Dell XPS 15 (2017) Review

Verdict

No other laptop right now comes close to offering the all-round experience of the XPS 15. It’s expensive and has a few minor flaws, but it’s absolutely worth the money.

Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Great CPU and GPU performance
  • Good battery life
  • Excellent screen

Cons

  • A little heavy
  • Could do with another ThunderBolt port
  • Noisy fans

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1599
  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • Nvidia GTX 1050
  • 15.6-inch 1920x1080
  • Weight: 2kg
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UPDATE: This is the 2017 model of the Dell XPS 15. If you want the most recent version, please look at the Dell XPS 15 2019 instead


What is the Dell XPS 15?

For the last couple of years, the Dell XPS 15 has been the standard-bearer for Windows 10 laptops. With powerful quad-core processors, dedicated graphics and a sub-£2,000 price, this is the machine that takes it to the top-end 15-inch MacBook Pros.

The latest model, the 9560, is perhaps the best yet. With the latest 7th-Gen Intel Kaby Lake processors, Nvidia’s power-efficient Pascal graphics architecture and that now-famous “InfinityEdge” display, this remains Trusted’s favourite Windows laptop.

Dell XPS 15 – Design and Build

The new XPS 15 9560 is pretty much identical to last year’s in terms of design. But that’s no bad thing and it’s still a great-looking machine, with an aluminium chassis, soft-touch carbon-fibre-composite palm rests and that wafer-thin screen bezel.

The bezel means you get a 15.6-inch screen in a 14-inch body – it even fits in a 13-inch laptop sleeve – so it’s much more portable and easy to use on trains and planes.

Related: Best Laptops 2019

It’s still fairly hefty in terms of weight, tipping the scales at around 2kg if you go for the bigger 97Wh battery (which you should). Despite its svelte form factor, there’s still room for an impressive range of ports including two full-size USB 3.0 ports, a third USB 3.1 Type-C connector with ThunderBolt 3, a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, an SD card reader and a 3.5mm headset jack. You also get a locking port and a proprietary power port.

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The XPS 15 9560 is available with an optional fingerprint reader. It supports Windows Hello, so rather than typing in a password you can use your finger to log in. It’s a neat feature and works consistently and quickly.

There are two minor downsides to the design of the XPS 15. First is the carbon-fibre finish. While it undeniably looks great, it does highlight sweat patches when you have your wrists resting on it. The other is that while the XPS 15 is a quality piece of kit, it lacks the unibody design of the MacBook Pro and therefore feels substantially less solid.

Dell XPS 15 – Keyboard and Touchpad

You get a full-size, backlit, chiclet-style keyboard which offers 1.3mm of travel. The action is responsive and the keys are well-spaced. It lacks the sort of clacky feedback you’d get on a Macbook Pro, so it could come across as a little spongy. For me it’s definitely one of the best Windows laptop keyboards.

The precision trackpad is just as good – the smooth surface feels great under your fingers and I’ve got no complaints about tracking or responsiveness. It’s Microsoft Precision-certified as well, meaning it supports all the multi-finger gestures you can use in Windows 10 as well as having an instant and reliable response.

Dell XPS 15 2

I wrote this review on the XPS 15 and found both the keyboard and trackpad a joy to use. It isn’t as responsive or as completely hooked into the operating system as the touchpads found on the latest MacBook Pros, but it’s about as good as Windows touchpads get.

Dell XPS 15 – Screen

If you’re interested in buying the new XPS 15, the big decision you’ll have to make is whether you go for the Full HD or 4K touch display. The 4K panel is a glossy IGZO IPS touchscreen. On paper it’s a sharper, more vibrant and colour-accurate panel that photo and video editors will prefer.

At the same time, the 4K panel is very glossy and it has a big impact on battery life, dropping stamina from an average of 10 hours to about 6 hours.

The Full HD version (which is also £200 cheaper) is a non-touch matte screen. I must admit it doesn’t look quite as vibrant, but still looks great and is surprisingly colour-accurate. It covers 99% of the sRGB and 77% of the Adobe RGB colour gamut.

It gets bright, too, producing 369 nits according to my measurements, so it’s easy to use outdoors. It’s a personal preference, but for me the Full HD panel is the better option – and if you’re a gamer, it means you won’t need to reduce the resolution to get a smooth, playable frame rate.

Dell XPS 15 4

With all of that said, if you edit photos and videos professionally, the 4K model will be much more suited to your needs. I hope to get my hands on one so I can appraise its colour-accuracy claims.

Dell XPS 15 – Webcam and audio

My two biggest gripes with the XPS 15 are with the webcam and speaker quality. The webcam is still located on the bottom portion of the bezel, which means it’s looking up your nose all the time. If you use the webcam regularly for video conferencing or Skype video calls, you might want to give this one a miss (or buy an external camera). This comes up in every Dell InfinityEdge laptop review, but the firm has still failed to address it, which is frustrating.

The speakers are another area that could use a little love. They’re by no means bad – in fact they’re reasonably good for a laptop and have a small amount of bass and stereo separation – but they pale in comparison with those found on all the MacBook Pros. At this price, it’d be nice to have slightly better speakers.

Dell XPS 15 – Performance

You get the option of either an Intel Core i5-7300HQ or i7-7700HQ – there’s also a Core i3 version available in the US. They’re all the latest quad-core 7th-gen Kaby Lake chips. You also get 8, 16 or 32GB of DDR4 memory running at 2,400MHz and every model (bar the i3 in the States) comes with the new desktop-class Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics card with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.

As for storage, I’d avoid the entry-level model that uses a traditional hard drive and SSD combo (Trusted docked last year’s model half a star for its slow hard disk), and go for any of the other models that have much faster 256GB, 512GB or 1TB PCIe SSDs.

You won’t regret picking an SSD, either: the AS SSD benchmark saw huge read speeds of 2,441MB/s, which is up there with the MacBook Pro. Dell XPS 15 1

Processing performance is, as you’d expect, extremely competitive. It beat the Razer Blade, MacBook Pro and Gigabyte Aero 14 in the GeekBench 4 single- and multi-threaded benchmarks with scores of 4,327 and 13,259 respectively. This isn’t surprising, since all three of those review models were running older-spec i7-6700HQ processors at the time of review. Still, this is an exceptionally capable video- and photo-editing machine.

It can game, too. In Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1080p and with the High settings preset, the new XPS 15 scored an average of 43fps in the built-in benchmark. That’s a solid, playable frame rate from quite a demanding game at 1080p, but I’d still lower a couple of settings to boost the frame rate up to 50 or 60fps.

In Fallout 4, again with High settings at 1080p, the XPS achieved a very impressive 55fps average, maintaining a smooth frame rate even in hectic firefights.

Finally in the GTA 5 benchmark, the XPS 15 averaged 101fps at Full HD and High settings. But looking at benchmarks isn’t any fun, so I loaded up GTA Online and at the same settings, including having FXAA turned on, I was getting a smooth 60-70fps consistently.

While the GTX 1050 in the XPS 15 may not compete with dedicated gaming notebooks sporting the significantly more powerful 6GB GTX 1060 – such as the Razer Blade and Gigabyte Aero 14 – I was still very impressed by the gaming performance on the XPS 15.

Compared to last year’s model sporting a 960M, the GTX 1050 is on average 35% faster in most benchmarks – a decent step up. Combined with the new Kaby Lake chips which are around 10% faster, you’re looking at a decent upgrade, especially if you’re running demanding programs or games.

One issue I do have with the XPS 15, though, is fan noise. For the most part it’s dead silent, even when browsing the web or watching videos, but when you’re playing games the fan starts whirring away and becomes quite loud – to the point where you’ll probably want to plug in a pair of headphones.

The upside of this is that it remains impressively cool – even when I was running benchmarks, the laptop never heated beyond 44 degrees externally. Inside, the CPU maxed out at 70 degrees, which is well within safe limits.

Dell XPS 15 – Battery Life

The new XPS 15 comes with either a 56Wh or 97Wh battery, depending on the spec you go for. On my review model packing the larger battery, a 1-hour Netflix movie at 50% brightness and with the power-saving mode on only dropped the battery by 14%. You can expect to get around 7 hours of video playback on the XPS 15, which is very good.

Dell XPS 15 2

In our very easy Powermark benchmark run, it managed over 11 hours, which is a testament to that large battery.

Naturally if you’re playing games or doing some serious video editing you should have it plugged in to get the best performance. With general use including web browsing, watching YouTube videos and catching up with office work, I found I’d get an impressive 9 hours of life, which is around 2 hours more than I got with last year’s model.

Dell XPS 15 3

Opting for the 4K version will have a big impact on the battery, as the screen is pushing four times as many pixels. Last year’s 4K model I tested ran out of juice after 4-5 hours, so I would expect the higher-end model to last for a solid six hours.

Should I buy the Dell XPS 15?

The Dell XPS 15 is well worth buying, although the spec I’m testing here is what I’d consider the sweet spot for value and performance – you can add the 4K screen for £200 more.

Compared to the Gigabyte Aero 14, which costs £100 more for a beefier specification, the choice is clear if you want a gaming machine. However, if you want a brilliant all-rounder, with great build quality, long battery life and variety of configuration options, the Dell XPS 15 is the Windows laptop for you.

It’s barely in the same class as the 15-inch MacBook Pro any more. Apple has gone its own way in terms of specifications and price, but for most people the Dell XPS 15 is better value. Only the pleasures of MacOS might tempt me away.

Verdict

No other laptop right now comes close to offering the all-round experience of the XPS 15. It’s expensive and has a few minor flaws, but it’s absolutely worth the money.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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