Computing

Dell XPS 14 Review: Beautiful And Powerful, But Wait For Windows 8


The Dell XPS 14 follows the XPS 13 ultrabook as the latest addition to the revamped product line. Equipped with a 14-inch screen, dual-core Intel Core i7 running at 2.4GHz, 8GB of RAM, 500GB HDD (with a 32GB SSD for quick caching), and discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M graphics, it certainly has horsepower to spare. But is it worthy of its $1299 price tag?

What Is It?

Dell wants this to be the computer that sacrifices little in the way of performance, but still has some of the portability of a smaller computer. (Alongside the XPS 14, Dell also released the XPS 15 today, which has a faster Core i7 CPU clocking in at 3.1 GHz, and a more powerful GPU in the NVIDIA GeForce GT640M, along with added heft and a price tag of $1499).

Who’s It For?

Those who want the power to play games, edit photos and video, watch movies and TV in HD, but aren’t necessarily hardcore about it and also value specs such as size and battery life.

Design

The XPS 14 shares the same design DNA as the XPS 13, which is to say that it has a milled aluminium exterior, edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass screen, soft touch plastic around the keyboard, and a spacious trackpad. Roughly as thick as a 13-inch MacBook Pro, with a footprint that is just a bit larger, the XPS 14 has plenty in common with Apple’s computer design-wise, but is different enough to avoid being labelled a shameless knockoff. Also worth noting is Dell’s decision to forgo an optical drive, which will more than likely become standard for the non-powerhouse laptops across the board.

Using It

Like the XPS 13, the first thing you notice when opening up the XPS 14 is how quality everything feels. The body, the keys, the screen all feel rock solid and very premium. Then you turn it on. Boot times are fast (~22 seconds), the screen is bright and beautiful, and the battery can get you through an entire day.

The Best Part

The speed and responsiveness that Ivy Bridge affords. Considering this isn’t targeted towards the casual email checker or a video editor, the XPS 14 took everything I could throw at it and performed admirably. With 50 or so tabs open in Chrome (loaded with resource-heavy pages, mind you) and the machine was still able to play back a Vimeo video in full screen HD.

Tragic Flaw

The trackpad. It’s been a pretty common issue with all Windows-based laptops over the past few years, and the XPS 14 is no different. Not only does the trackpad have a sticky feel to it, but it’s tough to find the zones to consistently register left and right clicks without having to really think about it.

This Is Weird…

As well as this laptop performs, I couldn’t help but want this thing to have Windows 8 on it. A machine this nice should have a more visually appealing OS, especially when it comes to the overall grainy appearance of the system UI.

Test Notes

  • Dell advertises an 11-hour battery life for the XPS 14. Maybe thats possible if you were only carrying out the most basic of tasks with the screen brightness ratcheted down, but otherwise unrealistic. However, it is possible to get through a work day with moderate internet and multimedia use (and, of course, not having the screen brightness all the way up).
  • The soft touch material on the palm rest is a grease magnet.
  • Powered by Waves MaxxAudio 4, the speakers aren’t mindblowing, but they do the trick. The audio output is surprisingly decent, delivering plenty of power to my Aiaiai TMA-1s.
  • Geekbench scores saw the Ivy Bridge Processor out performing similar Core i7 processors from last generation. Though not the highest, it appeared to be within range of other machines packing the same CPU.
  • Dell calls this an Ultrabook, and technically this falls under Intel’s spec for 14-inch models. But this is not an ultrabook like the XPS 13 is an ultrabook. It’s a laptop.

Should You Buy It?

This is a weird time to be laptop shopping, seeing as Windows 8 is right around the corner. Don’t get things twisted; the XPS 14 will more than be capable of handling Windows 8, but will it be as good as a machine built around the upcoming OS? It’s hard to say. If you absolutely need a premium, all-around PC laptop right now, then yes, drop (at least) $1299 on an XPS 14. But if you can afford to be patient, it may be worth waiting to see what comes later this year.

Dell XPS 14

• OS: Windows 7
• CPU: 2.4GHz dual-core Core i7-3517U (as tested)
• Screen: 14-inch, 1600×1900 Gorilla Glass LCD
• RAM: 8GB (as tested)
• Storage: 500GB HDD+32 GB SSD (as tested)
•Battery Life:11.5 hours (advertised), ~7 hours (real life)
•Graphics:NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M
• Price: $1299 (base configuration)

Product Finder

Find more great products at