With a few exceptions, Dell has often been seen as the safe choice, a PC manufacturer that offers good value for money, if sometimes workmanlike designs. Forget everything you thought you know, and meet the Dell Studio XPS 13 notebook.

Various models are available with different processor and storage combinations, starting at £749. We tried the top-spec Dell Studio XPS 13 model with 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB of Samsung solid-state drive.

Focusing on the design first, the Dell Studio XPS 13 reeks of art deco tech, all black with silvered aluminium accents such as the hinge bracket and screen support structure, along with a neat silver trim that encircles the chassis top. On the lid outer is a finely grained black leather insert, finalising the executive flair for the design.

Open the catchless lid and you'll find that a keyboard comprises adjoining flat-top keys, beautifully backlit à la Apple when light levels drop. In fact, Dell has bettered Apple here by minimising light bleed between keys, making for a seamless dark-room experience. Backlight brightness is easily changed between three preset levels, using the Fn + cursor-right keys.

Beyond the keyboard of the Dell Studio XPS 13 are touch-sensitive buttons, also backlit in white, that readily change speaker volume or allow media playback control. You can even switch wireless functionality on and off here with the glance of a fingertip. A high-precision if compact trackpad is barely satin textured, inlayed between the glossy plastic top deck, with two softly sprung buttons for mouse control.