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Dell XPS 15 review

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Stunning design and build quality
  • Great processing performance
  • Impressive speakers and screen

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Middling battery life
  • Slow hard disk on this model

Key Features

  • Quad-core, 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M
  • 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 matte screen
  • 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x Thunderbolt 3.0 & USB-C combo, 3.5mm headset jack, HDMI out
  • SD card reader
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Manufacturer: Dell
  • Review Price: £1,049.00

What is the Dell XPS 15?

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.

Video: Watch our Dell XPS 15 video review

Dell XPS 15 – Design and Build

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.

Related: Best Laptops to buy in 2016

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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 XPS 15 13

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. Dell XPS 15 15

Dell XPS 15 – Keyboard and Touchpad

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.

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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.

Dell XPS 15 – Audio

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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Dell XPS 15 – Screen

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.

dpanch_89

February 17, 2014, 4:04 pm

no numpad, no buy.

fast_call

February 17, 2014, 9:24 pm

"The GT 750M is also used in one of Apple’s cheaper MacBook Pro configurations" -- surely you mean "one of the more expensive configurations" ? The Iris 5200 is the entry level...

fast_call

February 17, 2014, 9:25 pm

are you an accountant or why do you need the numpad so badly? :) there's nothing wrong with being an accountant but then maybe this is not the laptop for you to begin with...

fast_call

February 17, 2014, 9:29 pm

shame about the battery life, but all in all, a great laptop, and finally something from Dell that I want.
I would have loved to see more about how the various Windows apps scale on that gorgeous screen. From what I read some of them play nice, respecting the DPI settings you set in Windows, while others look impossibly small, borderline unusable

dpanch_89

February 17, 2014, 10:00 pm

Engineer. I do lots of CAD, finite element analysis and coding. (requires decent graphics and processing power). A numpad is a huge bonus when you have rows of numbers to type in. (and yes I know you can buy a USB numpad, but I prefer one on the keyboard to begin with.)

fast_call

February 17, 2014, 10:32 pm

Okay that makes sense. I'm an engineer myself (software engineer) but I do mostly Java/Scala coding which doesn't really require a numpad. In fact for me NOT having a numpad is better because the main part of the keyboard is centered with respect to the laptop itself which makes typing more... natural.

One last thing, if you do CAD you would probably be better served by the Precision M3800 (because of the Quadro graphics card), though that model doesn't come with a numpad as far as I know

Ithyn

February 18, 2014, 1:46 pm

Any hint for a Windows alternative for those "hard-nosed creatives who demand better gamut coverage and colour quality for precision colour work" ?

andyvan

February 18, 2014, 1:51 pm

Can't guarantee it, but what do you actually need? Are we talking 100% Adobe RGB?

Ithyn

February 18, 2014, 2:24 pm

Lightweight laptop with good processing power, SSD storage, dedicated GPU and a display good enough to do photo post-processing work without having to go through it again on my workstation. 93% sRGB coverage just isn't good enough. I don't think there is such a thing as a laptop with 100% AdobeRGB coverage, but what I'm looking for seems just as rare.

andyvan

February 18, 2014, 3:01 pm

Your right on most counts. 93% sRGB is very good for a laptop, but as you say not good enough for many uses.

Brian O'Neill

February 18, 2014, 4:21 pm

I have a dell xps 12. Generally dell have improved a lot in recent years. The HD screen is weird, I have perfect eyesight but even I needed to set app scaling to the maximum to make it usable. Most apps do obey the windows scaling, the only issue I have so far is with viber desktop.

Taj Nahal

April 4, 2014, 4:11 pm

I actually recently bought the XPS 15, and I just wanted people to know that there is a high-pitched hissing/scratching sound that comes up from the processor chip. This has actually been shown to be on all the XPS 15 and Dell has basically refused to acknowledge this problem. For a more detailed account, please feel free to refer to this forum on the Dell website:

http://en.community.dell.com/s...

Jim Dawkins

May 27, 2014, 7:44 am

Unless you play games Id rather get a good latitiude without the heat issues.

Lidingo1

March 25, 2016, 11:48 am

4G?

John

March 26, 2016, 6:50 am

Amazing laptop but really spoiled by the motion blur issue. Even if you're watching a football match and the camera pans suddenly, you get a loss of focus and blurring. Dell need to source a better panel pretty quickly otherwise they're going to ruin sales/reputation of what would otherwise be the best laptop out there.

Marcus Philpott

April 27, 2016, 4:25 pm

Never ever buy a dell. Their customer service is non existent, and their tech service is awful. Today is exactly 4 months since my XPS13 broke. Dell have done nothing about it. Truly unbelievably bad customer service and non existant technical service. Dell, you make me sick!!! Try googling 'never buy dell'. They are widely hated!

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