Dell was a little late to the Ultrabook game, but it made a stunning entrance with its original XPS 13 – slim, sleek and screaming premium from every inch, the XPS 13 was a success, and was quickly followed by the similarly-styled XPS 14 and XPS 15. We’re looking at the former to see how a traditional MacBook Pro-like Ultrabook with no touchscreen option in the works (yet?) holds up.
What are you getting for around £950? A beautifully constructed slab of unibody aluminium with a 14-inch, 1,600 x 900 screen protected by Gorilla glass, Core i5 processor, dedicated Nvidia graphics, and TPM which gives the Dell XPS 14 business appeal.
The base model offers 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hybrid hard drive, or you can opt for the £1,280 version and get 8GB of RAM along with a whopping 512GB SSD, plus optional mobile broadband. Those are some pretty juicy specs so let’s see if the XPS 14 has the body to go along with them.
When it comes to design the XPS 14 isn’t just a larger version of its 13-inch sibling. It forgoes the tapering slimness of its predecessor and instead opts for a more MacBook Pro-like design that means it maintains the same 20.7mm thickness throughout. Mind you, it’s certainly no less attractive for it - but it does increase the impression of weightiness and, at just over 2kg, that’s the last thing the XPS 14 needs.
Essentially though, if you like the edgy, simplistic design of the older MacBook Pros, you’ll be happy with this Dell. Even the usual LED indicators are blended into a single, beautifully integrated strip at the laptop’s front. Only on the inside and bottom do things veer away significantly, as these are black soft-touch plastic, while the ‘bezel-free’ screen sports a glossy black bezel.
The soft keyboard surround makes resting your palms while typing a pleasure. On the XPS 14’s base, meanwhile, there’s a further thick sheet of rubber that gives this Ultrabook a superb grip even on sloped, slippery surfaces. Frankly, we’ve never encountered a laptop that felt as secure on our lap as this one, and applaud Dell for daring to be different and elevating function over form to this extent on a designer laptop.
Build quality of the Dell XPS 14 is superb, easily matching the best of the rest. Both the lid and base use milled aluminium unibody enclosures, ensuring there is not even a hint of flex. The anodised outer finish doesn’t show off fingerprints, while the soft-touch black plastic used on the inside only shows grease marks from a certain angle. Gorilla glass ensures the XPS 14’s screen is as well-protected as they get, and this is one display you can poke fingers or even biros at with impunity.
As you would expect from a powerful, productivity-oriented Ultrabook, the XPS 14 is stuffed with connectivity. On the left we have the power jack, a flip-out Gigabit Ethernet port, full-size HDMI, micro DisplayPort and twin USB 3.0 ports for hooking up fast external devices and quick charging. The XPS 14’s right side is left mostly clean, with only a combined microphone/headphone jack, SDXC card reader, and Kensington lock slot. All this is a major improvement over the XPS 13, which was a bit lacking in the connections department.
On the wireless side of things Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come as standard, then things get a little complicated where 3G mobile broadband is concerned. You see, the XPS 14 with wireless broadband is not technically an Ultrabook as it’s just a tad too thick. It also isn’t available with dedicated Nvidia graphics, nor with an SSD of up to 512GB as on the XPS 14 Ultrabook. While we’re glad Dell is offering a 3G option in its premium 14-inch laptop line with some business features, we can’t help but wish you wouldn’t have to compromise to get it.