The typing experience offered by Lenovo’s laptops, like the recent ThinkPad X1 Carbon, are still the yard-stick against which we measure all other laptop keyboards, but thankfully this Dell doesn’t fare too badly. Its Chiclet-style keyboard offers large, ever-so-slightly curved keys with white backlighting. Layout is spot-on though key spacing is just a little far apart. Travel is decent and there’s a reasonably solid click to indicate a pressed key.
As with most premium Ultrabooks, the XPS 14 sports a huge glass ‘buttonless’ touchpad. Beautifully integrated into its soft-touch surround, the pad is responsive with a nice click to its clearly differentiated ‘button areas’. Naturally, it supports multi-touch and, as Dell offers no touch-screen option for its XPS 14 yet, is the only way to navigate smoothly through Windows 8’s tile-style interface.
As its name implies, the XPS 14 gives you 14 inches of screen real estate, along with a nice 1,600 x 900 resolution and high 400nits brightness. Unfortunately, the panel is still TN rather than IPS or PVA, but at least it holds up reasonably well.
Dark detailing is decent with most of the darker shades visible, and though blacks are far from the deepest we’ve seen, the glass layer in front of the screen helps to improve perceived contrast while adding a little extra punch to colours. Of course, it also adds annoying reflections, and whether the trade-off is worth it only you can decide.
Backlighting was even too, with slight bezel-pinch near the screen’s bottom causing backlight bleed that was so minimal as to be virtually unnoticeable. And last but not least on the positives, everything is very sharp thanks to that high resolution.
As usual with TN screens it’s viewing angles where the XPS 14 fails to impress. We’d class them as just about average, with no issues when sitting in a 60 degree sweet spot but anything much beyond that showing up the inevitable contrast shift both vertically and horizontally. As we said, the XPS 14’s screen is by no means bad, but on a laptop this premium in every other regard, it is the weakest link. You also don’t get a touch option for Windows 8, though Dell may be offering one down the line.
On the audio front, Dell’s latest XPS line has lost the prominent, up-facing JBL speakers of older models but their subtly integrated replacements sound pretty decent. There’s quite a bit of volume and punch on offer, though clarity is lacking. Still, there’s no distortion and we’d use them for a movie at a pinch.