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Dell XPS 15 review

4

When Dell refreshed its 13-inch flagship laptop late last year, many immediately wondered of the whereabouts of a certain 15-inch version. After all, while the Dell XPS 15 of last year was fine and dandy, it wasn’t without a few hiccups that ultimately set it back.

For starters, the battery life on last year’s Dell XPS 15 was dismal. Our other concerns included a shallow keyboard, weak speakers and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics chip that wielded only 2GB of video memory, not nearly enough for modern games and the onslaught of titles coming out moving forward.

Fortunately, all of these issues have been rectified with the new Dell XPS 15. What’s more, everything we liked about last year’s model is still intact, including a similarly diverse range of prices and configurations.

Price and availability

Like the Dell XPS 13, which we praised for its vast spectrum of hardware options, the Dell XPS 15 has a ton of these, too.

While the model we were sent for review is valued at $2,174 (£1,814, AU$2,634), it comes with a luxury, 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, a 4K InfinityEdge touch display, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card and a built-in fingerprint reader for Windows Hello logins.

Assuming your tastes don’t require all of these bells and whistles, what you get with the entry level Dell XPS 15 depends on where you live. In the US, it’s $999 for an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM, a 1080p non-touch display and a 500GB hard drive plus 32GB of SSD storage for the OS – no discrete graphics or fingerprint reader in sight.

In the UK, the Dell XPS 15 starts at £1,349 for an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a full HD screen (once again, no touch) and a 1TB hard drive/32GB SSD.

Meanwhile, in Australia, you’ll have to shell out a whopping AU$2,499 for the “cheapest” Dell XPS 15. The silver lining is that in addition to sporting a 7th-gen Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, this model also hoists a GTX 1050 and a fingerprint reader. Still, you may be disappointed to find that with all this comes a mere 56Whr battery, compared to the 97Whr battery of Nvidia GPU-equipped models in the US.

Design

At first glance, the 2017 Dell XPS 15 doesn’t look much different than its predecessor. It still has a silvery aluminum shell that closes in on a rubberized material surrounding plastic inputs. Only the keyboard has been refined since the last time we saw it.

Though the key travel is relatively low, the Dell XPS 15 boasts a keyboard that’s both spacious and comfy, keeping in line with trends followed by the likes of the HP Spectre x360 15 and even Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro. The touchpad remains clicky, which is great for those who want that, though this reviewer in particular prefers the silent clicks exhibited by the Force Touch trackpad on the MacBook.

Still, the inputs on the Dell XPS 15 compare nicely to those of the competing Gigabyte Aero 15 whose keys are so tightly packed that it’s a nuisance trying to get anything done outside of gaming. At the very least, the tracking and left/right click detection is par for the course on the Dell XPS 15.

Ultra-high pixel density

For $400 (£210, AU$35) on top of the initial cost of the 1080p versions, you can get a lush, 4K (3,840 x 2,160) screen that puts the 2,880 x 1,800 resolution Retina Display found in the MacBook Pro 15-inch to shame. Granted, there’s no Touch Bar on the Dell XPS 15, but you can always opt for a pricier version of the notebook that features the elusive fingerprint scanner and a full-on touchscreen.

To put a finer point on it, the 4K Dell XPS 15 bears a pixel density of 282.4 pixels per inch (ppi), while the 15.4-inch display on the MacBook Pro stands at 220.5 ppi. It may not seem like a steep difference, but considering the MacBook Pro costs more for arguably inferior parts, there’s clearly a value disparity between the two devices.

Although it’s kind of a gratuitous cosmetic feature, there’s no denying that Dell’s InfinityEdge technology adds gusto to the Dell XPS 15’s look. However, the narrow bezels once again force the webcam to the lower left-hand corner of the upright panel. Seriously consider whether you want to literally look down at your audience while broadcasting and Skyping if you proceed to buy this laptop.

Predictably, the latest Dell XPS 15 review unit fared far better in the Fire Strike 3DMark bench than the XPS 15 before it. Likewise, every other performance test, including Cinebench’s CPU and OpenGL benchmarks, saw marked performance gains over last year’s iteration.

Unfortunately, the Dell XPS 15 clearly wasn’t meant for high-end gaming, as evidenced by our Grand Theft Auto V and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided benchmarks. Even at the lowest settings (with DirectX 12 enabled, mind), our review unit couldn’t hit 30 frames per second.

Unless you plan on sticking with less demanding game categories, like indies and esports, the inclusion of Nvidia graphics won’t get you much further beyond rigorous photo and video editing, not to mention 4K media.

Likewise, the Gigabyte Aero 15 outranked the Dell XPS 15 in every test. Given that they both take advantage of the same processor, it’s clear just how superior the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 used by the Aero 15 is to the Dell XPS 15’s GTX 1050.

For gamers, the right choice is obvious. However, if your choice is between the XPS 15 and the 15-inch MacBook Pro, bear in mind that Apple’s laptop uses only a 2GB graphics chip, while Dell’s offering dons 4GB of video RAM.

Luckily, PC users whose rampant lifestyles see them constantly on the move, the battery life on the Dell XPS 15 has seen significant reform. Most likely the outcome of Dell’s implementation of a more energy-efficient Kaby Lake processor and a 97Whr battery over the 84Whr one in the previous 15-incher.

What results is a battery life of 3 hours and 38 minutes, according to our PCMark 8 testing, a lofty achievement when compared to the 1 hour and 52 minutes we saw last year.

We liked

From its extensive battery life to its subtle yet alluring design, the Dell XPS 15 is – through and through – an improvement upon its forebear. It attempts to be a jack of all trades and, for the most part, it succeeds. Allowing the user to customize their laptop based on their own personal needs is always a nice touch, seeing as not everyone needs a touchscreen or a dedicated graphics card.

On our review unit in particular, the 4K InfinityEdge display made our nearby MacBook’s Retina display look muddy in comparison. Although we couldn’t get it to work on the model sent to us by Dell (an easily fixable problem), the fingerprint scanner on the Dell XPS 15 is a luxury slowly becoming a standard.

That goes without mentioning the wide range of ports, including those we don’t often see anymore, like full-size HDMI and two USB Type-A’s in addition to the long-endangered SD card slot.

We disliked

After falling short on battery life last year, it’s a little unnerving that some of our benchmarks came out short of elevation when it comes to the graphics. We’re still concerned about the GTX 1050 GPU being future-proof for even indie gaming much less media editing, rendering and enjoying.

What’s also worrying is that Dell still can’t seem to improve its webcam placement. No one wants to look down at their webcam. That’s why on desktops, the webcam clips to the top of the monitor. That’s why virtually every other laptop maker puts the webcam up top. InfinityEdge is gorgeous, but arguably not worth the compromise it leads to regarding the Dell XPS 15’s webcam.

Other pet peeves include a trackpad that’s just a little too clicky for comfort and the forced pre-installation of McAfee security that we didn’t ask for.

Final verdict

The Dell XPS 15 is everything you’ll need for your day-to-day routine for school, work or passive entertainment. It doesn’t really specialize in any particular trade, but instead, it’s a well-rounded notebook with a handful of excusable missteps.

As long as you’re not fooled by the Nvidia moniker into expecting a laptop built with high-end gaming in mind, Dell has once again crafted a reliable clamshell that simply gets the job done – whatever that job may be.

The Dell XPS 15 ranks among the best 15-inch laptops money can buy, but it’s not without its problems. Its space-saving design and great performance all add up to a machine that feels like a capable desktop PC and a great 4K monitor rolled into one.

If you’re mainly going to be using this notebook away from a wall socket, however, it’s a poor choice. Neither is it appropriate if you want to stay on the cutting edge of laptop tech for the next few years.

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