Dell XPS 15: The Gizmodo Review

Dell XPS 15 Review: a Glimmer in the Macbook's Shadow

The most noticeable characteristic of the XPS 15 is its extraordinary display. With almost no bezel around the screen, 4K resolution, above average brightness, viewability from almost any angle, and superb colour, it feels markedly more immersive than Retina displays — to the point where colour flaws on web pages and low-resolution installation wizards become hard to look at. Dell's togglable PremierColor feature pushes the display's palette to its limits, and looks stunning in the right applications.

All Images: Bryan Menegus/Gizmodo

The guts of the XPS 15 are also impressive. The Intel Core i7 (6700HQ Quad Core) has power to spare. Anything above the base model comes with a NVIDIA GTX 960M (with 2GB GDDR5 memory), and the top of the line version has 32GB of system memory. I played Team Fortress 2 at the highest possible resolution — while Chromecasting a tab from Netflix, playing music on Spotify, and with Photoshop open — and saw no noticeable lag while 12-year-olds repeatedly shot my character to death and mocked by utter lack of skill.

Those two features — and they're big, meaningful features — are where the good aspects of this machine begin and end.

Dell XPS 15 Review: a Glimmer in the Macbook's Shadow

It's also pretty thin!

That luxurious display means an utterly miserable battery life. PremierColor is a power suck, as is the touchscreen. From a full charge I clocked a pitiful 2 hours and 27 minutes while continuously streaming video with all the bells and whistles turned on, and a little over 3 hours on a second attempt.

Like many Windows machines, the trackpad feels fussy and insensitive. The highest spec versions also come with a touchscreen. Unlike a tablet where touch features replace more traditional IO options, the keyboard isn't removable. With a foot of matte black hardware between you and the screen, prolonged use is uncomfortable, and unless you own a separate stylus it has no meaningful functionality with Photoshop.

Sound is also supposedly one of this machine's selling points. Cross checking between my Macbook and the XPS on a pair of Grado SR80s, I detected few if any noticeable differences on lossless files — perhaps a slight boost in higher frequencies on the Mac, but certainly nothing anyone at a consumer level would care about. Without headphones, the situation is even more dire for the Dell. Despite Apple products' reputation for being tinny and quiet — and to be fair, the Dell is markedly louder — the MBP 15 at least has its speakers pointed up towards the user instead of down, resulting in muddy, muffled playback. Twice over the week I spent with the XPS, the sound stopped working entirely, requiring a restart.

Dell has replaced the plastic shells of old XPS laptops with aluminium chassis, but the XPS 15 is inexplicably coated in a goopy-feeling carbon fibre composite. When my Macbook becomes the inevitable victim of dirt or food spills, I feel confident subjecting it to some fairly strong solvents. That confidence does not extend to whatever covers the body of the XPS. This material does a reasonably good job of dissipating heat around where you'd logically rest your palms, but high temperatures are still an issue at the back of the keyboard and underside of the chassis.

Along with the XPS 15, Dell also sent along their Thunderbolt dock, which purports to connect multiple displays at workstations through any number of available video connections. Unfortunately, what should be a plug-and-play experience turned into hours of hassle, and in the end it didn't really work. Displays flickered or turned off and some monitors were completely incompatible. At its best, the Thunderbolt dock netted one more display than simply using the onboard HDMI output, which doesn't seem like a strong enough case for spending $US299.

Dell XPS 15 Review: a Glimmer in the Macbook's Shadow

The XPS 15 is thin, light, powerful, and has a downright gorgeous display. But the effort Dell put into sound will likely go unnoticed by most users, and even its terrific performance, bolstered in no small part by a discrete GPU, will be too powerful for casual users but not nearly robust enough for serious gamers.

README

  • A display so pretty it will make you cry
  • I keep trying to move the cursor and nothing happens
  • Excellent performance to handle your tab addiction
  • Never unplug the charger

SPEC DUMP

  • Price: From $2499 AUD at Dell Australia

  • Processor: Intel Core i7
  • Storage: 500GB — 1TB HDD or 256 — 512GB SSD
  • Memory: 8GB — 32GB
  • Battery: 56 or 84Whr
  • Display: 1920x1080 — 3840x2160
  • Touchscreen available
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics 530 — NVIDIA GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5)
  • Ports: 1 HDMI, 2 USB 3, 1 Thunderbolt 3, SD card reader, headphone out

Comments

    "Dell has replaced the plastic shells of old XPS laptops with aluminium chassis". This is inaccurate. The previous XPS 15 had a carbon fibre chassis and an aluminium lid. It is many years since XPS's were made of plastic. This statement tells you everything you need to know about the person writing the review - he clearly has no clue. My last laptop was an M4400, base don the previous gen XPS 15 and it was far and away the best laptop I have ever seen or used. It could run rings around any MacBook Pro in every way. I find it very hard to believe that a newer version would miss the mark when the old one was spot-on.

      His run time is a bit odd as well, I've just picked up a XPS15 with the 6700HQ, 16GB RAM and the 4k touch screen, and I'm easily doing 8+ hrs with brightness turned down (only because its too dam bright for me) and wifi connected the whole time.

        His runtime was quoted as running all the bells and whistles - streaming, full brightness etc.

    I've had one of these since November last year. It's needed two repairs for faulty hardware, one restore to factory image because of software incompatibility and recently, it's started to randomly hang when moving the computer from one place to another. It also doesn't like to goto standby / shutdown and I find it furiously trying to cool itself down in my bag after I thought I had told it to standby / shutdown.

    Initially, Windows 10 would blue screen about every 5 minutes but that has improved dramatically in the last 6 months.

    It's a pretty machine but I wouldn't recommend.

      I'd blame Windows 10, as I've had similar experiences with my Surface Book. Try rolling it back to Windows 8 (I wish I could).

    I had the previous iteration of the XPS15 and it sucked. It wasn't entirely Dell's fault though. The problem was the QHD display, that for whatever reason, Microsoft seems unable to support. Display scaling through Microsoft was horrible: stacks of apps and programs just didn't scale (I'm looking at the Adobe range in particular, which only started scaling correctly the month before I upgraded the computer). When it ran Windows 8.1, I would plug in dual external monitors, and then have to change display scaling from 200% back to 100% (FHD monitors) which required a log-out. I was really excited that Windows 10 "supported" display scaling to greater extent, however it made the problems worse, because although it would automatically detect the resolution and adjust scaling accordingly, the picture quality was crap, even just on the windows taskbar etc.

    Other issues: trackpad was crap - complete and utter crap. I got dead pixels and dell couldn't do anything to help. Touchscreen wasn't worth it (at least for me) because it would get covered in finger marks. Charger broke about a month after the warranty ran out and again, Dell didn't do anything to help (although to their credit, the replacement wasn't too expensive, compared to Apple chargers).

    I upgraded to a 13" Macbook Pro Retina with 512 SSD - and I mean UPgraded. The macbook is brilliant, OSX is phenomenal compared to windows, I can run 2 FHD external displays, plus the build in retina at full resolution and scaling works perfectly. The touchpad is a joy to use, the keyboard is great, and the aluminium chassis is so easy to keep clean and feels so much more solid than the XPS15 ever did.

    Catchya Dell.

      Scaling is every bit as bad on OS X as it is on Windows. Just last week one of our MacPros at work was upgraded, with two 4k monitors, and the guy who got it spent four days complaining until they gave him a pair of HD monitors that he can actually use with it. Using a MacPro at work and a Surface Book at home, I can tell you that both have all the same issues. e.g. How big is your image in Photoshop? It doesn't scale with everything else, does it? I deliberately chose an M3800 with an HD screen so that it would be a non-issue, something you can do with this machine but not with a MacBook Pro.

      As for OSX, it is the worst OS I have ever used. Today, for example, the whole system froze while I was reading this article, waiting for After Effects to cache a preview, forcing me to reboot and lose the last half-hour or so of work I had been doing in After Effects. After Effects itself crashes quite regularly, maybe three or four times a week, and every evening when I shut down the computer, it won't switch off, causing me to have to switch off the power. IT and Engineering have no solutions to any of these problems, we all just live with them.

      I've also compared my M3800 (which is built in the same case as the XPS15) with a MacBook Pro and it doesn't feel even the tiniest bit less (or more) solid than a MacBook Pro. But the Dell does feel way more premium with the most incredible tactile feel to the keys and palm rest making it feel like a Rolls Royce, compared to the MacBook Pro's Toyota.

    Been using mine for about 2 months now. loving it!
    Admittedly this is my 2nd unit, and first was returned within a week; this second unit has been great except it can get a little toasty on the fingers.

    before I get jumped on for praising a dell, background is that i been with a Mac for long long long time, and my macbook pro just died. literally not turn on anymore. Although i'm all things apple, personally i no longer feel the conviction for apple (given the recent directions, or there lack of), and definitely no longer happy about the apple premium.

    Having looked around the market, I found that if Macbook Pro is what i'm replacing, there's really no comparable units other than the Dell (at the time I purchased, which now there's some potential samsung and HP). Build quality is quite up there (yes it's my 2nd unit i know), but more importantly, it actually did innovate.

    Innovation: Innovation might not be the right term, but hey, they did just made the thinnest laptop (at the time) with 4k screen, thin bessel, high spec; and that's 'almost' factual.

    Spec I initially got:
    4k touch, 16gb ram, 1TB HDD+32 SSD run on raid, i7 6700 HQ
    It ran decent, but the HDD was slowwwwwwwwwwwwww; which i can bear with, since my Mac wasn't much better by the it died. Problem came when BIOS got updated. Screen kept flickering and basically just turn off. Charger also had problem with buzzing noice. Quote, they were 'known' manufacturing issues' and hence needed to return. Returned to Dell with no probs, though it did take a little time back and forward due to some non-dell related admin issues.

    Battery was the small one due to HDD, and it's aboslutely rubbish! Normal use for me (net, photo edit) give me just over 2-3hrs. If i game, 1 hr!!!???!???!?!! Shocking. and it get's hot. proerply hot. You basically look at the battery bar, and except for the first half hour, it always look like it's half full only. You lack confidence using it.

    --
    In the end, Dell gave me a small discount to replace my current unit as I ended up going over 1 month without a laptop. Hence i got a slight update, as there was also a promo.

    Current overkill unit (only got it coz of discount):
    4k touch, 32gb ram, 1TB SSD, i7 6700 HQ (no, no one needs 32GB, I wouldn't if it wasn't for the discount)
    A billion times faster than the HHD version, and no issues at all since. Photo edit is fine and speedy, haven't done any video rendering yet. Game's alrigth, can sort of handle gaming in 4K playing Diablo, Star Craft or HOS; BUT you do kept thinking if you will fry your comp as you game, as you can really tell it's working hard! That said, no it doesn't skip a frame.

    This one has a larger battery, and so far i think it lasts about 6-7 hrs on lighter use; but it is certanly noticable compared to the smaller battery. It just gives you the sense of assurance that you can at least get your work done, vs the other unit. I haven't tried gaming on battery, so no idea what it would do.

    2 months in, really enjoy the unit. Still think it's a great buy. I DO recommend the comp.

    --
    Note i didn't talk about trackpad etc, coz we all know the mac is better, but hey this is not bad.
    The key board could be better though, although i can't pin point what exactly i don't like about it.

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