergonomic thought, docking into a dedicated USB port on either the right or left side for easy use in folded-down mode. (Southpaws thank you, Lenovo, for ambidextrous design.) Lenovo’s management software can assign different scrolling tools for different applications, like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, with a color-coded LED ring to let the user know which mode it’s in without checking the app.

All of this, plus a powered stylus, keyboard and mouse, and the usual array of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a three-month trial of Creative Cloud come in at $2350 when the Yoga A940 launches in March. The base specs, with 8GB of memory and a 128GB SSD or 1TB hard drive, are a bit disappointing…but this all-in-one has one more trick up its sleeve. The panel beneath the keyboard shelf can be removed, granting the user access to the memory and storage slots. Laptop-grade DDR4 RAM and SSDs can be replaced without further disassembly, keeping the warranty intact.

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Lenovo Yoga S940 Expands the Yoga Brand to Conventional Laptops

At CES 2019, Lenovo reps told us that they’re moving the “Yoga” brand beyond the convertible form factor of the original Yoga laptop. Now the company is using it for a variety of premium offerings, making it more of an aesthetic than a feature.

That’s why the Yoga S940, despite its flexible name, is a conventional clamshell laptop without a double rotating hinge or a touchscreen display. But the thing is so pretty you might not notice its more button-down build.

The 13.9-inch laptop is an eye-grabber, with a bright 4K screen covered in contoured glass as you might expect on a smartphone. (A 1080p option is available on the base model for the frugal buyer.) Tiny bezels recall Dell’s much-loved Infinity Display laptops…but this one has enough space for forward-firing speakers on either side of the keyboard. They’re rated for Dolby Atmos, and the screen matches them with Dolby Vision certification.

Core specs include 8th-gen Intel Core processors, either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and between 256GB and 1TB of SSD storage. Lenovo says the laptop will last for up to 15 hours on a charge with the 1080p screen, though that gets significantly chopped to 9.5 hours with the 4K option. Ports are triple USB-C, two of which feature Thunderbolt video capability, plus a headphone jack.

There’s not much to set the Yoga S940 apart in terms of stand-out specs, and it’s neither the lightest (2.64 pounds) nor thinnest (12.2mm) laptop here at CES. But the package is appealing enough that it might win some fans when it debuts in May—we feel that it’s a clear winner among Lenovo’s consumer-facing laptops. It will start at $1500 for the base configuration.