In mobile computing, I’m usually willing to put up with a little extra bulk and weight if it means I can actually get real work done. This is often true when it comes to tablets like the iPad Air--I’ll pack in an extra Bluetooth keyboard so I can type on airplanes. With my smartphone, I’ll use a backup battery case like those from Mophie if it means I can squeeze out more juice.
The Dell XPS 15 is one of those rare laptops that has some serious processing power, a stunning 4K touch display, and a speedy 512GB solid state drive but is also thin enough, at .7-inches, to work on business trips and not just sit on a desk somewhere collecting dust. It costs $2,549 for the higher-end config I tested with all of the trimmings mentioned above, but there’s a model without 4K touch that costs $1,599.
At 4.44 pounds, the XPS 15 is not intended to be a paper-thin “air” notebook that's mostly for Web browsing, and that’s fine with me. I’ve tested most of the air models including the brand new Lenovo LaVie Z, the Macbook Air, and most of the new models by Samsung and Asus. I’m a bit of a laptop hound. While the tech industry focuses all of the attention on phones, mobile apps, and tablets, I still need an actual legit computer to do video editing work, photo manipulation, write documents, and manage all of my social media accounts using robust apps that runs in the Chrome browser.
I’ve been using the XPS 15 for a full week as my primary system and it is has performed perfectly. I use Adobe products like Photoshop CC to edit photos frequently; the 16GB of RAM has helped tremendously to keep apps from running into one another. With the 4K display, I can zoom in on a high-res photo and spot problems in a way that is just not possible with a normal HD display. Running a few 4K videos on YouTube.com has revealed a major perk: The 3840x2160 resolution (8 million pixels) is almost future-proof until we get 8K displays, and that could be years and years away (or never).
The 15.6-inch display on this premium laptop is the only one in existence right now that supports this resolution with touch input. It’s cool to see a photo on screen and be able to zoom in and swipe around at that level of detail. Backing up the 4K screen is an Intel Core i7 processor (the 4712HQ with a 6M cache and speeds up to 3.30 GHz) that didn’t cause any slowdowns even for those high-res videos and the photo editing sessions.
The screen also has a wide 160-degree viewing angle and looked bright and clear (it is rated at 400-nit with an 800:1 contrast ratio) for several Netflix movies. The specs are sort of meaningless until you start using the notebook for daily tasks and to see how Google Docs text looks clearer than you’ve ever seen on a laptop compared to the muddy, slightly jagged look for text on lower-end models.
As for how long the laptop lasts, I’m not a big believer in the “official” battery life ratings, since they depend so much on the screen brightness level, whether you have Wi-Fi on, and which apps you’re using, and a few other factors. I found the XPS 15 generally lasted an entire work day at a coffee shop where I live, which matches the spec of about 11 hours.
The XPS also feels durable--it uses quality materials like Gorilla Glass NBT which is 10x more scratch-resistant than other glass materials used for laptops. The laptop base is made from a carbon-fiber composite material and the rest is aluminum.
Dell positions this laptop as a desktop replacement, It uses high-end graphics (the Nvidia GeForce GT 750M 2GB GDDR5 for the model I tested) so it works for video editing and, during off hours, just about any recent first-person shooter. Overall, it’s a top pick for me as a “real” laptop you would use as a primary system in the office or on the road.
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