Battery Life and Conclusion
Our settings for all tested notebooks call for a fairly high 180 lux brightness, which was a backlight setting of 42% on the XPS 13, and 45% with the XPS 15.
The XPS 13's are basically tied, with recorded results within a couple of minutes of one another. The larger XPS 15, which is also upgraded with a Core i7 CPU and discrete GPU, managed a respectable 5.2 hours of constant browsing. The backlight setting of 45%, along with the higher 4k resolution of the display, were contributing factors as well. Even so, we would hope for a better result given the larger 84 WHr battery in our XPS 15, compared to 56 WHr with the XPS 13.
My standards for notebook worth centers around the input, and the display. We interact through these things, and I'm willing to accept a performance trade-off if the quality of those key components is of sufficient merit. Not everyone will agree with this, but I don't find even the most powerful notebook particularly useful if I have trouble with an inferior trackpad or struggle with a poor keyboard experience, or if the screen is of poor quality.
I used to think that Apple's MacBook Pro was the gold standard in overall notebook quality (forgetting about the OS for a moment, and focusing only on the hardware). There is a significance to the milled unibody construction, and a quality to the IPS displays chosen for these "Pro" level machines, that makes them very impressive. Add to that what I consider to be the best trackpad in the industry, and a solid keyboard, and you have a combination that's difficult to beat.
With the XPS 15, Dell may have Apple beaten.
I did not want to make this review an "Apple vs. Dell" battle, but there are some interesting points to consider: First, the XPS 15 is less expensive when similarly equipped, and has a higher resolution (and better-looking) display than the MacBook Pro 15. Our review unit also offers a touchscreen, and while I don't personally have a need for touch on a non-convertible notebook, it's there for those who do.
In short, as configured the XPS 15 we received from Dell for our review is the finest premium laptop I have ever used. The $2299 MSRP for our top-end sample unit is steep (though it commonly sells for $200 less), but this less than an Apple MacBook Pro 15 with similar hardware ($2499), and the XPS 15 has a significantly better display. I would further argue that this is still quite reasonably priced for what it is: a notebook with state-of-the-art performance and premium-quality components.
I love the keyboards on ThinkPad notebooks, and the trackpads on MacBooks. But the XPS 15 is my new favorite laptop, hands down. This is not to downplay the XPS 13, itself a fine ultra-portable machine with tremendous upside. The price on the 13-inch machine begins at just $799, and it provides a tremendous experience if you don't need the additional power or larger, better display of the 15-inch model.
Whichever model you choose, I don't think you'll find higher quality notebooks from any manufacturer right now. Sure, the webcam location is weird (why the bottom left?), and there are specific user needs (2-in-1 design, etc.) that won't be met with this traditional notebook design. So, while I can't call these the "perfect" laptops, they are good enough to make me stop searching – for now, anyway.