A month with Dell XPS 13 (9370)

After years of using Thinkpads, I went for a Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu. Although I had bought devices with Linux pre-installed and laptops for friends as well, this  was going to be my first own laptop coming with Ubuntu straight from the factory.


The hardware

The specs looked great (big SSD disk, enough memory to play around with VMs/containers, etc.), but I had to brush away some fond memories of old laptops, where I was able to easily replace parts (memory, screen, disk, power jack, keyboard and more for my x220). With the XPS this was not easily going to be possible anymore.

Anyway, the new machine arrived in the office. It looked great, it was light,  it was really well-built and whatever task I threw at the machine, it dealt with it nicely. In general I really liked the hardware and how the machine felt a lot. I knew I was going to be happy with this.

A few things bothered me somewhat though. The placement of the webcam simply does not make sense. It’s at the bottom of the screen, so you get an upwards-angle no matter what you do and people in calls with you will always see a close up of your fingers typing. Small face, huge fingers. It’s really awkward. I won’t go unmanicured into meetings anymore!

The software

It came with an old image of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS pre-installed and after pulling a lot of updates, I thought I was going to get a nice fresh start with everything just working out of the box. Not quite.

The super key was disabled. As 16.04 came with Unity, the super key is one of the key ingredients to starting apps or bringing up the dash. There was a package called supey-key-dell (or some such) installed which I had to find and remove and some gnome config I had to change to make it work again. Why oh why?

Hardware support. I thought this was going to be straight-forward. Unfortunately it wasn’t. In the process of the purchase Dell recommended I get a DA300, a USB-C mobility adapter. That looked like a great suggestion, ensuring I can still use all my Old World devices. Unfortunately the Ethernet port of it just didn’t work with 16.04.

The laptops’s own screen flickered in many circumstances and connecting to screens (even some Dell devices) flickered even more, sometimes screens went on and off.

I got a case with USB-C adapter for the SSD disk of my laptop and copied some data over only to find that some disk I/O load nearly brought the system to a grinding halt.

Palm detection of the touchpad was throwing me off again and again. I can’t count how many times I messed up documents or typed text in the wrong places. This was simply infuriating.

Enter Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

I took the plunge, wiped the disk and made a fresh install of Bionic and I’m not looking back. Palm detection is LOADS better, Disk I/O is better, screen flickering gone, Ethernet port over USB-C works. And I’m using a recent Ubuntu, which is just great! Nice work everyone involved at Ubuntu!

I hope Dell will reconsider shipping this new release to users with recent machines (and as an update) – the experience is dramatically different.

I’m really happy with this machine now, got to go now, got a manicure appointment…