Dell XPS 15 2016 – watch out Apple!
9/10
The Good

Excellent build, thin and light
Very comfortable backlit keyboard
Premium fault-less performance
Beautiful 4K display is a joy to watch
Impressive speakers
Array of ports & features

The Bad

Mediocre battery life at best
Somewhat loud fans
Expensive as configured
Odd webcam placement

Bottom Line

If you're looking for the best portable Windows machine that money can buy, the Dell XPS 15 definitely hits the mark. Premium build quality, high-performance components and an absolutely stunning display leave a lasting impression and - average battery life aside - this is one machine you'll more than likely fall in love with.

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One of the standout laptops from last year was the Dell XPS 13, which combined power and portability into an ultrabook that topped the Windows charts. Without straying too far from that iconic machine, Dell have an alternative for those who just need the extra oomph not available with the XPS 13: its bigger brother, the XPS 15.

Laptops can often be split into different categories and most buyers either want a thin-and-light multipurpose laptop like the 12-inch Apple Macbook, a laptop with a bit more oomph that won’t break your back like the Dell XPS 13 or Apple Macbook Pro, or a gaming laptop that can handle the heaviest of games but will weigh you down when you carry it with you.

Then there’s the few machines that don’t generally fit these specific categories and the Dell XPS 15 is one of these. While the XPS 13 is firmly within the ultrabook category, the XPS 15 is a larger beast that ticks a lot of boxes across the spectrum, and aims to offer a viable alternative to the Apple Macbook Pro.

Has Dell perfected the recipe for success with its Dell XPS range and are the high-quality construction and premium components of the XPS 15 enough to warrant its high price tag? Let’s find out in this, our Dell XPS 15 review.

In this review, we’re reviewing the top version of the XPS 15 offering an Intel Core i7-6500HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an UltraHD Infinity Edge display. Other variants have varying specs and performance may differ.

Design

Dell XPS 15 review

As far as design goes, the XPS range offers the best that Dell has to offer. From an almost bezel-less Infinity Edge display to a conscious design process that ensures extra space is utilised, the XPS 15 offers a design that’s up there with the very best. Apple’s Macbook Pro is widely accepted as having one of the nicest laptop designs on the market and the Dell XPS 15 is definitely on par with it design-wise.

The big, beautiful InfinityEdge display has a high gloss finish which does make sunlight legibility questionable but this is a small price to pay for the extra pixels of resolution. If you opt for the Full HD version, it is replaced with a matte finish that solves this problem. Beneath the display is the camera placement, which can only be described as weird. If you often take video calls while also typing and taking notes, your hands are definitely going to get in the way.

After 1 day of use

Just a few days of use can really impact the design, more obviously than with the XPS 13

Combining a carbon fiber chassis with rubberized palm rests and smooth, rounded corners with soft-touch texture throughout the design, the XPS 15 offers one of the nicest typing experiences on a laptop I’ve ever had. In particular, the rubberized palm rest is in stark contrast to the feel of cold metal that you get with the Macbook Pro, but it is prone to attracting fingerprints and palm marks that are difficult to remove. The residual marks on the keyboard, trackpad and palm rest are without doubt the most disappointing part of the design.

At first glance you may be put off by the XPS 15 thanks to its large footprint, but let’s not be too quick to judge: the nearly bezel-less display allows for a smaller footprint than a traditional laptop, so the XPS 15’s 15.6-inch screen is crammed into a chassis you’d normally find on a 14-inch laptop.

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Like the Macbook Pro it clearly competes with, the XPS 15 is relatively thin and light, which makes it a joy to use on the move. The version we’re reviewing with a touchscreen weighs in at a very respectable 4.4 pounds (2.0kg) whereas the non-touchscreen Full HD version comes in at 3.92 pounds (1.78kg). It’s not as light and lap-friendly as an ultrabook – such as the Dell XPS 13 – but the Dell XPS 15 doesn’t profess to be one, and with a profile that’s just 17mm thick when closed, it certainly ticks the box for portability.

Ports & Features:

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The slender frame and profile don’t come at the sacrifice of ports – like with the 12-inch Apple Macbook, for example – and the XPS 15 definitely ticks all the boxes here. To the left there is a full-size USB port, a HDMI socket, a USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3.0 combo port that allows data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps and a headphone jack.

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Moving to the right, there is a full-size SD card slot, a secondary USB 3.0 port, a Kensington lock slot and a neat feature that indicates remaining battery life. In particular, it’s handy to know just how much battery life you have remaining at a glance, as we’ll touch on later. While the XPS 15 doesn’t quite have the number of ports we’ve seen on machines of old, it does offer more ports and features than on most current laptops.

Keyboard

If it’s isn’t broken, don’t fix it and so the keyboard on the XPS 15 remains largely the same one found on previous models, as well as the XPS 13 ultrabook. The part that really sells us on the XPS 15 as a daily-driver is its keyboard: it’s fantastic.

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It offers aptly-sized and well-spaced backlit buttons that offer a pleasant white LED glow and typing is firm and responsive, which is more than can be said for many machines. It’s not completely perfect however, as there’s a lot of wasted space around the keyboard and we would have liked Dell to have at least added the bonus buttons of Home, Pg Dwn and Up and End in addition to their own keys.

Instead of dedicated buttons, special functions are available via the press of the function button and the slimmed-down arrow keys, which can be somewhat difficult to press when you’re touch typing. These are minor gripes, however, as, after writing this entire review on the Dell XPS 15, I can say the keyboard remains an excellent selling point and is genuinely a joy to use.

Trackpad

The trackpad, however, is a different story; Windows machines have, in my experience at least, always struggled to match the excellent trackpad found on the Apple Macbook, but Dell somewhat comes closer than most.

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Dell has delivered a trackpad that definitely feels comparable to that of a Macbook, and like Apple’s trackpad, it is of the ‘clickpad’ style that lets you press down anywhere on the surface to produce a click. Most trackpads struggle to distinguish between a left and right click but Dell’s implementation is pretty accurate and the large size is ideal for pinching and zooming when you need to.

Where the trackpad does fall a little short in my opinion is that single-finger tracking can be flaky and it often appears to have a mind of its own, with the cursor not always moving where intended and browser tabs often being rearranged. These are minor gripes as the overall experience is still very enjoyable.

Display & Speakers

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Aside from the abundance of features on offer with the XPS 15, the big draw is the display, both for its clarity and its style. The base display offered on the XPS 15 is a non-touch, 1080p panel but the real winner is the 4k, color-accurate touchscreen which is simply a joy to use. Alongside the obvious benefits from the large screen real estate, the display also offers 350-nit brightness that’s vibrant and has 100-percent Adobe Color Space coverage, resulting in an excellent display.

While we’ve not used the 1080p version, after a few weeks with the 4K version, I can safely say that if you can afford it, the upgrade to the better screen is totally worth it. As mentioned above, the 1080p version does come with a different finish but given the hours you’ll likely spend staring at the XPS 15, the 4K display upgrade is definitely justified.

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The built-in stereo speakers on the bottom are also pleasing and are more than loud enough that they can easily fill a small apartment with sound. The speakers produce distortion-free sound right up to their maximum value and there’s very little to complain about with the overall audio produced. If you like to also use your laptop to consume media, the speakers on the XPS 15 are perfect for this task.

Performance

Our XPS 15 2016 review unit is powered by a sixth-generation Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core CPU clocked at 2.6GHz or up to 3.5GHz with Intel’s TurboBoost. Considering the XPS 15’s price, it’s unsurprising that Dell has opted for the best processor you can put into a laptop and the HQ moniker – instead of the U branded CPU that is used in most ultrabooks – means the XPS 15 can draw on the maximum performance when it needs to.

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This processor comes with integrated Intel HD 530 graphics that does the job for most tasks including driving the 4k display at its native resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels), but it does fall a little short for video editing. Like most machines with both integrated and dedicated graphics, the Intel GPU runs most of the time as it’s a lot more power friendly. When you need more power however, the 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory provided by the Nvidia GeForce GTX960M graphics card certainly does the trick. If you opt for the 4k display, we’d highly recommend picking up the dedicated graphics card as well.

In actual usage, there’s no concerns whatsoever with the Dell XPS 15 as it comfortably handles all my usual usage – including have around 10 applications and 20 Chrome tabs open at the same time – with no signs of lag or slowing down. When editing photos in Photoshop there’s no concerns with the integrated graphics and thanks to the discrete graphics, there’s no issues with video editing all the way up to 4k either.

Benchmarks

How does the package stack up in the benchmark tests? Here’s how it stacks up to the competition:

ModelPC Mark 8
(Home Accelerated)
PC Mark 8
(Creative Accelerated)
PC Mark 8
(Work Accelerated)
3DMark
(Sky Diver)
ATTTO
(Top read / write Mb/s)
GeekBench 3
(Single / Multi-core)
HP Spectre 13-v050na
(2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U
8GB RAM
Intel HD 520)
26292495288827351506 / 2963040 / 6339
Dell XPS 15
(2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
16GB RAM
2GB NVIDIA GeForce 960M)
26262975266464631716 / 5813445 / 10830
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
(1.51GHz Intel Core m3-6Y30
4GB RAM
Intel HD 515)
2702322130182964857 / 1552503 / 4829
Razer Blade Stealth
(2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U,
8GB RAM,
Intel HD 520)
29103891402334601546 / 3073216 / 6812
Huawei MateBook
(1.1GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54
8GB RAM
Intel HD 515)
2759333737951988539 / 4722776 / 5481
Dell XPS 13
(2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
8GB RAM
256GB SSD)
30564024391536891537 / 3043301 / 6932

Overall, there’s no denying that this particular XPS 15 is a powerhouse, but the performance you derive will largely depend on which version you pick. Considering it’s quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM and dual-graphics, it’s pretty much the best Windows machine that money can buy. In the benchmarks, it’s far and above everything else we’ve tested (which is to be expected), yet that’s beside the point. The real point is that Dell have worked wonders to offer a quad-core processor, discrete graphics and a 4k display in a machine this light and slim, which is mostly unheard of as far as laptops go.

Heat/Noise

This is an area that the Dell XPS 15 is certainly concerning; it’s loud when the fans are running, which is quite often as it does tend to heat up a little even with basic tasks such as writing and surfing at the same time. In particular, when the NVIDIA GPU is activated, it’s immediately noticeable thanks to the fans running in the background.

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In terms of heat, the XPS doesn’t really get warm too often, although it can when video editing with the charging cable plugged in but this is to be expected from such powerful internals. While it’s not the quietest machine, the noise from the fans is certainly within the parameters of what you’d expect from a 15-inch machine and certainly not a deal-breaker.

Battery Life

Let’s come out and say this straight away: The Dell XPS 15 battery life is mediocre at best and simply appalling at times. Before digging into the specific number around battery life, it’s worth remembering that the 4k display consumes a lot more power than a Full HD panel as each pixel requires power and those extra pixels cause the battery to drain quickly.

That being said, the battery life is downright shocking. Dell claims it offers up to 17-hours battery life with the 1080p model when browsing the web or around 9 hours for continuous video playback. With the 4K version that I’ve been testing, these figures drop to 10 hours of wireless web browsing and seven hours for video playback.

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Short of turning the display off and doing nothing with it, there’s absolutely no way it lasts this long: instead, you can expect around 3 to 5 hours worth of battery life. In our testing, it lasts 5 hours and 1 minute when looping video, which isn’t amazing but the machine seems to really struggle when there’s lots of different tasks happening.

During the typing of this review, I’ve had to put it on charge at least once and, with three tabs open in Microsoft Edge and this review open in Microsoft Word, the battery drained within 3 hours and 48 minutes. Furthermore, I found I have to manage the brightness of the display to eek the most out of the battery and while it’s not ideal to do so, operating it at 50% brightness or less does increase the battery life to around 4 hours and 32 minutes.

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Putting the XPS 15 through PCMark 8’s conventional battery testing, the XPS 15 lasted 122 minutes in the conventional home testing and 132 minutes in the Work testing. These are figures that you’d expect more from a gaming laptop than an ultrabook and it’s the one area of the Dell XPS 15 that certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

If battery life is very important to you, the Dell XPS 15 probably isn’t the right machine and instead, I’d recommend looking at a smaller ultrabook like the XPS 13 that definitely hits the mark as far as battery life is concerned. The XPS 15 definitely aims to compete alongside Apple’s Macbook Pro but it trails its rival significantly in the battery department, where the Macbook offers almost double the battery life (albeit with lesser specs in terms of the display). Of course, you can buy Dell’s 18,000mAh portable charger to keep you powered on the move if the XPS 15 is a must-have for you.

Price & Specifications:

Price
US / UK
$799.99 / £1,149$999.99 / £1,249$1499.99 / £1,399$1699.99 / £1,649$2129.99 / £1,899
Touchscreen:NoNoNoYesYes
Processor:Intel Core i5-6300HQ
(Up to 3.2GHz)
Intel Core i7-6700HQ
(Up to 3.5GHz)
Intel Core i7-6700HQ
(Up to 3.5GHz)
Intel Core i7-6700HQ
(Up to 3.5GHz)
Intel Core i7-6700HQ
(Up to 3.5GHz)
OS:Windows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 Home
Memory:8GB DDR4 RAM8GB DDR4 RAM16GB DDR4 RAM16GB DDR4 RAM16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage:1TB HDD + 32GB SSD256GB SSD512GB SSD512GB SSD512GB SSD
Graphics:NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M
2GB Dedicated
NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M
2GB Dedicated
NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M
2GB Dedicated
NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M
2GB Dedicated
NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M
2GB Dedicated
Display:15.6" FHD
(1920x1080)
15.6" FHD
(1920x1080)
15.6" FHD
(1920x1080)
15.6" Ultra HD
(3840 x 2160)
15.6" Ultra HD
(3840 x 2160)
Battery Life:Up to 17 hoursUp to 17 hoursUp to 17 hoursUp to 17 hoursUp to 17 hours

Gallery

Final Verdict

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If you’ve been looking for the best portable Windows machine that money can buy or need a Windows alternative to the 15-inch Macbook Pro, the Dell XPS 15 is arguably the only machine you should consider. It’s powerful and thin, offers an excellent keyboard and vibrant 4k display and, disappointing battery life aside, is one of the best machines I’ve ever used.

From the perspective of a Macbook user of many years, the Dell XPS 15 is the first Windows powered machine that truly feels like it can replace my Macbook Pro. Similar to the Macbook Pro, it’s a machine that can be relied upon to do anything, as long as you’re near a power outlet that is. Of course, you can always buy the $120 mobile charger and then you’re totally sorted.

What do you think of the XPS 15 and would you buy one? Do we need 4K on a laptop or is it overkill and if you’re not interested by the XPS 15, what machine would/have you buy/bought. Let us know your views in the comments below.

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