Sleek and well built, the XPS 15 is Dell’s answer to the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Top-end processing power and dedicated graphics come together to produce what could be the ultimate Windows 10 laptop.
It's up against some stiff competition from across the market, however, including high-profile devices such as the Microsoft Surface Book, more mundane but powerful laptops such as the Asus N552VW, and Dell’s own Inspiron line. This laptop has some serious work to do to justify its high price.
The model on review is the cheapest version you can buy. It includes a mechanical hard disk instead of an SSD, and is equipped with only an Intel Core i5 processor instead of the Core i7 chips found on higher-end models.
Update: October 11th 2016
Since my original review of the Dell XPS 15, Apple has finally launched its new line-up of 15-inch MacBook Pro machines. Dell hasn't yet refreshed its own line of XPS 15s, so the two compete on fairly even ground when it comes to performance.
The MacBook Pro is substantially more expensive, but comes with a blazing-fast SSD, high-quality display and the new Touch Bar for easily accessible, additional functions. You can read more about how the two device stack up in our Dell XPS 15 versus MacBook Pro 15 piece.
Video: Watch our Dell XPS 15 video review
Dell's XPS machines are renowned for their superb design, and the XPS 15 doesn't disappoint. The aluminium lid looks as good as ever, but it’s the carbon-fibre-composite wristrest that really catches the eye.
Not only does it look fantastic, it’s comfortable to lean on too. There are no sharp corners and the slightly soft-touch coating puts some distance between you and the textured material below.
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It was in the 2014 and 2015 XPS 13 laptops that we first saw the impressive, carbon-fibre-effect wristrest, and while it makes the move to the larger model successfully, I wish that the finish had been extended to the rest of machine. Note that the material does have a tendency to pick up greasy marks, which is a slight disappointment, but a quick wipe with a sleeve/cloth is enough to clear them up.
Despite its 15.6-inch form factor, this particular model of the Dell XPS 15 weighs just 1.78kg. Higher-end laptops in the range, with a larger battery and a touchscreen, weigh closer to 2kg, so if portability is a priority then it pays to spend a little less.
This light weight can also be attributed to this laptop’s incredibly thin bezels. While a regular laptop may feature a bezel that's around 2cm in width, the Dell InfinityEdge display's top, left and right bezels are only 5mm – which does plenty for the laptop’s overall footprint. However, you do miss out on an integrated number pad as a result of the smaller overall size, which might be a deal-breaker for some buyers.
At only 17mm thick when closed, too, the Dell XPS 15 will easily slide into any reasonably sized backpack. I rode it to and from work in my backpack on my bike and never felt like it was weighing me down.
Dell has included a generous array of ports. There are two USB 3 connectors, a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combination jack, an SD card reader and a full-sized HDMI port.
The XPS 15 also includes a Thunderbolt 3.0 port, which will be enticing to those who intend to use the XPS as their main machine for high-end workloads, hooking up high-resolution external monitors, a dock or high-performance storage.
Thunderbolt 3.0 has a maximum throughput of 40Gbps, as well as the ability to provide power to external devices. It’s fully compatible with USB-C, so in effect you have two ports in one. This port alone opens up a whole world of possibilities, and is a great reason to choose the XPS 15 over some of Dell’s cheaper alternatives. One complaint that's worth mentioning is the lack of an Ethernet port. Not only that, Dell doesn't supply a USB to Ethernet adapter in the box, so you'll have to buy one yourself.
A button on the right edge of the laptop, when pressed, activates a set of five lights that display how much of your battery is remaining, even when the laptop is switched off. How Dell came to the decision that it was worth giving up an extra USB port for this feature I'm not sure, but I'm convinced that it isn't a particularly useful addition. Pretty lights, though.
The keyboard is, for the most part, excellent. It’s backlit, and the keypress action is firm yet it remains easy to build up to a fast typing speed. If I were to nit-pick then I’d say the keys aren’t quite as grippy as those on equivalent MacBooks, and the range of travel ends rather more suddenly than I’d like, but otherwise the typing experience is superb.
There’s an FN-lock button, enabling you to lock the top row of F keys to correspond to their labelled functions – including volume controls, media buttons and brightness options – without having to hold down the FN button. I use the F keys far less frequently than I do their Fn alternatives, so this is a small-yet-handy addition.
The touchpad is similarly good. Not only does it feature reliable palm rejection technology, it also supports the multi-fingered gestures that come with Windows 10. Since it’s a Microsoft-certified Precision Touchpad, it works particularly well with Windows 10; the cursor responded instantly to every swipe and tap I threw at it. I never once felt the need to reach for my Logitech MX Master, which says plenty about the quality of the touchpad.
The Dell XPs 15's built-in speakers are some of the best I’ve heard on a laptop. Not only are they loud, they’re also exceptionally clear, with no hint of distortion even at maximum volume. As a result, I could use the XPS 15 to catch up on TV in the kitchen, able to hear everything that was going on despite the noise of the stove, extractor fan and kettle running all at once.
Speech is well handled and music displays plenty of depth, with a small amount of bass audible. The speakers sound as if they're positioned behind the keyboard, with sound seemingly blasting out from the entire wristrest. However, it's actually coming from small grilles that can be found along the front edge of the machine.
As a result, the quality of the sound changes somewhat if you're typing, becoming slightly muffled. This means if you like to listen to music while you're working, your experience won’t be quite as good as if, for example, you’re sitting back watching Netflix with your hands off the keyboard.
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I was supplied with one of Dell's Full HD, non-touch models of the XPS 15, whose matte screen is nice and bright. While I occasionally miss prodding the screen to scroll down web pages, I'm thankful for not having to deal with a glossy but smudgy and reflective touchscreen.
While I was slightly underwhelmed by the screen’s 89% sRGB colour coverage, this was made up for by an excellent maximum brightness level of 380 nits and super-low black levels of 0.22 nits. Fantastic contrast levels of 1,727:1 equate to images packed with detail, high-contrast scenes and photos looking great in general.
There are some downsides, however. Motion blur is at the upper end of what I’d consider acceptable, with games in particular suffering from a large amount of blur when making sweeping camera movements. This limits the machine’s gaming potential, at least with the included screen. An external monitor would be essential for quick, twitchy games.