While in the design stakes Dell’s smaller 14z wins over its 15in brother, when it comes to connectivity it takes a minor step back. Most of the connections – including all the USB ports - are located around the back, which looks great but makes it slightly awkward to plug in a memory stick or USB dongle, and can easily cause a memory stick to break if you tilt the laptop back while one is plugged in.
Only the slot-loading DVD writer, SDXC card reader and headphone plus microphone jacks are found on the sides. On the rear you’ll find HDMI 1.4 and mini DisplayPort for video, one port each of USB 2 and USB 3 (set too close together), and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. The 14z loses out on the XPS 15z’s combined USB/eSATA port, which was a great, fast option for those with older external hard drives. At least wireless is also well up to scratch, with both Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0 available.
Where the XPS 15z started going downhill a little was with its typing experience, as the feedback from its keyboard was too shallow for ideal comfort. Though key size and layout are virtually identical on this XPS 14z, the feedback has been fixed and is now decent to good, though we might still have wished for a more defined click. However, we certainly wouldn’t exclude the 14z for the serious typist, and this is a welcome improvement. The cherry on the cake is that lovely white backlighting we’re seeing on more and more premium laptops these days.
The large multi-touch trackpad is identical to the 15z’s, meaning it’s sensitive and comfortable with crisp buttons. Somehow, the fact that the pad is larger in relation to the laptop also enhances our subjective experience, and overall the smaller XPS z passes our usability tests with flying colours. Yet another nice touch shared with its sibling is the battery indicator, a little button with five white LEDs on the laptop’s side that can be activated even with the lid closed.
So how about that 14in screen? Alas, it’s no IPS panel and this is no Samsung Series 9 900X3A with its miraculously good TN implementation, so the viewing angle limitations, generally inherent in TN technology, still apply. You’ll have to sit fairly centrally to avoid significant contrast shift, which if nothing else makes watching a movie with a few people a bit of a pain.
The good news is that black levels are decent enough, with only the darkest shade on our greyscale proving too much of a challenge and fairly even backlighting with minimal bleed. The glass layer aids perceived contrast and colour vividness, though it also causes some nasty reflections unless you’re in a darkened environment. Unfortunately, what it all adds up to is still a screen that’s rather average - in contrast to the much stronger example on Dell’s XPS 15z, which also offered that delectable Full HD resolution.
Considering the size of its chassis, the 14z’s audio is a far better proposition. Oddly it doesn’t suffer from as much distortion at maximum volume as its bigger brother, and though it still comes across as harsh with flat bass, that’s easier to forgive on a smaller machine. If you’re not too picky, most entertainment should be fine.