The new Dell XPS 15 looks just like the gorgeous XPS 13. And that’s a good place to start.
With the redesigned XPS 15, Dell has maintained the design language of its smaller 13.3-inch sibling. So, like the 13, Dell uses a carbon fiber composite on the area surrounding the keyboard and trackpad, in addition to aluminum (top and bottom). I say it’s a good place to start because the feel of the carbon fiber sets the tone for the rest of the experience: attractive but practical.
What follows is a brief, first-look review of the XPS 15 after using it for almost a week. I plan to do a more in-depth review later.
Display: High-resolution laptop displays just keep getting better and better. And Dell’s UltraSharp 4K 15.6-inch touch display is one the best. The XPS 15’s resolution is 3,840-by-2,160. That’s more pixels (and a higher resolution) than Apple’s 15.4-inch MacBook Pro Retina, which has a 2,880-by-1,800 pixel screen. But it’s the vibrant colors and contrast that make it a standout. (In that respect, I would put it right up there with the 12-inch MacBook’s display – one of the best screens I’ve seen on a laptop to date.) As pointed out by other reviews, the new XPS 15 boasts top-notch Adobe RGB gamut and SRGB gamut ratings, and almost perfect color accuracy – essential check-off items for professionals.
And just like the XPS 13, the XPS 15’s display has almost no bezel (border), allowing Dell to keep the size of the laptop to a minimum (Dell bills it as the “world’s smallest 15-inch laptop.”)
But the best thing about a big, high-resolution display is that it emulates a desktop PC. So, if you take the XPS 15 on the road (or just down the street to Starbucks), you’re taking a desktop-display experience with you. That’s important to a lot of people. And it’s a really good reason to consider the XPS 15. Not only is the display big and easy on the eyes, the weight of the laptop starts at only 3.9 pounds (my high-end unit is 4.4 pounds). That’s light considering the size of the screen and all of the hardware packed into the chassis (more on that below).
Keyboard/trackpad: As a first impression, the keyboard is good. It’s better than the XPS 13’s. Maybe because it’s slightly wider. Or maybe because key travel (the distance you have to press the key) feels better. I will know more as I use the laptop over the coming months. But I will add one piece of gratuitous commentary. Generally speaking, the laptop keyboard (on all laptops from all PC makers) has not taken any giant leaps in layout and usability in the last, let’s say, five years. So, it’s ripe for improvement -- as Apple has demonstrated. After using the excellent keyboard on Apple’s 12-inch Retina MacBook, I really came to like the bigger keys (17 percent larger surface area). Apple essentially re-thought the entire keyboard experience with the 12-inch MacBook. I hope savvy laptop designers like Dell do the same in the future.
The XPS 15’s trackpad is one of the best I’ve ever used. It is incredibly responsive and so far I’ve experienced zero lag – which can be a problem on many Windows laptops. Even newer ones.
Performance: The 0.66-inch-thick design houses a brand-new Intel i7-6700HQ 6th Generation quad-core processor, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a fast 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, Intel HD Graphics 530, and an Nvidia GTX 960M graphics chip.
As usual, I will defer to performance benchmarks done elsewhere, such as those done here. Suffice to say, it rivals some of the really fast gaming laptops out there – which means this laptop can handle 1080P gaming. But it is also fast at things professionals need, like exporting high-quality video.
Let me add that I spend most of my time on ultra-compact laptops like the 12-inch MacBook, the Dell XPS 13, and HP EliteBook Folio 1020. Because those laptops are so thin, they use lower-performance (particularly in the case of Apple and HP) Intel silicon to keep heat to a minimum and battery life to a maximum. So, for me, using a quad-core laptop is a bit of a shock (in a good way). Web pages pop. And installing programs seems almost instantaneous, compared to the ultraportables mentioned above. Also, I can have dozens of browser tabs open and see no performance hit. That’s not the case for ultraportables.
A quick note about heat: I’ve been writing this first-look review on my lap for the past few hours and the XPS 15’s fast silicon can get warm – but never hot.
Battery life: The 6th Generation Intel Core “Skylake” processors are better at conserving power and extending battery life than their predecessors. That said, in this review, I’m not going to say a lot about battery life because I need more time to test it in various usage scenarios. But so far so good. As I write this review, I’ve been using the XPS on battery power consistently for more than six hours with brightness turned way up (about 85 percent), and still have 15 percent left on the meter.
Ports/connectors: The XPS 15 comes with an SD card slot, two USB 3.0 connectors, an HDMI port, and a USB-C/ThunderBolt 3 port. The last one is the most interesting. USB-C is the same connector that Apple uses on its 12-inch MacBook. Dell, like Apple, offers a multi-port adapter to plug into the USB-C port. In Dell’s case, the adapter provides ports for USB 3.1 Gen 2, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and USB-A (aka, standard USB connector). I haven’t tested the adapter yet but will in the coming weeks.
The bad news is that Dell dropped the Mini DisplayPort that was on the previous-generation XPS 15. That’s going to be inconvenient for some because it means you’ll have to get an adapter/converter if you prefer Mini DisplayPort. You can always go, of course, with HDMI if your display supports it.
Verdict: All-in-all a solid first impression. The XPS 15 is a powerhouse of a laptop with an eye-popping large display. But in a package that is remarkably thin and light. And just as the XPS 13 was one of the top ultraportable laptops, the XPS 15 is easily one of the best 15-inch laptops out there today. An easy recommendation.
Configuration: Intel i7-6700HQ processor,16GB of DDR4, 512GB NVMe storage, Intel HD Graphics 530, Nvidia GTX 960M graphics, 4K UHD touch display, 84 WHr (watt hour) battery, and Windows 10. Price as configured for review: $2,229.99. Price for the XPS 15 starts at $999.99.