With Macbooks giving them a run for their money, and options such as Chromebooks becoming rather practical and useful as a cheaper option, it is a tough time for PCs. While Windows PCs have been default devices for the masses for ages, their sales have been hit badly over the last few years. PC manufacturers and Microsoft have been trying everything. They have made Windows more mobile, more touch friendly, and more tablet friendly. PC manufacturers have dropped prices and released cheaper tablet and 2-in-1 options. However, a lot of the times, it is best to stick to what one knows best, and the Dell XPS 15 is one prime example of this philosophy. Featuring some of the best hardware available, in one of the lightest packages available, and giving you one of the best screens you will lay your eyes, this laptop/ultrabook is pretty much one of the best machines we have ever tried. While we will delve into the numbers, as we have to, but trust me when I say that this laptop is not about the numbers. This is all about the experience.
Starting at £1099 (with an i5 Processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB + 32 GB SSD Hard drive), our review model was the higher end version at £1649, which comes with an i7 Processor, 16GB RAM, 512 GB SSD and 4K UHD Touch Screen.
A quick look at the specifications of our review model:
- 6th generation Intel Core i7 Processor (Quad Core, up to 3.5GHz)
- Windows 10 Home
- 16GB Memory
- 512GB SSD Hard drive
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5
- 15.6″ 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) Infinity Edge Touch Display
- CNC Machined Aluminium Edge-to-Edge Corning Gorilla Glass on the display
- Carbon Fiber composite palm rest with soft touch paint
- Up to 17 hours of battery life
- 1 x HDMI
- 2 x USB 3
- 1 x USB C / Thunderbolt
- 2 x SoDIMMS
- SD Card Reader
- Kensington Lock Slot
- Camera: Widescreen HD (720p) webcam with Dual Array Digital Microphones
- Full size keyboard, backlit, 1.3mm travel
- Precision touchpad, seamless glass integrated button
- Height: 11-17mm, Width: 357mm, Depth: 235mm, Weight: 1.78kg to 2kg (for touch screen/84Whr)
Look and Feel
The first thing you will notice as you pop this one out of its box is how thin and light it is. From there you go to build, and notice how it is made and covered with precision cut Aluminium for a sturdy and durable chassis. While we can’t vouch for the durability, it is definitely a beautiful device to hold and see.
With the lid closed, you have the Dell logo on the top and vents and speakers at the bottom. The speakers of course face you when the laptop is sitting on a table. A small tab which says XPS can be lifted to show the rating plate which has various bits of information on it, such as service tags and the usual markings. Annoyingly, if you do want to remove the battery for any reason, you will need to open the back up. Dell have stuck with this new approach to batteries for a while now, so this is nothing new.
On the right side, you have the Kensington Lock Slot, a button and LED combo that lets you see how much juice the battery has, and a USB port along with the SD card port.
The left side has the charger port, the HDMI port, the USB 3, the USB C and the headset port.
As you open it, you will notice the carbon fiber and soft touch paint all along the keyboard and touch pad area. The keyboard is back lit, with normal size and keys offering good movement. The power button sits on the top right corner, and a white LED sits in it to tell you when the device is on.
You will also notice the almost edge to edge display. One thing that Dell have done which is a bit different to the norm is putting the webcam at the bottom of the screen instead of the top. This gives you some interesting results due to the new angle, and we explore that a bit later in this post.
You have the Power LED, as well as the front of the laptop has a ‘charging LED’ which goes off when the device is fully charged. You do not have a hard drive is active LED though, which is also fairly normal these days.
The charger itself is fairly standard, and a white LED on the charging pin indicates whether the device is plugged into the mains or not. This is a helpful feature when it comes to finding this in the dark.
It may look the part, but the real magic starts when you hit the power button. General booting time is consistently less than 10 seconds, and mostly it is pretty much a couple of blinks. The processor, the graphics card, the SSD and the RAM all work together to give you the best possible performance yet. I have seen the same hardware in other devices too, but somehow it just works so much better in this laptop. Well done to Dell on obviously tuning and tweaking it to make it work so.
I threw everything at this, from my daily routine of having quite a few browser windows open, a few Word documents, and a few Powerpoint slides, and it didn’t flinch. Threw in a bit of video and photo editing, and it handled that fairly well too. That is when the fans kick in and it starts to work ever so harder, but it still keeps chugging.
This is simply the best laptop I have tried so far when it comes to performance. We do have the best laptop in the series at our hands, but by the same standards and the specs, the cheaper offerings should still give you a pretty decent output.
The aluminium body also means that it stays fairly cool, which means it is great to work on when it comes to sitting on your lap, such as during commutes and in places that do not let you have a proper table. There is also no heat noticed around the keyboard and touchpad area, which is rather useful.
In fact, some of this review has been worked on a bus, and I am happy to report it is a great device for commuting.
Our model came with the 4K UHD display, which is an absolute pleasure. In fact, this is the display you need if you are looking forward to all the 4K content that we will soon be seeing. The colours are bright and sharp, it is visible in all kinds of lights, both outdoors and indoors, and the edge to edge display means you get the most screen out of the smallest possible size.
Having Corning Glass added to the touch screen also means that you don’t need to worry about using it as a touch screen. Speaking of the touch screen, it is a handy feature for myself, though I don’t really use it that much during work. It does become more useful when you are using it to watch films and stuff, but that may come more from muscle memory and using loads of tablets than just productivity.
Okay, at 2kg, this isn’t exactly the lightest laptop on the market, but definitely one of the lightest when it comes to the specs it offers. It is thin, which means it easily fits in your bag, and the battery life of up to 17 hours means you hardly need to carry the charger with you.
The laptop hinge is sturdy, which means it sticks to whichever position you leave it in. This becomes quite a critical feature if you are using this while commuting or in awkward places such as busy coffee shops.
It also sits rather pretty on your lap, and hardly gets hot, meaning it is a great device to have with you while out and about.
In fact combine this with the power it offers means this is the only device you need while you are at home, at work, or travelling.
Okay, this is a funny one. The camera on this is actually at the bottom of the screen, instead of being on the top. This means that the photos are taken at a funny angle, and by that I mean it almost looks up at you rather than looks at you face on. Here are a few images we took:
Me working on the laptop while in a bus. Laptop on my lap. Looking at the screen.
Me in the same position as above, but looking at the camera.
Laptop at table height, me looking at the screen.
Laptop at table height, me looking at the camera/bottom of the screen
Without sounding too self deprecating, it is a bit awkward when it comes to web cam chats with this device. We humans have got used to not looking at each other, but the weird angle on this kind of makes it more awkward.
Also, it makes me feel rather fat (totally my own fault, not the laptop’s). Guess it is not a flattering angle for such uses.
Keyboard and touch pad
The keyboard is backlit, and that is great for when you are working in the dark. It also offers 1.3mm of travel, which is mostly good. However, the keyboard has quite a hard stop when you have hit that 1.3mm, and if you are not used to it, and try and type very fast, there is the tendency to miss out a keystroke here and there. It is a trade off, of course, as to make the device so compact you need to give up on something. Having said that, it kind of spoils an almost perfect laptop. The webcam placement I can live with, the keyboard is rather important to me.
The touch pad itself has a good feel. It is slightly metallic unlike the soft touch pad that surrounds it, which gives it a good sooth feel. It features all of Windows 10 gestures, and they all work very well. Of course, Windows is still playing catch with Macbooks when it comes to gestures, so hopefully we will see more coming to Windows.
This comes with Windows 10 Home as standard, and sadly, Windows 10 Pro is not on offer. Depending on your usage, this could be a deal breaker for some, but perfectly fine for most users. As a reference, Windows 10 Pro offers features such as remote desktop as a standard, while Windows 10 Home doesn’t.
You have the usual Dell software included, which offers features such as back ups and such like, though as per usual I avoided them. You do get a month of free Office 365, as well as 20GB of Dropbox space for a year when you buy this, so those are the useful bits.
Compared to general laptops, the crapware experience is fairly light, so well done to Dell, though it would be nice to have an option to not have any of this on the laptop when you configure and buy it.
Another element that Dell have added to this laptop is the fact that the laptop itself is 90% recyclable, with the packaging 100% recyclable. It is also free of materials such as cadmium, lead, mercury and such like.
It promises about 17 hours of battery life. I have had this for 2 weeks, and while I have mostly used this in the evenings, I have only charged this twice, and now it is being charged for the third time. On average, I have measured about 15 hours easy and around 17 on a stretch. This has been fairly standard usage, including browser windows, open documents and a bit of photo editing. In fact, mostly out of habit rather than need, I ended up plugging this in the first time when it got to around 10%.
Combined with the power it offers, the portability, the battery definitely adds a great feature to make this one of the most complete packages ever.
More information on the Dell XPS 15 can be found on their website. As mentioned before, it starts at £1099 and goes up to £1649, which was the model we tried. It may be a bit on the expensive side, but it is aimed at the power user, the serious business man, the professional.
In case you haven’t noticed, we absolutely love this laptop! The only real issue I can put my finger on is the keyboard, but it is one of those things you could get used to. Yeah, the webcam is a bit funny, but considering the power on offer, the battery life, and how well this travels, this is the laptop for anyone and everyone who is after a serious machine.