Since the last 3 years I have been listening to Jeff Clarke, Dell’s vice-chairman of Operations and president of Client Solutions, and his team talk about innovation within Dell and how XPS-13, Dell’s flagship, initially consumer-focused and now business-ready notebook, is one of the most innovative laptops in the market. I must confess that after every meeting I walked away with a bit of cynicism. Every single time I had questions but no answers. Did a borderless InfinityEdge display define innovation? Did premium materials explain innovation? Did high-performance describe innovation? What about the issues that small businesses really cared about – improve productivity, provide security, easy manageability, exceptional support and low price? These would certainly count towards innovation. But then many of these improvements are usually driven by underlying software and not the hardware.
I have been a ThinkPad user for most of my working life – from my IDC days in Hong Kong to present time at Techaisle. Except for the time period when I was at Gartner. I am not a case of old-habits-die-hard but I have had a genuine admiration for the IBM & now Lenovo ThinkPad series. It never needed any support, except for that one occasion when I foolishly crushed it that cracked the screen. There was also a period as an analyst when I maintained three different brands. HP notebooks to bring to meetings with HP, IBM/Lenovo for their respective meetings, and Dell for meetings with Dell. However, I realized that a ThinkPad brand was one of the most non-controversial notebook to bring to meetings & presentations without evoking any sarcastic banter.
Full disclosure - one day, two months ago, Dell sent me an XPS 13, fully-loaded with the Intel 7th gen Core i7 processor, 512GB PCIe Solid State Drive, QHD InfinityEdge Touch Screen, and 3 years of Premium Support services. Within a few days of using it I realized the meaning of innovation. Innovation in design. Innovation in support. Innovation in marketing.
Let us begin backwards. Innovation in marketing. XPS 13 has become synonymous with notebook much like MacBook or ThinkPad. I do not even know what brands of HP have the same level of desirability and emotional connect. Some may say HP Spectre, but I do not think so. And ThinkPads are not even targeted at consumer segment, they are not usually available in technology retail stores, so they miss out on the small business market. If price is not the only purchase criteria then XPS 13 is the brand to own. Dell’s marketing has also been bolstered by the numerous awards XPS 13 has been winning which feeds back into its marketing motions. XPS 13 also tends to be first to market with new technologies and gets more frequent refreshes than Dell’s business laptop products. And it also helps how the model is displayed in a retail store – makes it look real cool. So far, I have not experienced any complaints from PC OEMs when fishing out the XPS 13 from my bag for presentations.
I also experienced innovation in support. Not willing to take help from my IT to configure my new notebook to my exacting specifications I decided to call Dell’s premium support. A quick connect with technician, Brandon A, made me realize that my support request was very unique and was not included within the knowledgebase. I was ready to give up but the technician stayed on the call, spent the next two hours and successfully replicated XPS 13 configuration with that of ThinkPad. I also learned that Premium support includes a proactive support feature, SupportAssist, where Dell support experts actually contact the user if they detect an issue.
This type of support is ideal for SMBs. Latest Techaisle survey shows that smaller businesses use friends, internal non-IT personnel or channel partner for support, almost always reactive. Larger small businesses use internal IT but data shows that they would rather be focused on strategic IT issues than supporting PCs. 57% mention that managing newer PCs is significantly easier which allows unmanaged IT businesses to run their business without disruption and businesses with IT staff are able to efficiently reallocate the staff’s time to other initiatives. Interestingly, 56% also agree that new PCs reduce overall maintenance costs. And if SMBs opt for Dell's ProSupport and even ProDeploy they may gain even better advantages.
Design is an important element of a mobile device. But like every other SMB executive, the design should contribute to improved productivity and better mobility experience. I am one of those 39% of SMB employees who spend 20+% time away from primary workplace. Being an analyst and a data hound I constantly work on spreadsheets, data visualizations, analytics and presentations, typically seated in tight places – the airplanes, United Club lounges and occasionally in the back seat of ride-sharing vehicles. The placement of cursor in the precise location on the screen is very important to me. The XPS 13’s precision touchpad with integrated glass is much appreciated. It is responsive, not overly sensitive to slight movements and gets my work done without having to erase and retrace. In contrast, I have had to disable the touchpad on ThinkPad and only use the red trackpoint. By the way, has anyone tried using the trackpoint while munching on snacks in airplanes or with the laptop on the lap? The trackpoint assumes a track movement of its own.
The Dell InfinityEdge display also gives me a bright and clearly visible real estate to view and play around with massive amounts of data or create crammed-with-data PowerPoint slides. The chiclet keyboard with “just–enough” shallow depth also helps, although the too-narrow arrow keys are annoying. I really do not use the touch screen a lot but the few times I did use I found the display hinge to be stable enough to avoid exasperating shaking.
I consider myself to be a very organized person, but recently I did the unfathomable: I flew to the east coast for a 2-hour client presentation but forgot to bring my XPS 13 power adapter. By the time I returned the following evening from my coast-to-coast flight there was still enough battery power left in my notebook to reply to emails before plugging it back into the adapter for charging. By the way, one must buy the add-on Power Companion which extends the notebook’s battery life and also charges other mobile devices simultaneously. Living dangerously is not my calling so I made a note to get a spare charger. But if I ever make that grievous error again, then at least I can take comfort in the battery life of XPS 13 and the Power Companion.
XPS 13 is somewhat heavier than the ThinkPad I have been using, I can easily make out the difference as soon as I pick up the notebook in one hand. The Power Companion and the necessary Adapter to connect USB-C port to HDMI or USB 3.0 makes it a little bulky, occupies space and adds to the “carry weight”. But they are not inconvenient.
Collaboration is essential to me and video collaboration is integral when traveling. The placement of the webcam on XPS 13 throws me off but I understand that in the newly announced XPS 13 2 in 1 version the webcam has been put back in its rightful place, at the center.
All of the above experiences point to a device that improves productivity, especially mobility-enabled productivity. Techaisle’s survey also shows that 62% of small businesses experience better mobility with newer PCs thus empowering their workforce. Nearly identical percent say that newer applications run better, and more applications can be run simultaneously contributing to less frustration and improved productivity.
When purchasing a laptop, competitive benchmark comparisons are important but they are certainly not the deciding criteria. Millennials have a different selection criteria; I listen to them as well. After all, 51% of US SMB employees are millennials. Even within my household, when my son and daughter, both millennials, wanted to replace their respective notebooks, they were clear in not getting an HP brand. “No HP decision” was driven by – previous painful product experiences, prolonged and unpredictable support, not-so captivating design of recent products and unflattering word-of-mouth from my son’s fellow college friends.
I took my son and daughter, on different days, to the Microsoft Store and bought each one of them a Dell XPS 13. It was an easy decision for them. Last time I checked, they were very happy. I hope that my initial euphoria stays intact and there will not be any reason to retract and redact my new connect with XPS 13. As of now, I will retract my cynicism.