Build Quality, Keyboard, and Trackpad
Design and Build Quality
The XPS laptops are among the sturdiest portables I've handled, but this does come at the expense of weight; the larger XPS 15 (as configured) is 4.4 lbs, and the XPS 13 is 2.9 lbs. I think durability is worth a little extra weight, as these seem built like tanks in my time with them.
These aren't for those who need the absolute thinnest/lightest, but we are talking about high-performance laptops here. I'll bring up Apple again here, as the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 3.48 lbs, and the 15-inch version is 4.49 lbs. Again, similar – with the 13-inch XPS quite a bit lighter than the MBP 13.
The bottom of each notebook is rather overbuilt (the XPS 15 is pictured here), with a pair of large rubber strips to cushion and secure the notebook on a variety of surfaces. These strips lift the machine noticeably off the surface of the table/desk, and presumably help with airflow as well.
The palmrest is a carbon fiber composite, and finished with the same soft-touch material as the edges. This surface feels very nice, and gives the trackpad a smooth, glassy contrast.
This is an interesting combination, with the smooth, cool metal of the notebook punctuated by such a soft, grippy surface on the palmrest and around the perimeter. Holding the notebook under one's arm does feel quite secure, thanks to the rubbery sides and those big strips on the bottom.
I'll briefly touch on an odd design characteristic of these XPS machines with InfinityEdge displays: the bottom-left webcam placement. (The XPS 13 is pictured first, XPS 15 second.)
The webcams (720p) work just fine, but it's not the most flattering angle. Using the webcam for a Skype call will result in close ups of your fingers moving across the keyboard and great views up your nose. I'm sure your boss will love it and all, but it's clearly the biggest design miss with the XPS 13 and 15.
The short version? Both the 13 and 15-inch versions have the same backlit chiclet-style keyboard, and it's just fine. It's not a ThinkPad keyboard, but it's a very good, modern laptop keyboard.
Key travel is about average (fairly short at 1.3 mm), with a crisp feel as the keys snap back up. The island keys have a flat surface, which I don't particularly care for, but I did find myself typing rather quickly on both machines in spite of my reservations. Both models have backlit keys, which can be adjusted (off/low/high).
The keyboards on both models feature backlit keys
The XPS 15 features a larger touchpad surface than the 13-in model
Here I was immediately, and pleasantly, surprised. The touchpad (or trackpad, if you prefer) is outstanding – rivalling the best I've used. It's not quite as good as a MacBook running MacOS (Apple touchpads under Windows are rather poor in my experience), but for a PC notebook to offer such a smooth, responsive experience is a breath of fresh air for the industry. Lavishing the praise a bit high? As someone who is perpetually frustrated with the tracking surface of most notebooks, I'm elated that Dell produced a touchpad this good – particulartly with the XPS 15.
The XPS 13 touchpad
The default Microsoft Precision Touchpad (PTP) driver is OK, but I prefer the customization provided by a Synaptics driver. This can be arranged by manually downloading the latest Synaptics driver (and following a few extra steps, apparently), but I just used the PTP driver on both laptops for this review.
As I said, the XPS 15's touchpad is the better of the two, and it offers a large glass surface that seems to allow for smoother movement.