Review Price £648.99
Dell XPS 15 - Connectivity, Usability and AV
Just like design, the XPS 15's connectivity is very similar to that of its bigger sibling, and that's a good thing. Along the left you'll find a single USB 3.0 port, the front houses a discrete memory card reader (SD/HC/XC, MS Pro/Duo and MMC) while the right gives you dual headphone jacks (one of which offers digital audio out) and a microphone jack. These are joined by a combined USB 2.0/eSATA2 port.
The majority of connections, however, are found around the back, including a second USB 3.0 port, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort video outputs, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. This pretty much covers every base we can think of, and while it's not always convenient to have so many ports at the back, it helps the machine maintain a clean look even with lots of peripherals plugged in.
A glossy, lacquered strip above the keyboard not only contains the laptop's physical power button, but white-backlit status indicators and three touch-sensitive buttons. The first brings up Windows Mobility Center with Dell customisations; the next is a very welcome, fully customisable Instant Launch button; while the last gives access to the XPS 15's audio settings and Waves MaxxAudio processing.
Despite its nice layout and well-spaced keys, we're not as taken with the keyboard as we were with that of the XPS 17. Though it's still perfectly usable, the main reasons for this are noticeable flex and even shallower key feedback that gives a slightly spongy feel. Also, though we like having a dedicated key to deactivate the touchpad, we wish it was located nearer the pad itself. In fact, HP has come up with the ideal solution for this issue, as found on its HP tm2 – though at least on the Dell you should not need it often, as the pad almost never interferes with typing.
Thankfully, the touchpad itself is an unallayed pleasure to use. It is large and sensitive, supports multi-touch, and has a smooth surface. Individual buttons below it offer just the right amount of travel and response, and are a pleasure to use.
Unfortunately, our XPS 15 review sample doesn't come with the aforementioned Full HD, RGB-LED backlit display, so we'll have to see what the default 15.5in, 1,366 x 768 resolution panel is capable of. Though its bezel is matt, the screen features that glossy finish we love to hate, admittedly lending a little perceived extra punch to colours and contrast. It held up well in our greyscale test, and distinguishing detail in dark video and images shouldn't be a problem.
Viewing angles are superior to those of the XPS 17's screen, with only minor contrast shift horizontally. Of course, as usual vertical ones are poor, so be sure to angle the display correctly. Some slight colour banding occurs but it's unlikely to be an issue in real-world use and finally, backlighting is fairly even with no obvious light bleed. Overall it holds up reasonably well, though if you want colour accuracy or more real estate and can afford it, we would heartily recommend going for the RGB-LED option.
As if to balance out its better screen, the XPS 15's JBL-branded speakers aren't as good as those on Dell's XPS 17. They do offer more power than you might expect for a laptop this size, with plenty of punch and depth, but their performance is marred by a lack of clarity, occasional harshness at the high end and mild distortion at the low, even when not at maximum volume. It's very far from bad, but discerning listeners will still want a good pair of headphones or speakers.
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