Dell XPS 15 review: A pro laptop that throws down the gauntlet for Apple – ZDNet
Dell recently redesigned its popular XPS 13 laptop, which it claimed was “the smallest 13.3-inch laptop on the planet”. Not content with that, Dell has followed up with a new version of the larger XPS 15, which is also, apparently, the world’s smallest laptop in its size class.
The XPS 15 doesn’t simply offer a larger 15.6-inch screen. As well as enhanced 4K resolution and touch-screen controls, it includes a quad-core Core i7 processor and a discrete Nvidia GPU. All of this will appeal to business and creative users who need a more powerful laptop for tasks such as high-definition photo- or video-editing.
At first glance, the XPS 15 looks very similar to its 13-inch stablemate. It has the same edge-to-edge glass panel for the display, with only a very narrow black border running around the edges of the screen. There’s a similar matte-black finish for the keyboard panel, and the XPS 15 measures just 17mm thick compared to 15mm for the XPS 13, which is pretty good going for a 15-inch laptop.
The build quality is impeccable too, with a firm, comfortable keyboard and a large trackpad, while the thin screen panel — just 5mm thick — still feels firm enough to provide plenty of support when you’re carrying the laptop around with you.
Inevitably, though, the XPS 15 is quite a bit heavier than its smaller sibling — Dell quotes 2.0kg for our touchscreen review unit, but our scales insisted on 2.1kg. You can’t balance the XPS 15 in one hand, as you can with many 13-inch laptops, and you’ll certainly notice the weight when you carry it around in your bag. Even so, the XPS 15 is slimmer and lighter than most 15-inch laptops — especially high-end models with such a powerful specification. Equally inevitable are the comparisons with Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has a similar price, weight and size. But, as we discovered, the XPS 15 manages to outgun its Apple rival in a number of respects.
The most obvious feature of the XPS 15 is, of course, its 4K Ultra HD display. This has a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels or 282 pixels per inch (ppi), which leaves the 2,880-by-1,800 (220ppi) of the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina Display now looking relatively modest. The image quality is superb — in fact, it’s so bright and colourful that we were able to turn the brightness level down to about 30 percent when watching streaming video on BBC iPlayer without any real loss of visibility.
The IGZO IPS screen’s viewing angles are terrific too, with the image remaining clearly visible even when you turn the screen right away from you, so the XPS 15 will be ideal if you need to give an impromptu presentation when you’re out visiting clients. The display is touch-sensitive too, although that still doesn’t strike us as essential in a laptop display.
We were also glad to see that Windows 10 has finally got to grips with the scaling problems that affected ‘high-dpi’ displays such as this in the past. This means that interface elements within apps, such as tool icons and menus, now scale up in size to improve visibility when you’re running the display at its full 4K resolution. The only glitch we encountered here was when running BBC iPlayer in full-screen mode, which reduced the playback controls to an almost unusable size. But, thankfully, scaling problems like that now seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
The power-efficiency of Intel’s 6th-generation (Skylake) processors is illustrated by the fact that the slimline XPS 15 still manages to house a quad-core Core i7-6700HQ processor running at 2.6GHz (3.5GHz with TurboBoost), along with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB of dedicated VRAM. Our review unit also included 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive for a total price of £1,599 (inc. VAT, or £1,332.50 ex. VAT).
Processor performance is good, although the XPS 15’s GeekBench 3 multi-core score of 13,362 is only fractionally ahead of the ageing 4th-generation Haswell processor in the mid-2015 15-inch MacBook Pro (which scored 13,281). However, the £1,599 version of the MacBook Pro uses Intel’s integrated Iris Pro GPU, which can only manage a score of 31fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test. In contrast, the XPS 15’s GeForce GTX 960M cruises ahead with a Cinebench score of 83fps, which is more than enough to cope with demanding applications such as high-definition video-editing and even a spot of CAD.
The XPS 15 also has twice as much solid-state storage as the MacBook Pro, so there’s little doubt which laptop provides the best value for money. Dell even sneaks in a Thunderbolt 3 port, while Apple — which, of course, designed Thunderbolt in the first place — is still using Thunderbolt 2 on the Mac range.
The one area where the MacBook Pro did manage to come out on top was battery life. When using its integrated graphics option, the XPS 15 managed 5.5 hours of streaming video, compared to 7.5 hours for the MacBook Pro. But, to be fair, that was probably inevitable given the amount of power required to drive the XPs 15’s pixel-packed 4K display.
If you don’t need the 4K display then you can save a bit of money by opting for the entry-level version of the XPS 15, which has a more conventional HD 1,920-by-1,080 display. That model costs £1,149 (inc. VAT, £957.50 ex. VAT) with the same Core i7 processor and Nvidia GPU, but only 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid-state storage. You can also upgrade the 4K model to 32GB of memory and 1TB of solid-state storage for £1,899 (inc. VAT. £1,582.50 ex. VAT). There aren’t many other build-to-order options, though, so users looking for even more powerful CPU or GPU options will need to consider Dell’s Precision range of mobile workstations instead.
The 4K display and quad-core Core i7 performance of the XPS 15 will be overkill for business users who simply want to run standard productivity apps such as Microsoft Office. However, the XPS 15 will certainly appeal to creative users who need to work with high-definition photos and videos. It’s good value for money too, and with its slimline design and elegant edge-to-edge display the XPS 15 shows that Dell is capable of taking on Apple at its own game.