The 2013 Dell XPS 15 enters the premium 15-inch notebook arena with the highest resolution screen we've seen yet (3200 x 1800 pixels), a 4th-gen Intel Core processor and a 512GB SSD wrapped within a sleek and thin design. Priced at $2,299 (starting at $1,499), this Windows 8.1 laptop is a productivity workhorse and has plenty of entertainment value, thanks to its Nvidia GPU and powerful speakers. But can it outshine competitors such as the 15-inch MacBook Pro?
The Dell XPS 15 keeps it simple on the exterior, with a bare aluminum chassis that features a black Dell logo in its center. A subtle checkerboard pattern runs through the notebook's carbon fiber bottom panel, which has a long horizontal speaker on its top edge, a vent at the bottom, and a small aluminum flap in the center that flips up to reveal the device's service tag.
Inside, the XPS 15 has a 15.6-inch Gorilla Glass NBT screen surrounded by a black bezel. The notebook was easy on our wrists, with a soft-touch covering that extends across the bulk of the body and wraps around the power button on the top left. The cozy material extends across the curved island keys, which sit in the body's depressed center.
The XPS 15 measures 14.6 x 10 x 0.7 inches, making it a smidge wider and longer than the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches) but slightly shorter than the 15 x 10 x 1.2-inch, $1,939 ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz-DH71.
Weight-wise, the 4.6-pound XPS 15 is on a par with the 4.6-pound Zenbook UX51Vz and 15-inch MacBook Pro (4.5 pounds). Despite its large footprint, we found the notebook easy to carry.
The XPS 15 packs all of its ports on its thin left and right edges. The left side hosts a power input, HDMI, a mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports, and a headphone jack. On the right, you'll find a 3-in-1 media card reader, a USB 2.0 port, and an additional USB 3.0 port.
Dell claims that the XPS 15 is the highest-resolution 15-incher on the market, as our fully loaded configuration came with a 3200 x 1800-pixel UltraSharp QHD touch-enabled display. This is higher than both 15-inch MacBook Pro's 2880 x 1880 Retina Display as well as the 1920 x 1080 screen found on the Zenbook UX51Vz.
The HD trailer for "X-Men: Days of Future Past" dazzled on the Dell, as the wrinkled skin of Professor X was just as crisp and detailed as the blue facial scales and glowing yellow eyes of Mystique. Thanks to the XPS 15's 160-degree viewing angles, the video remained bright and vivid at various viewing points.
The XPS' screen was just as impressive when viewing a hi-res photo of a wet daffodil, as we could clearly see each individual bead of water surrounding the flower's bright yellow petals.
The XPS screen is quite bright, as it measured 341 lux on our light meter. That's brighter than the 324-lux MacBook Pro 15-inch, the 277-lux Zenbook UX51Vz, and category average of 208 lux.
Even with speakers on its bottom, the XPS 15 delivers impressive audio. When jamming Kings of Leon's "Supersoaker," we could clearly hear the jumpy bass interweaving with the twangy guitars. Kanye West's "All of the Lights" was equally satisfying, as the notebook's speakers were able to retain the song's thumping drums and haunting horns.
The included Dell Audio app allows for some basic equalization, with sliders for bass, treble, dialog, and stereo. There's a bass boost option if you have external speakers plugged in, and the Midnight switch will instantly bring your music down to a non-disruptive volume.
The XPS 15 played a 84-decibel tone on the LAPTOP Audio Test, making it slightly softer-sounding than the 87-decibel category average.
The XPS 15's HD webcam will get the job done for video chats, but you won't be wowed by its picture quality. The self-portrait we snapped on the notebook was lacking in facial detail, and the entire photo was filled with fuzzy pixelation.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The contoured island keys on the XPS 15 delivered springy feedback. We were able to type 65 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, which is 2 wpm higher than our experience with the Zenbook UX51Vz.
Common secondary functions such as play, pause, brightness, and volume control are located within the F1 to F12 keys. (We wish these were direct action keys.) The notebook doesn't have the Zenbook UX51Vz's numpad, but as a result, the layout is more comfortable.
The Dell keyboard's backlight was mostly bright throughout, but we noticed less light coming from the Function and Windows keys at the bottom, as well as both sets of Ctrl and Alt.
The XPS 15's 4.1 x 3.1-inch touchpad is comfy and intuitive, with a soft-touch texture and a small gray indicator that separates left and right click. The touchpad was responsive to both clicks and taps, and we had no issues performing various functions, such as sliding left to right to switch apps and pinching to zoom.
Heat and Noise
Though the XPS 15 has an attractive and slim design, it occasionally became a bit too hot for our liking. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the laptop's touchpad registered a cool 74 degrees. However, both the laptop's underside and G and H keys reached temperatures of 98 degrees, and the area near the laptop's main vent reached a troubling 120 degrees. We consider anything above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
The notebook was even hotter after playing 15 minutes of "Bioshock Infinite," as the touchpad reached 89 degrees, the G and H keys 111, and the middle of the underside hit 103 degrees. The notebook's normally quiet vent also became very noisy after our play session.
We reviewed a fully loaded XPS 15, which packs a 3.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ processor with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of flash memory. By comparison, the 15-inch MacBook Pro we tested has a 2.3-GHz Core i7 processor with the same RAM and 256GB of flash memory, while the Zenbook UX51Vz contains a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7 CPU with 8GB of RAM and dual 128GB SSD drives.
The XPS 15 booted Windows 8.1 in 14 seconds, which is equal to the 15-inch MacBook Pro (loading OS X) and just a second longer than the Zenbook UX51Vz's boot time.
We streamed "The Hunger Games" on Netflix with 10 tabs open in Chrome to test the XPS 15's everyday use capabilities, and didn't experience a hint of slowdown.
The notebook netted 11,630 on the Geekbench 3 performance test, falling short of the MacBook Pro 15-inch's whopping score of 13,652 but beating the 9,599 category average.
The XPS 15 scored a 573 on the the Cinebench CPU test, which is just under the 15-inch MacBook Pro's 598 and much higher than the category average of 154.
The XPS 15's SSD transferred 4.97 GB of files in 22 seconds, equaling a transfer rate of 231.3 MBps. That's not quite as speedy as the 15-inch Pro (309 MBps) or the Zenbook UX51Vz (238 MBps), but it's still more than four times as fast as the 51 MBps category average.
To further test the XPS 15's real-world capabilities, we ran our OpenOffice test, which has a notebook pair 20,000 names and addresses. Our XPS 15 completed the task in 4 minutes and 14 seconds, which is tied with the MacBook Pro 15-inch and faster than the Zenbook UX51Vz (4:59) and the 5:31 category average.
Our maxed-out XPS 15 sports a Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with 2GB of graphics memory. By comparison, our configuration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro has the same GPU while the older Zenbook UX51Vz features an Nvidia GeForce GT650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
When playing "World of Warcraft" on Ultra settings, the game ran at 30 fps at the Dell's native 3200 x 1800 resolution. That's less than the category average of 38 fps, but the MacBook Pro was a lower 25 fps at these settings, while the Zenbook UX51Vz outperformed both at 43 fps. To be fair, the Zenbook's native resolution is much lower than the Dell and Mac.
The more visually lush "Bioshock Infinite" ran at 23 fps on Ultra settings at the XPS 15's native resolution, which is higher than the 16 fps category average. Things ran more smoothly when dialed down the resolution to 1080p. We saw 56 fps on low settings, though an unplayable 23 fps with the settings on high.
Another graphically demanding game, "Metro: Last Night," was nearly unplayable on Ultra settings, running at 13 fps at 1366 x 768 and 4 fps at native resolution. Still, the notebook's 1366 x 768 Ultra performance matches the 13 fps category average.
The XPS 15's 91-Whr battery provides above-average endurance. The notebook lasted a solid 7 hours and 7 minutes when surfing the web continuously on the LAPTOP Battery Test. The Dell beat out the Zenbook UX51Vz (5:56) and category average of 5:37, though it failed to topple the 15-inch MacBook Pro's impressive runtime of 8:57.
The Dell XPS 15 runs Windows 8.1, which brings some small upgrades to Microsoft's touch-friendly OS. Aside from Microsoft apps like SkyDrive, Xbox Music, and Office, the XPS 15 comes preloaded with several Dell applications.
The My Dell app allows you to scan your laptop and back up files, while Dell Audio provides customizable sound settings for your speakers, headphones, and microphone. The Dell Shop app allows you to shop Dell products and purchase repair packages without opening your browser.
The bundled PocketCloud storage app provides 2GB of cloud storage with a free PocketCloud account. A paid account will allow you to access files from any nearby PocketCloud-enabled device.
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The Windows 8.1 app store is still growing, as it recently gained an official Facebook app as well as new Microsoft offerings like the "Halo: Spartan Assault" game and the free Movie Moments video sharing tool. You'll find common entertainment apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Kindle as well as productivity tools like OneNote and Adobe Reader Touch.
One limitation, though, is that few Windows apps are optimized for the XPS 15's high-resolution displays.
The XPS 15 starts at $1,499 with a 3.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4200H processor, 8GB of RAM, 500GB of storage, integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400, and a 1920 x 1080 touchscreen. The $1,899 model steps it up on all fronts, delivering a 3.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 1 TB of storage, an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, and a sharper 3200 x 1800 display. Both models pack a 61-WHr battery.
We reviewed the high-end $2,299 version of the laptop, which has the same memory, GPU, CPU, and screen as the $1,899 version, but includes a beefier 91-WHr battery and a 512GB mSATA SSD. All configurations include one year of Dell's standard technical support.
To put this price in perspective, the $2,599 model of the 15-inch MacBook Pro packs a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of flash storage, and both Nvidia GeForce GT 750M discrete graphics and Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics.
The Dell XPS 15 delivers powerhouse performance at a premium price, and you're getting a sharper screen than the MacBook Pro for $300 less (similarly configured). We also like the comfortable soft-touch deck and robust speakers. The notebook occasionally gets hot and isn't great for demanding games, but the XPS 15 makes up for those shortcomings with a 7-hour battery life that will last through the bulk of your workday.
One of the XPS 15's biggest rivals is the $2,599 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which has the same RAM and SSD size as the fully-loaded XPS 15. We prefer the MacBook Pro for its larger selection of Retina-ready apps and longer battery life, but if you're looking for a Ultra HD Windows multimedia notebook, this Dell is a delight.