Introduction, Design, User Interface
Is Dell’s up-market laptop luxurious enough to compete?
Dell has long tried to enter the high-end luxury laptop market. These attempts have always been met with mixed results. While Dell’s thick, power and relatively affordable XPS laptops are a good pick for people needing a desktop replacement, they don’t cause the thinness-obsessed media to salivate.
Enter the Dell XPS 15z. It’d be easy to think that it’s a MacBook Pro clone considering its similar pricing and silver exterior, but reality is simpler then that. This is just an XPS 15 that has been slimmed down. Like the standard XPS laptops, the 15z follows a form-balanced-by-function approach that is common among all of Dell’s laptops.
Slimming the chassis has forced the use of some less powerful components, but our review unit still arrived with some impressive hardware. Let’s have a look.
The Core i7 processor should perform well and the Nvidia GT525M should make games reasonably enjoyable without killing battery life. The inclusion of an optional 1080p display hints at the 15z’s up-market focus.
Our review unit is a high-end model. The hard drive is upgraded to 750GB from a base of 500GB and the RAM is upgraded to 8GB from a base of 6GB. The Core i7 processor is also an upgrade. Dell’s website suggests our review unit would retail around $1300, but the company is known to have sales, so you may be able to pick one up for $100 or $200 cheaper if you’re lucky.
That’s a steep price that makes the XPS 15z far more expensive than a typical mainstream laptop. Even the base 15z is $200 more than the base XPS 15, and a lot of that price seems to go in to the XPS 15z’s thinner design. Let’s see if the premium is justified.
I reviewed the Dell Inspiron 14z late last year and loved it, but that laptop usually retails for between $500 and $800 bucks. Given the higher price and XPS branding of this laptop, I expected something radically different. That’s what we received, but the changes are not in favor of the XPS 15z.
Unlike the smaller Inspiron 14z, which feels more expensive than it is, the XPS 15z seems a bit cheap and tinny relative to similarly priced competition. The silver metallic finish might have looked cool in 2009, but today it seems bland and out-of-date. Dell has also endowed the laptop with some design traits that are just plain weird. The speakers are covered by an odd bathroom-tile pattern and the display hinge is a long hunk of silver plastic that seems carved out of the dash of an econo-car.
Look past the aesthetics and the XPS 15z improves. Its metallic display lid is firm, the hinge allows for minimal display wobble and the lower chassis doesn’t groan in protest or flex noticeably no matter how poorly you treat it – impressive, as this thin laptop is not particularly light.
Connectivity is well thought out, as well. The individual microphone and headphone jacks are located at the front right corner, while the rear left flank houses two USB 3.0 ports, a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, HDMI and DisplayPort. Ethernet and the power can be found around back.
Dell’s strange design choices continue to the user interface. The keyboard is small for a laptop of this size and individual keys are adorned with rounded plastic caps that look a bit cheap. As far as I can tell, there’s not much reason to include such a small keyboard in a large laptop unless you’re doing it for design – which makes me wonder what Dell was thinking. If the hope was to achieve a premium appearance, the company has failed, and reduced functionality while they were at it.
Not everything about the keyboard is bad, however. Though individual keys are small, they are large enough to be comfortable and there is sufficient space between each key to make touch-typing easy. Key travel is decent and keys bottom out with authority. You can find better laptops to type on, but the XPS 15z isn’t bad.
Telling you about the touchpad simply requires that I repeat myself. It too is much smaller and less luxurious than you’d expect it to be. Oh, sure, there’s some chrome trim around the surface, but the actual touchpad has a simple matte plastic finish that’s no different than that found on laptops costing hundreds less. At least the individual left/right mouse buttons are a high point. They are large and offer significant travel.