Post updated April 28th, 2016 at 09:16 pm
The Dell XPS 13 was – and still is – one of the best consumer-level Windows laptops in the market. With the XPS 15, Dell seems to be attempting to recreate the winning formula that made the 13-inch laptop so compelling. So how did it fare?
Honestly, not too shabby. I really like using the XPS 15, but a few issues here and there held it back it from being one of the most compelling 15-inch laptops out there.
The XPS 15 looks a lot like a bigger XPS 13; it’s akin to how the 13-inch MacBook Pro looks much the same as the 15-inch model, which isn’t all that bad. It gives a sense of fluidity between the two products: it’s as if Dell envisioned the XPS 15 to be a more powerful XPS 13, and in many ways, this is true.
Open the lid of the laptop, and you’ll see that nothing really changed with the XPS 15 compared to its smaller sibling. It still has the same carbon fibre texture coated in soft paint (which is very comfortable to rest my hands on), and the excellent glass trackpad is also here.
Of course, there is also the very eye-catching InfinityEdge display; this alone makes the XPS 15 by far one of the sleekest-looking laptops in the market. Thanks to the almost borderless display, the overall dimensions of the laptop is also reduced. In fact, it feels a lot like a 14-inch laptop rather than a 15-inch one. However, because of the minimal bezels, the webcam had to be relocated to the bottom of the display, which can look awkward in a video chat.
Despite its understated design, the XPS 15 is actually a very capable gaming laptop. I imagine the XPS 15 was designed with the business professional in mind, but I would definitely get this laptop based on its gaming performance alone.
For the record, I find the XPS 15 to be a pleasant laptop to use. But, when I first booted up the laptop, I notice my first gripe with the XPS 15: its 1TB SSHD.
I’ve used a laptop with an SSD for quite some time now, and going back to a machine with a spinning drive – despite it having 32GB of flash storage – is not easy to get used to. Because of this, the XPS 15 feels more sluggish than it really is; the fact that it’s a 5400RPM hard drive instead of a faster one isn’t doing it any favours either, especially for a laptop that costs RM6,699.
On the other hand, I really like the 1080p matte display of the XPS 15. Although the review unit we received is not the top-of-the-line model with a 4K display and a touchscreen, the Full HD display is definitely a good option for those who want better battery life. That said, it’s worth noting that the non-4K XPS 15 is equipped with a smaller battery, although this also reduces the weight of the laptop.
Personally, nothing is more important to me than the keyboard of a laptop. Hey, it’s basically the most crucial input device, and in the case of the XPS 15, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Let me get this out of the way first: I really like the keyboard. While the key travel is not that great, it has enough travel to at least be better than the XPS 13’s keyboard. On top of that, it has decent tactile feedback as well, but there is one glaring issue with the keyboard: the spacebar.
The XPS 15 we received for review had a rather iffy spacebar. If I were to hit the spacebar off-centre (basically, how most of us would type), it wouldn’t register. Not only do I have to hit the spacebar right on the centre of the key for it to register my input, it would sometimes mistake one input as two. Turns out, other owners of the XPS 15 have reported a similar issue.
Aside from the keyboard, the trackpad of the XPS 15 is one of the best Windows trackpads I have ever used. My fingers can glide over it smoothly, and it is quite accurate as well. Is it as good as a MacBook’s trackpad? Well, no, but it is definitely close to being as good.
As far as system noise goes, the XPS 15 fared well. In normal usage, the two fans are rarely audible; they only make themselves heard when the laptop is under heavier load, such as gaming. Heat management is also fine for the most part; the palm rest area only gets warm in extended gaming sessions or heavy benchmarking.
For a 15-inch laptop, the XPS 15’s stereo speakers are quite decent. They can get really, really loud, and the audio quality is quite good as well. That said, these speakers will not be replacing your favourite pair of headphones or dedicated speakers, but they are good nonetheless.
Overall, the XPS 15 is a really pleasant laptop to use. Its compact size makes you forget you’re using a 15.6-inch laptop, and its almost borderless display is really something. Unfortunately, my favourable impression of the XPS 15 is affected by the odd spacebar and slow SSHD, not to mention the fact that there is no way to configure it with an SSD unless I do it myself; only the RM7,499 and RM8,999 models ship with a 256GB and 512GB SSD respectively.
Equipped with a very capable Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card, the XPS 15 is markedly more powerful than the XPS 13. So much so, in fact, I would gladly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a sleek gaming machine. Just look at the game benchmark scores:
Sure, these numbers are by no means jaw-dropping, but they are respectable for something not intended to be a gaming laptop. As for the XPS 15’s synthetic benchmark results, the Core i7-6700HQ is more or less equal to other laptops with similar processors as well based on the scores below.
What we have here is a 15-inch laptop with a powerful processor and a dedicated graphics card. I admit, I was sceptical of the XPS 15’s battery life because of this, but to my surprise, it’s actually quite a long-lasting laptop.
In my testing, I can get about 4 to 5 hours of battery life on normal usage: this test was done in power-saving mode and the brightness set to a comfortable level. Considering this is a 15-inch laptop with a non-ULV chipset (such as a Core i7-6500U processor), colour me impressed.
The good battery life is further reinforced when I tested it with PCMark’s battery life test. While the result doesn’t look particularly impressive, it’s pretty commendable for a laptop of this size and hardware. The XPS 15 also lasted about two hours and 45 minutes in our continuous 1080p video playback and approximately 45 minutes in our 3DMark battery drain test, which involves looping the Sky Diver demo. Naturally, these tests were done at maximum brightness with the power setting set to high performance; the XPS 15 was also constantly connected to WiFi throughout the tests.
The XPS 15 is a compact 15-inch laptop, and it’s arguably its only kind in that sense. Well, there’s the LG Gram 15, but it lacks a dedicated graphics card; it’s not even available here in Malaysia yet.
That is not to say there are no competitors to the XPS 15. If you want a more powerful gaming machine, there’s the Acer Predator 15. The RM6,999 variant – which costs a mere RM300 more than the XPS 15 we reviewed here – has a more capable GTX 970M graphics card, a 128GB SSD coupled with a faster 1TB 7200RPM HDD, as well as more RAM at 16GB. In the performance department, the Predator 15 will definitely outclass the XPS 15.
While the Predator 15 gives you more bang for your buck, it is also heavier and thicker than the XPS 15; it also doesn’t feature the unique InfinityEdge display, which really gives Dell’s offering an edge in the design department. Regardless, if gaming is your concern, the Predator 15 will be a better choice, although it isn’t as compact or as sleek-looking as the XPS 15.
If you’re looking for something even more affordable than the XPS 15 and Predator 15 for your gaming needs, you can’t go wrong with the Acer Aspire V Nitro. Just like the XPS 15, the V Nitro also features a GTX 960M graphics card, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, as well as a 1TB HDD – unlike the XPS 15, this HDD is paired with a fast 128GB SSD.
However, as is the case with the Predator 15, the V Nitro simply isn’t as premium-looking or compact as the XPS 15. On top of that, Acer’s offering only has 4GB of RAM. That said, it is also much more affordable than the XPS 15 at RM4,699 – that’s a huge RM2,000 difference.
Gaming laptops aside, there is also Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro if you’re looking for a competing productivity machine. Aside from the whole Windows vs. OS X debate, the MacBook simply isn’t as compact as the XPS 15; it also doesn’t feature a touchscreen or a 4K display, and the base model costs a whopping RM8,499. For that kind of money, you’re not even getting a dedicated graphics card.
But, the 15-inch MacBook Pro does have a few features that are superior to the XPS 15. There’s the excellent trackpad, better battery life, and of course, the benefits that OS X have over Windows, although this depends on personal preferences of users themselves.
The Dell XPS 15 is a great 15-inch laptop. It’s by far the most compact 15-inch notebook I’ve used, thanks to the InfinityEdge display. To top it of, the XPS 15 is also a capable gaming machine. However, the high price tag and lack of configuration – again, only the more costly variants are equipped with an SSD, albeit it’s a very fast PCIe one – options held it back from being one of the best Windows laptops in the market now, not to mention the spacebar issue.
That being said, if you’re in the market for a capable and compact 15-inch laptop, the XPS 15 is a great choice. While it doesn’t look like one, it’s definitely a laptop that you can game with. Of course, you can’t necessarily max out the in-game settings, but it’s more than capable at running modern titles with the right settings.
Just be prepared to pay a premium for what you’re getting with the XPS 15.
Photography by Terry Bass