Dell XPS 14z Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Attractive, elegant design; Strong performance; Excellent touchpad; Good graphics power; Runs cool

The Cons

Most ports in the back; Mushy touchpad buttons; Narrow viewing angles

Verdict

Dell's XPS 14z laptop offers fast performance in a sleek aluminum chassis.

The Dell XPS 14z follows in the footsteps of its bigger brother, the XPS 15z, by combining sophisticated style with impressive speed. But this premium laptop crams a 14-inch display in a 13-inch metal chasis, making it a better option for professionals on the move. Our $1,299 configuration (it starts at $999) includes a powerful Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and Nvidia switchable graphics, a feature you won't find on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Read on to find out if the XPS 14z is the ultimate work-and-play laptop.

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Design

Like its 15-inch cousin, the XPS 14z sports an elegant brushed-metal exterior that looks thoroughly modern. Built from anondized aluminum, the notebook's Elemental Silver chassis is both durable and stylish. A slightly raised diamond-cut Dell insignia is the only accent on the lid. The bottom of the notebook is equally lovely, showcasing elaborate grille work on the vent as well as a small XPS 14z logo.

The notebook's interior is also attractive, but the look is busier. A dark-gray magnesium alloy deck sets the stage for a plastic silver keyboard surrounded by two intricate speaker grilles that have the same old-school diaganoal latice work as the bottom vent. The aluminum display hinge has a unique coil design that neatly hides the LED, while a thin chrome strip lines both the top half of the deck and the touchpad and mouse buttons.

At 13.2 x 9.2 x 0.9 inches, the Dell XPS 14z is the thinnest 14-inch notebook with an optical drive on the market. Despite its size, the 4.4-pound notebook is lighter than both the 12.8 x 8.9 x 1-inch, 4.6-pound MacBook Pro (13-inch) and the 14 x 9.3 x 1.2-inch, 5.6-pound HP Envy 14. The Gateway ID47, which also manages to squeeze a 14-inch screen in a 13-inch body, is thicker (1.1 inches) but weighs the same as the Dell.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the XPS 14z uses an attractive, island-style backlit layout. The slightly curved keys cradled our fingers and made it easy to touch type, but when we depressed the keys, they had a softer feel than we'd like. Nevertheless, we easily reached our average 50-wpm on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test with only a 1-percent error rate. The backlighting worked well, but not all the keys were evenly lit. One other nitpick: The function keys along the top row aren't reversed, so you have to press key combos to adjust the brightness and volume.

Dell outfitted the XPS 14z with a massive 3.9 x 2.1-inch Synaptics touchpad. Our fingers glided effortlessly across the surface, and we appreciated the quick and accurate response. Multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, worked seamlessly, as did three-finger flicking. Synaptics also included four-finger flick, which allowed us to switch between applications easily. You can also swipe down with four fingers to see your desktop at any time.

The pair of mouse buttons on the XPS 14z are plenty large but have a little too much give.

Display and Audio

The black matte bezel surrounding the glossy, 1366 x 768 display on the Dell XPS 14z is shockingly thin, allowing Dell to fit a 14-inch High-Definition WLED display in a 13-inch chassis. The 200-nit panel was dimmer than the display on the HP Envy 14, but the picture was crisp and colorful when we watched an HD trailer of The Avengers on YouTube. Our main gripe is that the viewing angles are narrow, due to the glare caused by the glossy panel. We also wish Dell that offered a higher-resolution panel option.

The speakers that flank the keyboard were loud enough to fill a small room. LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" had little to no bass, but the rapper's vocals were clear. The XPs 14z did a good job streaming Adele's "Someone LIke You," with plenty of volume and a nice warm tone. Rock tracks, such as The Foo Fighter's "My Hero," sounded a little harsher, though.

Heat

The XPS 14z was able to keep its cool under pressure. After we streamed a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the notebook's touchpad measured 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the underside were 88 and 83 degrees, respectively.

Ports and Webcam

Dell opted to place the majority of the XPS 14z's ports at the rear of the notebook, making them somewhat difficult to reach in cramped quarters (such as an airline seat). Rear-based ports include a USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port, HDMI, a Mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet and the power port. A DVD burner is located on the right side of the laptop, while a headphone jack, microphone jack, and a 7-in-1 card reader sit on the right.

We captured 1280 x 1024p stills and video with the 1.3-megapixel webcam in Dell Webcam Central. Images were clear and bright with a high amount of detail, so much that we could read the lettering on our sweater and the logo on our headphones. Our Skype call yielded mixed results. Our caller reported a bright, sharp image that blurred whenever we moved. Audio was also quite choppy, though that could be a function of our Internet connection.

Performance

Powered by a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7 2640M CPU with 8GB of RAM, the Dell XPS 14z notched an impressive 8,118 score on PCMark Vantage, leaps and bounds over the 5,891 thin-and-light average. This laptop also beat the 2.3-GHz Core i5-powered HP Envy 14's 6,956 and the Core i5-enabled 13-inch MacBook Pro's 5,534. The Core i5-powered Sony VAIO S (6,106) and Gateway ID47 (6,322) also trailed the XPS 14z.

The Dell XPS 14z's 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 60 seconds, just a hair faster than the 64-second category average. The Envy 14, which also has a 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, started in 49 seconds.

This notebook picked up the pace during the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2 minutes and 12 seconds for a rate of 38.6 MBps, easily surpassing the 27.3 MBps thin-and-light average. The HP Envy 14 notched 33 MBps, while the MacBook Pro scored 28.1 MBps.

We also ran the XPS 14z through the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, a spreadsheet macro that matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. The notebook completed the test in 4 minutes and 26 seconds, much faster than the 5:43 category avrage.

Graphics Performance

Thanks to Nvidia switchable graphics with Optimus technology, the XPS 14z automatically toggles between Intel HD 3000 Graphics and an Nvidia GeForce GT 520M GPU with 1GB of VRAM, depending on the task at hand. On 3DMark06, the XPS 14z scored 5,461. That's 1,233 points higher than the category average. The MacBook Pro's Intel HD 3000 GPU scored 4,509 but the Envy 14's switchable graphics (AMD Radeon HD 6630M, Mobile Intel HD Graphics) registered 7,240. The Sony VAIO S, which has the same AMD GPU, notched 7,353.

The XPS 14z isn't a gaming notebook, but it held its own during our tests. The Dell notched a smooth 60 frames per second at native resolution on World of Warcraft. The Envy 14 did slightly better with 61 fps, but the MacBook came closest to matching the average with 74 fps. On maximum, the XPS 14z and the Envy 14 pulled out 31 fps, one point above the 30 fps average. The MacBook Pro was slightly under with 29 fps.

On the more graphically taxing Far Cry 2, the Dell XPS 14z turned in a not-quite-playable 26 fps at native resolution. The Sony VAIO S mustered a higher 30.8 fps, as did the Envy 14 (35 fps).

Battery Life

During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the XPS 14z's eigght-cell Prismatic battery lasted 5 hours and 23 minutes. That's decent endurance, and about 4 minutes shy of the 5:28 average. The HP Envy 14 (4:57) trailed the Dell, but the Sony VAIO S (5:27) lasted a little bit longer. The 13-inch MacBook Pro (8:33) and Gateway ID47 (7:08) lasted considerably longer.

Note that you can get the VAIO S with a $75 slice battery, which helps the notebook go for more than 10 hours. The Envy 14 also accodates an extended battery. With the Dell XPS 14z, what you see is what you get.

Dell Stage

Like the XPS 15z, the XPS 14z features a Dell Stage navigation bar located at the bottom of the desktop. This menu makes it easy to access music, video, images, games and books. Clicking on a tile opens a small shelf that displays all your content for the category. Clicking on tile's title takes you to the stage where you can fully interact with your content. We were also able to create our own shortcuts by dragging them on to the bar, creating a new tile.

Selecting the Music tile launched MusicStage, where we could play the music in our collection as well as purchase tunes from Napster. RadioTime lets you listen to music from around the world, while Noisey lets you check out videos from emerging artists.

From the video hub we could buy or rent movies in the Roxio-powered movie store (including Bad Teacher and Thor) and catch up on TV shows such as Community and Modern Family on Hulu. While it takes up quite a bit of desktop real estate, we found Dell Stage easy to use, engaging, and fun.

Software

Dell bundled the XPS 14z with a number of utilities and apps. We created recovery discs and were able to restore system drivers using Dell DataSafe Local Backup. The Dell Support Center gave us the ability to schedule system scans as well as read helpful tutorials for Dell programs and create user accounts and passwords. We also made use of the 2GB of free cloud storage on Dell DataSafe Online.

Other Dell products include the Nero-powered SyncUp, which allowed us to sync our multimedia files and documents across our home network to other computers. SyncUp is compatible with phones and tablets but only works with such Dell mobile products as the Streak 5, Streak 7, or Venue.

Third-party applications include Adobe Reader X, Blio eReader, Cozi Family Planner, Microsoft Office Starter, Skype, Zinio (a digital magazine reader), and a 30-day free trial of McAfee SecurityCenter.

The Dell XPS 14z comes with one year of Dell Basic Mail-in Service and Limited Hardware warranty. See how Dell fared in this year's Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands report.

Configurations

Our $1,299 review unit came equipped with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7 2640M CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and switchable graphics comprised of an Intel HD 3000 Graphics and Nvidia GeForce GT 520M GPU with 1GB of VRAM. The $999 base model features a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and Intel HD 3000 GPU. The $1,599 model features a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7 2640M CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD with Nvidia switchable graphics.

Dell XPS 14z vs The Competition

While it doesn't have as much graphics power, the 13-inch MacBook Pro (starting at $1,199) offers much longer battery life than the XPS 14z and a firmer keyboard. The HP Envy 14 boasts more robust Beats Audio along with better gaming performance, but at the expense of endurance. The Sony VAIO S is another viable choice in this price range. While the design isn't as bold as the Dell, that 13-incher offers better graphics than the XPS 14z and an optional 1600 x 900 display for around the same price.

Verdict

The $1,299 Dell XPS 14z offers fast Core i7 performance in an elegant and portable package. In addition to the sleek and sturdy metal design, we like the smooth and accurate touchpad and helpful Dell Stage software. Some competing notebooks offer more graphics muscle, and the display isn't best in class, but overall this is one of our favorite thin-and-light notebooks. If you're looking for a mobile multimedia machine with plenty of power and style, the Dell XPS 14z will satisfy.

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Author Bio
Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith,
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.
Sherri L. Smith, on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.80GHz Intel Core i7 2640M processor
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 750GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 14
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD /- RW
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel HD 3000 graphics, NVIDIA GeForce GT 520M with NVIDIA Optimus technology & NVIDIA 3DTV Play
Video Memory 1GB
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230
Bluetooth Bluetooth 3.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.9 x 2.1
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Gigabit Ethernet
USB Ports 2
Card Slots 7-1 card reader
Warranty/Support Dell Basic 1 Year Mail-in Service and Limited Hardware Warranty
Size 13.2 x 9.2 x 0.9 inches
Weight 4.4 pounds
Company Website www.dell.com