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Dell XPS 15z - Usability, Screen and Speakers

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Usability is the first area where the XPS 15z hits a minor road-bump. Its chiclet keyboard is one of the few parts of the laptop that's not metal, though the keys have been painted an attractive silver shade to match the anodised aluminium shell. We're glad Dell hasn't included extra buttons other than the white-backlit power button, and this you'll find all the shortcuts on the top layer of keys, including one for ejecting a disc from the optical drive.

Dell XPS 15z 8

However, despite a good layout, keys feel just a little too small, especially the ones on the far right. This makes it easy to hit the wrong one when, for example, typing an apostrophe. More pressingly, though each key offers a positive click, they're just a tad too shallow for ideal comfort. Once you're used to it, working up a fast typing speed shouldn't be too much of a challenge, but it's just that slim models like the Lenovo X1 have shown us how good laptop keyboards can be.

Thankfully we have no complaints of the touchpad. It's large, smooth and sensitive, clearly defined and doesn't interfere with typing. Admittedly it's not quite on a level with the frosted glass offering on the Samsung Series 9, but it's comfortable and works well. The pad's individual buttons are likewise a pleasure to use, offering a crisp, easy click.

Dell XPS 15z

Moving onto the 15.4in screen, the XPS 15z is available in three different configurations, the cheapest of which offers a 1,366 x 768 panel, while the other two bump the resolution up to a whopping 1,920 x 1,080 (also known as Full HD). This is the highest resolution that can generally be found on laptops this size, and it's great to work with, but it does add £100 to the price.

Our sample came with the Full HD display so we can't comment on the quality of the lesser option, but we can tell you the one we have is nearly as impressive as the chassis it's nestled in. While viewing angles don't match up to the IPS screen on the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 or the unusually superb TN in the Samsung Series 9, they're the next best thing. Horizontally they're almost flawless, while vertically they only become unwatchable from below.

Dell XPS 15z 6

Contrast is decent though not perfect, with the screen unable to distinguish the two darkest or lightest shades of the greyscale. However, this is compensated for by deep blacks, even backlighting and not a hint of light bleed. Furthermore there is little sign of unwanted artefacts such as dithering or banding. Sharpness is also excellent, helped by the fine dot pitch that cramming a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution into a panel this size gives you.

On the audio front, meanwhile, we're a little disappointed. The XPS 15z's speakers face upwards through the generous grills to either side of the keyboard and give reasonably roomy sound at a decent level of volume, but mild distortion and an overly harsh delivery that's lacking in bass mean you're better served using external solutions.

CptKirk

June 11, 2011, 6:06 am

I stopped reading after checking how thick the 15.4in MacBook Pro is. Turns out it is 2.41 cm --> 24.1mm which is thinner than this 'thinnest 15.4in laptop in the world' at 24.6mm.

Sort it out.

aeonturnip

June 12, 2011, 10:20 pm

@CptKirk
In fairness, Dell used to advertise this as the thinnest 15.4" laptop, but they've now changed their marketing to say "one of the thinnest". I suspect Ardjuna was going on the original press release.

Gk.pm

June 13, 2011, 3:48 pm

That's fine CptKirk, today's journalists can't really find out any facts. Not even on a site calling itself Trusted.

The FCC as even just given this phenomenon a name, it's the "hamsterization" of media. So - as long as they don't tar their advertisers - it's all perfectly fine.

http://arstechnica.com/web/news/2011/06/has-the-internet-hamsterized-journalism.ars

TechVegan

June 13, 2011, 9:19 pm

@CptKirk:
Well-spotted and sorry about the error, but that was really reason enough to stop reading?

@aeonturnip:
I wasn't going bythe press release, actually, I confirmed this info with Dell representatives at the show, where I was still told it was "the thinnest of its size in the world". I have requested more information regarding this apparent error...

@Gk.pm:
Yes, thanks, Gk.pm. I should of course have spent hours checking the dimensions of every single other 15.4in laptop out there rather than trust what I took to be confirmed facts and attempt to bring you this preview as soon as possible.

As for your equally helpful comment of not tarring advertisers, we would not have pointed out the sub-par keyboard were that the case.

TechVegan

June 13, 2011, 9:54 pm

@All:
I've just confirmed with a Dell official what led to this misunderstanding. The XPS 15z is posited as "the thinnest *PC* laptop in the world" (a distinction that wasn't mentioned by the reps I spoke to at the event).

While technically Macs should be considered Personal Computers (PCs) too, in general usage people tend to use "PC vs. Mac" to differentiate between Apple machines and those from other manufacturers, so in that regard Dell could be said to be correct. In summary then, it's the "thinnest Windows PC 15.4in laptop" you can get.

I've amended the article to reflect this, and do apologise for the initial faulty info.

Gk.pm

June 14, 2011, 2:24 am

@Ardjuna

Sorry but it's not that hard, there's not that many companies making thin laptops, maybe 3 at most, and you could start with the one this tries to emulate. It would have taken you 5 minutes to confirm such bold claim - which seems to be a major selling point in the article.

By the way the error is still there in several places:

"TrustedReviews says...
The thinnest 15.4in laptop in the world is a real looker, housed in a beautiful aluminium unibody exterior and magnesium alloy keyboard surround. "

So the article has not been amended. I guess the easiest solution would be to just change the intro to "TrustedPressReleases says..." ?

Sorry if I seem to pick especially on you, it's just that the whole media seems to get worse and worse by the day. "Facts" these days seem to come direct from companies' PR, if not random tweets by fly-by-night "insiders".

I do make sure to write to everyone I come across, in what may be a deluded attempt to fix what I perceive as a problem.

TechVegan

June 14, 2011, 2:18 pm

@Gk.pm:
There are more than you would think. Still, if this had been a full review rather than a hands-on preview I would have checked what the exact thickness difference with any potential or actual rivals was.

No, the article was fully amended (including 'TrustedReviews says') before I made my comment, but unfortunately there's a cache which only gets refreshed at set periods (which can be up to several hours). As to "TrustedPressReleases" - it's a hands-on review, I didn't even have the press release to hand when writing it up...

I do understand what you mean, and I do always attempt to check my facts even when not writing a full review (as with the http://www.trustedreviews.com/lenovo-thinkpad-x1_Laptop_review X1 preview where Lenovo underplayed the fact that it tapered to quite a thick rear). But while we appreciate critical feedback, there is no need to do it in quite so disparaging a manner.

Thanks for reading and commenting all the same.

Gk.pm

June 14, 2011, 8:16 pm

@Arjuna Thanks for replying Arjuna and clearing up the cache delay issue.

I'm very glad to know you do look more closely into your main articles.

Apologies for the disparaging-ness of my comments, it's just that TR has been regularly afflicted by mistakes in past reviews (often worse than this thickness issue) so my tolerance level for TR as a whole was already a bit low.

Truth be told I don't remember noticing any other problems in your articles, so should have taken that into account.

TechVegan

June 15, 2011, 4:39 pm

@Gk.pm:
No worries, thanks for your reply to my reply :)
I do understand your frustration with cases of mindless press-release rehash, as it's something I personally abhor too (at least when it's disguised as a preview).

I appreciate your comment, and I'm glad to hear you haven't encountered inaccuracies in my other articles/reviews. I'll endeavour to make this a once-off.

Nav Garayal

July 1, 2011, 3:11 pm

Dear TR, I am really confused by the consistency of your reviews. Several references are made to the Macbook Pro 15 during your review. I have checked the Macbook Pro review and you gave the machine 8 for value even though the price as reviewed was nearing £1900. The Dell machine is given a lower value score even though it is £700 cheaper. You also criticise the Dell machine for not having a bluray drive but you do not criticise the Macbook.

TechVegan

July 1, 2011, 4:00 pm

Nav Garayal:
Thanks for the feedback, and I agree with your points - as I mention in the final paragraphs of my review, the XPS 15z is far better value than the MacBook Pro. In fact, to further emphasize this point, its value score is brought up to an eight.

However, regarding the scoring difference, when it came out the MacBook Pro had no real rivals, hence why it scored so highly. That would obviously be different now.

If it hadn't been for its average keyboard and noisiness under load, the XPS 15z would definitely have won a recommended award. These, along with battery life, are still aspects where Apple's product is superior.

ThaDon

July 2, 2011, 12:35 am

AND the small but DEAL-BREAKING matter of Apple's 15" Macbook Pros having QUAD-CORE i7s where the Dell tops out with last generation DUAL-CORE i7s..

tut tut tut lol - this computer is not quite yet in the same league as the mac methinks...

ThaDon

July 2, 2011, 12:38 am

and what about the Mac's Quad-core i7 vs the Dell's Dual?

Castalan

July 2, 2011, 11:28 am

It makes me smile every time ... TR does a piece comparing something to a Mac, and the whole world jumps down their throat...

A new twist to this one though is TR rated it less highly .... and still they get a kicking

Guys - it's just a laptop....

Ardjuna - for what it's worth I liked the review and thought it was a nicely presented case, well written detailing both the good and the bad of the machine

MikeJK

July 2, 2011, 2:00 pm

Whilst i agree that sometimes these reviews can be misleading/inaccurate etc, and not just this site, you have to remember that you pay nothing for this!
If you bought this review as a subscription then fair enough complain, otherwise stop nit-picking.

Den

July 2, 2011, 8:49 pm

@ TheDon

You may want to check your facts. The Dell comes with the latest generations of Intel CPU's (Unless Apple filters your internet content for you).

Here are the CPU's available:

2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i5-2410M 2.3GHz, 4Threads, 3MB cache)

2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i5-2410M 2.3GHz, 4Threads, 3MB cache)

2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-2620M 2.7GHz, 4Threads, 4MB cache)

aeonturnip

July 3, 2011, 10:23 pm

@Den

You might want to check YOUR facts before correcting someone else's. It does come with the latest generation of Intel CPU (which TheDon didn't question...) but the CPUs are indeed only dual core - remember that each core can support two threads via Hyperthreading. The quad core i7 in the MacBook Pro can consequently support 8 threads.

Pbryanw

July 3, 2011, 11:49 pm

I think the disparity in scores can be explained by the different authors too, and ultimately parts of a review are down to personal opinion. I see the last Macbook Pro review was done by Hugo (who no longer writes for this site it seems). I think if Ardjuna had reviewed it, it might have scored differently (even considering its lack of rivals when released).

Anyway I'm not quibbling, as I find Ardjuna's reviews to be consistently interesting to read and accurate (and some of the best on this site).

TechVegan

July 4, 2011, 2:37 pm

@ThaDon:
Hardly DEAL-BREAKING. A valid point, but for most people and most tasks, a dual-core Core i7 is more than sufficient. And just look at the price difference!

@Castalan:
Thanks, glad you liked the review!

@Pbryanw:
Wow, thanks for your kind comment - made my day :)
I'll do my best to continue bringing our readers detailed and balanced reviews.

Keithe6e

July 4, 2011, 9:59 pm

Oops, the classic mistake.. A Thread is NOT a CORE.

Keithe6e

July 8, 2011, 3:06 pm

>> but for most people and most tasks

For most people even an Atom CPU does the job. But when going the high end CPU's, the difference between a Quad & a Dual is highly relevant.

ChickPea

July 8, 2011, 10:14 pm

I had a previous version of the XPS - and this one has the same problem: with all the acres of space around the keyboard, why do Dell not fit a full 104-key unit, with numeric pad? For about 500 quid less than this, I have an HP with a full keyboard, 17" screen, core i7, 8GB RAM, 640GB drive, blu-ray, and Win7 Ultimate. It's not quite as pretty, but it's a far better spec machine. The Dell wins only on screen res and nice mag finish.

ChickPea

July 8, 2011, 10:17 pm

@aeonturnip:

My core i7 machine shows 8 threads in task manager; it's a quad-core 64-bit. And no, it's not a macBook, it's an HP Pavilion.

ChickPea

July 8, 2011, 10:18 pm

@Ardjuna:

I reckon it's not the thinnest PC laptop. My Nokia 3G is thinner.

BlankMcFrank

August 24, 2011, 8:52 am

As as pround owner of both the 15z and the Macbook, I'll give you the quick and dirty synopsis.. If this makes any difference, I work in Marketing for a large IT services company, and I am more than technical.

As nice as ithe 15z is (if you're going to obviously compare to a Mac) it doesn't come close. The screen is nice and feels like it's the most expensive item of the product. When you're typing on the keyboard it feels like you're going to put your fingers through the machine - it feels cheap compared to the sturdiness of the Mac.

It DOES NOT run Win7 like the Mac runs OSX (I nuked mine, put on Ultimate 64, and started from fresh a fresh install.

Mac wins hands down, on design, build and (of course) should do for the extra expense...

That's all it comes down to. How much do you want to invest..

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