Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet

THESE days, the PC manufacturer Dell has a falling problem. Along with global PC sales, its own sales are dwindling. The former world number one is now third, behind Lenovo and HP. To make matters worse, smaller manufacturers like Asus and Acer are snapping at its heels.
 
Even in its once untouchable portable segment, sales are falling. Dell badly needs a winner - or a slew of winners. Is it possible that the new XPS 15 laptop heralds the beginning of a turnaround?

Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet

Design
 
From a distance, the XPS 15 appears to be a silver tray. With its brushed aluminium cover, it is a shining beauty with a look similar to some of Apple's products. The rest of the body is a dark carbon-fibre composite.
 
As is the fashion these days with quite a few manufacturers, the XPS 15 has a very thin bezel. At less than 1cm, it is thin enough that you need to be careful not to get your fingerprints on the screen while moving the device. This also means that the camera is not in the top center of the laptop. Instead, it is located on the lower left side. But this makes no difference to the overall image quality.
 
Rather strangely, there is a lot of vacant space in the bottom half of the XPS 15. It could have been used to accommodate larger keys and a wider trackpad. As things stand, it feels like a wasted opportunity and the keyboard feels slightly cramped during long typing sessions.

Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet
 

There is a small switch on the right edge of the base unit. Pressing this will light up a tiny series of LEDs that is supposed to show how much battery is remaining. This can be done even when the screen lid is closed.
 
The XPS 15 is a lightweight for a portable with such a big screen. At just 1.78Kg, it should fit nicely into any backpack or in-flight bag. It is also only 1.7cm thick when closed - truly thin and light.
 
Display and Ports
 
At 15.6-inches, the screen on the XPS 15 is slightly larger than the laptop's name suggests. It has an anti-reflective coating and a resolution of 1920x1080. In terms of brightness and overall image quality, it is on par with the Acer Aspire R 14 that we had reviewed earlier.
 
The screen's matte finish has its advantages and disadvantages. While it makes the screen easy on the eye, it also makes it appear slightly less bright than the glossy screens on other laptops.
 
For direct connectivity, there is an SD card reader, a USB 3.0 Type A port and a Kensington lock on the left side. On the right, there is a HDMI port and a second USB 3.0 Type A port, analogue audio output and a USB 3.1 Type C port with Thunderbolt 3 support.
 
Even with these, there is still plenty of empty space available along both edges. Maybe these could have been used for a couple more USB ports or even a VGA port for backward compatibility.
 
Internal Hardware
 
This year's XPS 15 comes with an Intel Core i5 6300HQ processor. Belonging to the 'Skylake' generation released last year, the integrated CPU runs at 2.3GHZ. The clock speed can be automatically boosted based on application requirements. Slower and faster versions of the Skylake CPU are available on cheaper and more expensive versions of the XPS 15.
 
While the mundane Windows display tasks are handled by Intel's integrated HD Graphics 530 GPU, there is also a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU for 3D applications like games. In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the laptop also has 8GB of low voltage DDR4 RAM and another dedicated 2GB RAM for the Nvidia GPU.
 
Like the CPUs, Dell offers a range of storage for the XPS 15. You can choose between a single 256GB SSD or a SSD and hard drive combo unit.
 
Performance
 
In pure CPU performance, the Dell XPS 15 is a speeding bullet. Thanks to the latest Intel CPU, it is no slouch in any regular office tasks. Needless to say, Full HD and 4K video playback is also excellent.
 
With a 3DMark 11 score of 1818, it is also speedy in DirectX 11 applications. Although it is not marketed as a dedicated gaming laptop, we had no problem playing The Witcher 3 and Far Cry Primal in medium settings with anti-aliasing turned off.
 
There has to be a special mention for the audio in the XPS 15. Although the front-facing speakers are tiny, the quality of audio is nothing to scoff at. Whether it is movies, games or music, you should have a good experience.
 
Battery life is the only concern at peak performance. While testing using a 4K video file at maximum brightness, the laptop lasted just over two hours on a full charge. Not quite enough to watch many movies. So you will need to turn down the screen's brightness to make it last longer.
 
Software
 
Our version of the XPS 15 came with a trial version of Office 365. Considering that Dell is a long-time Microsoft ally and the portable is aimed at the corporate market, it is a pity that the company does not include a full version of the office suite.
 

Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet
 

But Dell does include a unified tech support application for troubleshooting. In case you do get into trouble, it provides a direct channel to Dell technical support.

Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet
 

There is also a Dell audio management app which is more useful. In addition to speaker and microphone volume settings, you can enable filters to improve audio quality.
 
Conclusion
 
It would be fair to say that this year's XPS 15 is a solid offering in all departments including design and performance. Although it is not a huge leap forward, it might have enough potential to at least hold off competing offerings from the likes of HP, Lenovo and Acer.
 
We are yet to see the full lineup from the other manufacturers. So it is too early to say if the XPS 15 will standout from the crowd.
 
Rating: 4 out of 5
 

Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet
Review: Dell XPS 15, a silver bullet
 

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