Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software
Display And Audio Quality
The 1080p display on the Dell XPS 15z is a highlight from the moment you open the laptop. The extra pixels make the display extremely sharp and provide plenty of usable real estate. High-definition video is brilliant – I happily watched quite a few more 1080p videos than I needed to in order to test the display.
With that said, the extremely glossy coat can ruin the party. Every hint of light is reflected and, in addition to that, the gloss isn’t evenly spread. Whatever is reflected by the display shines back with a bumpy quality, as if the reflection had been passed through a photoshop filter before being sent back to your eyes. It’s no more distracting than any other high-gloss display, but it does make the laptop difficult to use in bright light.
Despite of (or perhaps because of) the gloss, overall image quality is decent. Black levels are just average and there is significant banding in the darkest portions of the gradient banding test image, but colors pop and most of the contrast test image shows significant differentiation. It’s obvious that Dell tuned this display to enhance perceived quality in movies and games. Considering the target demographic, that doesn’t seem like a bad call.
Audio quality is fine. At maximum volume there is enough omph to make movies enjoyable. Some distortion will be introduced when bass sounds are combined with other mid-range tones, but not any more so than with other laptops. Anyone looking to make this a competent media center will want to add a pair of headphones or external speakers. The audio jack location (at the front right side of the chassis) is excellent for the former, but annoying for the latter.
At idle the XPS 15z is predictably quiet. The combination of a fairly spacious chassis with mid-range hardware allows for reasonable temperatures at low fan speeds. In fact, the most noticeable noise made by this laptop during idle comes not from any fan but rather from the mechanical hard drive, which occasionally emanates a click or groan.
Expect external temperatures in the low-to-high 80s when this laptop is at idle – low in the palmrest and most the keyboard, high near the exhaust vent. Speaking of which, the vent is actually on the bottom of the laptop. This unusual configuration prevents hot air from being blown across your hands or your desktop, but it also makes use of the laptop on cloth surfaces a particularly bad idea.
While most of the laptop’s palmrest and keyboard remain in the mid-90s there are portions of the laptop that become hot under load. The rear bottom of the laptop reaches temperatures of 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Also toasty is the trim between the top of the keyboard and the display. I pulled a maximum external temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit from this area. Like the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, this laptop tries to fit a discrete GPU into a small space. The cooling system can only barely keep up.
The “z” designation on this laptop may fool you into thinking that it’s portable. A look at the specifications will tell you a different story. Yes, the thickness of just under one inch is nice, but in all other dimensions this is a typical 15.6” laptop. It weighs as much, and is as wide and long as, any other laptop with a display of this size.
You’ll find this laptop to be no more portable than your average mainstream laptop. Throw in the ultra-glossy display and high load temperature and you end up with a laptop that performs best when it’s left on a desk.
Dell equips the XPS 15z with a robust 8-cell battery rated at 64Wh, which is a bit larger than average. In addition, the GT 525M supports Optimus. Dell is claiming up to 8 hours and 22 minutes of endurance, which would be excellent.
Reality, as it turns out, is a bit different from marketing. I’m sure that, at the lowest possible brightness setting with minimal usage, this laptop could achieve over 8 hours. But that’s not a realistic usage scenario.
Overall the XPS 15z is about average for a laptop of this size. As you can clearly see in the graph above, it hangs well with the ThinkPad T420. A 5 to 6 hour battery life is what you can expect from most of today’s 15.6” laptops if you’re not asking much from the processor.
Dell’s notorious software hasn’t gone anywhere. Most of the industry seems to be retreated a bit from pre-installed baddies, but the XPS 15z is full of it ( I’ll leave you to replace “it” with more specific word).
Where to start? There’s some sort of dock that hangs out on the desktop just north of the taskbar. A few of its functions link to Windows libraries, which is a replication of the taskbar’s potential functionality. Once you start digging into categories like books and magazines the purpose of the dock becomes clear. It is an advertising platform for Dell’s partners, which include Zinio Reader, Blio, Cozio, and Nero.
Other highlights include McAffee, which is as annoying and needlessly alarmist as ever, and a Dell’s own backup service, which prompts you for action with pop-ups that appear in the lower right-hand corner.