Alienware Multimedia Keyboard Review
When you think of a gaming laptop, generally the first image that comes to mind is a thick slab that could substitute as a weight for an upper-body workout at the gym. The new Alienware 13 (starts at $1, 199; $2, 099 as tested) is one of the smallest, virtual-reality-capable gaming laptops you can buy. And while it wouldn't win in a performance battle against a larger gaming laptop or desktop, the Alienware 13 does boast some impressive hardware for its size, including an Nvidia Pascal-based series graphics card, 16GB of RAM, and a crisp QHD display. The small screen might be a deal breaker for some gamers, but the overall quality, excellent performance, and VR readiness of the Alienware 13 make it our new Editors' Choice for ultraportable gaming laptops.
Design and Features
As far as design goes, gaming systems usually fall into one of two categories: extremely loud or elegantly incognito. The Alienware 13 hews more toward the latter, with a sleek industrial aesthetic that hints at its gaming inclinations instead of outrightly declaring them. The dark gray lid is made from anodized aluminum, which gives it a smoother feel than plastic, and incorporates subtle geometric lines and the alien head from the company's logo. Another distinctive feature is the hinge-forward design, which means the lid opens about an inch in front of the rear edge of the chassis. Alienware says this allows for better cooling, improved audio, greater I/O port selection, and a thinner chassis. Visually, this is the most noticeable departure from the previous generation of Alienware laptops, aside from minor differences in thickness and overall size. You will also see this design on this year's updated Alienware 15 and Alienware 17 models.
Measuring 0.87 by 13 by 10.6 inches (HWD), the Alienware 13 is smaller than your average gaming laptop—though it's not the thinnest out there. The 2016, is slimmer at 0.7 by 13.6 by 9.3 inches. That being said, it is on par with other sub-15-inch gaming laptops like the Maingear Pulse 14 (1 by 13.31 by 9.5) and the MSI GS40 6QE Phantom (0.86 by 13.5 by 9.6). And at 5.43 pounds, it's heavier than other laptops in the category. The Blade, the Pulse 14, and the MSI GS40 all weigh less than 5 pounds, but compared with some 17-inch gaming laptops, the Alienware 13 is light as a feather. The Asus ROG G752VS-XB78K Overclocked Edition, for example, tips the scale at a massive 9.92 pounds.
Given its size and price, the Alienware actually fills a unique niche between ultraportables and 15-inch entry-level gaming systems like the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series. The Inspiron 15 is a bit heftier at 0.98 by 15 by 10.4 inches and 5.88 pounds, but for the price, it offers great value. Meanwhile, the Alienware is more expensive as it packs newer components, but what you end up with is all the power of a 15-inch in a more compact 13-inch form.
At 13.3 inches, the Alienware's display may prove too small for some gamers. But the OLED screen features a crisp 2, 560-by-1, 440 (QHD) resolution with touch capability. Most gaming laptops, including last year's Alienware 15, the Pulse 14, the MSI GS40, and the Asus ROG G752VS-XB78K, opt for 1080p, as higher resolutions can often slow down overall performance. You can read more on how the Alienware 13 handled QHD gaming in the performance section below, but rest assured that visuals are lush and vibrant. Overwatch, known for its candy-colored palette, was a feast for the eyes. Other than the size, the only potential drawback of the Alienware's display is its glossy finish, which will attract glare and, if you use the touch screen, fingerprints.
The Alienware 13 has a low-key keyboard for a gaming laptop. The matte finish on the deck gives it a premium feel and is surprisingly resistant to fingerprint grease. After a week of testing, I still haven't found any evidence of smudging. Functionally, the full-size keyboard is steel-reinforced and the 2.2mm travel is comfortable for gaming. There's no number pad, though, as the compact size of the laptop precludes one. Aesthetically, the Alienware 13 is not quite as pretty as the Razer Blade. There's no per-key lighting, but you can customize the backlighting across four zones and choose from 20 colors using the AlienFX software. What's disappointing is that bleed between the keys isn't as bright as it could be. It's fine in a dark room, but some of the colors look washed out under proper lighting.