Dell XPS 15 review (Late 2015, Skylake) - the ultimate Windows 10 laptop
Processor: Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, RAM: 16GB, Dimensions: 357x235x17mm, Weight: 2kg, Screen size: 15.6in, Screen resolution: 3,840x2,160, Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M, Total storage: 512GB SSD
It’s difficult to not be immediately wowed by Dell’s InfinityEdge bezels, even if the feat of engineering is no longer anything new. But next to the razor thin bezels of the Dell XPS 13, even the slickest of laptops suddenly looks positively dowdy. This hasn’t changed with the XPS 15, which takes much of what I loved about the XPS 13 and applies it to a much larger form factor.
Much like how the XPS 13 is afforded the chassis of a typical 11.1in laptop thanks to its almost bezel-less 13.3in screen, the XPS 15 packs a 15.6in display into a much smaller chassis than your typical 15in laptop. It’s not quite as svelte as the XPS 13, but with bezels measuring just 5.7mm, it's still a beauty to behold.
As a high-end performance laptop, comparisons to the MacBook Pro are almost unavoidable, but the XPS 15 does compare very favourably against Apple's 15in powerhouse, particularly when it comes to size and weight. While the 15in Macbook Pro measures 18mm all the way round, the XPS 15 tapers from 11-17mm in thickness.
Admittedly, the picture above is a little deceiving, as it only starts getting slimmer from around the front 20mm of the device. It certainly looks slimmer from afar, but in reality it's more or less the same as its Apple rival. Both laptops weigh about the same as well, with the touchscreen SSD model of the XPS 15 reviewed here weighing 2kg, and the Macbook Pro tipping the scales at 2.04kg.
Keyboard and Touchpad
As you'd expect from Dell's premium XPS range, the XPS 15 borrows many of the same design cues as its gorgeous little brother, as it uses the same aluminium chassis and carbon fibre composite keyboard and palm rest as the XPS 13.
That said, I can’t help but feel the carbon fibre loses some of its appeal when applied to a larger surface area. On the XPS 13, for example, its small footprint meant you had less excess space around the edge of the keyboard, making the whole laptop seem neater and more compact. The XPS 15, on the other hand, has the same sized keyboard, but a much wider palm rest, meaning you see a lot more of its lightly checked interior. To me, the additional space means the XPS 15 doesn't look anywhere near as classy as the XPS 13, but that's one of the downsides of choosing a slightly larger laptop. Put the XPS 15 alongside the Microsoft Surface Book, too, and it suddenly looks far less stylish.
The palm rest also becomes slightly warm to the touch during day-to-day use. It never becomes uncomfortable, but it is noticeable. The keyboard itself is sensibly laid out, aside from the rather thin Enter key, but I did eventually get used to it after a while. Still, considering how much keyboard real estate the XPS 15 has at its disposal, it's baffling that Dell didn't decide to go for a slightly larger set of keys.
Fortunately, the rest of the XPS 15's backlit keyboard is very pleasant to type on. It’s not the most accurate keyboard I’ve used but, there’s a respectable amount of travel to each keystroke and I could certainly get close to around 80% of my recorded top typing speeds compared to a mechanical keyboard, which isn’t bad for a laptop.
The large touchpad makes good use of the available space, too. It’s accurate and responded wonderfully to each stroke, tap and multitouch gesture that came its way. As such, navigating around Windows 10 is both slick and intuitive. There are no dedicated mouse buttons, but left and right clicks at the base of the touchpad worked perfectly without any hitches. In fact, you can actually click in all but the top inch of the touchpad for a left click if you don’t jog the current position of your cursor.
All but the lowest specification from Dell is equipped with a glossy 3,840x2,160 (4K) resolution display. That’s a higher resolution than Apple’s Retina panel on the MacBook Pro (2,880x1,800). Keep in mind, the cheapest XPS 15 option only has a 1,920x1,080 panel, however.
My review unit came with the 4K display, and to say it’s simply stunning is a huge understatement. Dell makes some bold claims about its accuracy, stating it can display 100% of the Adobe RGB colour gamut, but our colour calibrator was able to confirm this is indeed the case, showing both 100% coverage of the Adobe RGB and sRGB colour gamuts. If you’re looking for true colour accuracy, the XPS 15 delivers with aplomb.
There’s no shortage in terms of brightness, either. The panel reaches almost eye-searing brightness levels of 363.4cd/m2, so it's unlikely you’re going to struggle when using it outdoors. In fact, I had to dial it down a few notches when using it indoors, as my eyes quickly became fatigued at maximum brightness. Black levels do suffer slightly as a result, however, and our measurement of 0.34cd/m2 is by no means the deepest I've seen at this end of the market. The same goes for its contrast ratio of 1,065:1, which is respectable but unremarkable.
The numbers only really tell part of the story, though. Under more subjective tests, the screen still looks beautiful with plenty of crisp, sharp detail and vibrant colours. The reflective coating did prove occasionally irksome under certain lighting conditions, but no more so than other reflective screens I’ve used.
It also comes with Dell's PremierColor software pre-installed, which lets you fine tune the display to your surroundings, task or taste with ease. Luckily, the XPS 15 doesn’t have the same adaptive contrast that was on the XPS 13, either - as confirmed by this useful tool. As such, creative professionals are in for a treat.
The ultra high resolution panel option also has a touchscreen coated with Corning Gorilla Glass. It responded perfectly to all manner of swipes and gestures and the laptop’s hinge is strong and firm enough to withstand constant prodding.
Dell has included some nice software touches that make working with the ultra high resolution display that much easier. When you click and drag a window, a small pop-up ‘virtual monitor’ appears near the mouse or your finger if using the touchscreen. Dragging the window here will let you snap the window into different positions, saving you from having to maximise them fullscreen or dragging them long distances across the screen.
Without it, managing multiple windows can often be a slow and cumbersome process on such a high resolution display, particularly if you don't have any scaling options enabled. Fortunately, Windows 10's high-resolution display scaling is much better than older versions of Windows, which has previously been one of our biggest complaints about high-resolution screens. For the XPS 15, you’ll want to turn up scaling to at least 150%, if not 175%, to reach a happy compromise which still lets you read text comfortably.