(Pocket-lint) - Windows laptops have a bit of an identity problem. Everyone knows about MacBooks, but a lot of people who ask us for advice don't even know where to start when looking to Windows after seeing the latest MacBook prices.
The Dell XPS 15 is that place to start. It has a solid claim to the title of "ultimate Windows 10 laptop", with a large screen, decent gaming chops and a design that - while a bit more serious than Apple's style - has a luxury edge.
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Is this near-bezel-free laptop the ultimate choice?
Dell XPS 15 review: Design
- Small footprint relative to screen size thanks to InfinityEdge
- Aluminium lid with carbon fibre-reinforced keyboard surround
- 2kg weight, 17mm thickness
There's just one reason to be put off: despite being one of the smallest 15-inch laptops going, we wouldn't want to carry this particular XPS around every day.
If you're after that kind of portability, take a look at the Dell XPS 13 instead. The larger 15-inch laptop's main aim is to give you the sort of power that makes having another computer completely unnecessary. Unless you want to play The Witcher 3 at 60fps with all the graphics maxed.
The design of the 2017 version of the XPS 15 is just like that of the one we reviewed last year. It's smooth anodised aluminium on the top and bottom, but carbon fibre-reinforced plastic inside.
This is what gives it that more business-y edge, although the carbon fibre finish does have a kind of pinstripe-suit glamour to it.
The other part that tells you this isn't a laptop for people who just want to watch cat videos while pretending to work is its size. At 2kg and 36cm wide, the Dell XPS 15 is not that slight or light.
However, it is slim and light given what is packed inside. The big selling point of the XPS 15's style is that is fits a 15.6-inch screen into an unusually narrow frame, because there's barely any screen bezel surround. As a result the camera ends up below the screen (which a bit odd) but when even most of the retirees we know moved over to using video calls on their phone years ago, it's no biggie.
The Dell XPS 15 ends up an inch narrower and an inch less tall than something like the HP Envy 15. It doesn't sound like a lot, but this takes the bulk factor away from full-size laptops.
While Dell is trying to modernise the traditional laptop, it hasn't done so with any gimmicks. The hinge opens to a normal extent rather than flipping all the way around (there is the XPS 2-in-1 if that's your thing), and only the top-end version has a touchscreen.
The XPS 15's connections list reads like a greatest hits of all the sockets we're after in a laptop too. There are two USB 3.0s, a full-size HDMI, full-size SD card slot and one of the newer USB-C 3.1 plugs that just about no new laptop in 2017 should be without (not that many of us will have the capacity to use it for a while).
There's also a Kensington security port and a little five-LED indicator that tells you the battery level when you press the button beside it. If you want mote connectors, Dell sells a desktop dock too.
Dell XPS 15 review: Display
- IPS LCD with 1080p and 4K resolution options
- 4K version has a touchscreen and advanced colour
- Pro-grade colour customisation (4K model)
Back to the more interesting stuff: Dell sent us the very top-end version of the XPS 15, the one with a 4K-resolution screen. It's so sharp you have too get uncomfortably close to see even a hint of pixellation.
What really sets the XPS 15 apart from its rivals, though, is the quality of colour. This display has pro-grade colour saturation, the kind you might see in monitors that cost almost as much as this laptop.
Fresh out of the box this makes tones look incredibly vivid - flat-out oversaturated to the eyes of screen snobs. However, a little app called Dell PremierColor lets you change this too.
You can calibrate the XPS 15's screen to a whole host of colour standards: DCI-P3, sRGB, Rec.709, Rec.601 and Adobe RGB. Don't worry if you don't know what they all mean as you can flick through them all in about 10 seconds to see which you like the look of the most. For those tuning to certain TV standards, however, that's a big benefit for precision purposes.
This deep-diving into colour profiles means the Dell XPS 15 is one of the few laptops design and photography pros should consider.
The display contrast isn't quite as good as the colour, as you can see the black level isn't perfect from about 50 per cent brightness and up, but it's still solid. And while the display is glossy, it can go bright enough to use outdoors.
Dell XPS 15 review: Performance
- Quad-core Intel Core i7 or i5 CPU
- 2133MHz DDR4 RAM
- SSD storage up to 1TB
What cements the Dell XPS 15 as something that could be used by those with serious computing needs is the power available on tap. Most popular laptops these days have Intel Core CPUs, but the dual-core U-series kind. These are great little chipsets, but have nothing like the power of a desktop processor.
Our Dell XPS 15 has an Intel Core i7-7700HQ, which is a quad-core CPU. That doesn't just mean it's twice the power either, as these HQ-series brains are able to draw up to three times the power of the dual-core Core i7.
It's simply a lot, lot more powerful than anything significantly slimmer. You might not notice the difference if all you're going to do is write emails and noodle about online, but those who, for example, edit video for a living (or as a hobby) will appreciate this extra grunt.
Dell tricked-out our review sample with a massive 32GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive, the sort of spec you'd have to spend serious cash to get hold of. We'll have to presume the lower-spec SSDs will be of the same quality because this one is incredibly fast, reading data at over 3,000MB/s.
The XPS 15 is also one of the best-looking, and quietest, laptops capable of some proper gaming. It has an GTX 1050 graphics card inside, which is an entry-level model in the current Nvidia series lineup.
You won't be able to play many games in 4K on this thing, but it can handle console-grade ones at 1080p with the settings cut down to around mid level. In other words, don't buy it just for gaming, but it's a great sweetener if you like the to play the odd game on your downtime.
Given how powerful the Dell XPS 15 is, it's almost bizarrely quiet. Most quad-core laptops emit an obvious whir no matter what you do, but this one is virtually silent until you make it do something taxing. And even then it's still pretty quiet.
Dell XPS 15 review: Battery life, keyboard and trackpad
- 56Wh battery for up to 6.5 hour normal use
- Stereo speakers
It's a masterfully-made machine, with battery life being yet more proof of this. You might expect a laptop like this to last five hours between charges, tops. However, we've had it last six and a half hours without trying.
Sure, this doesn't set any records, and won't get you through a full day's work. But remember the XPS 15's CPU is designed to use a lot more power than the chipsets of the skinny and light kind that might last eight or nine hours. Plus it has a 4K screen. And discrete graphics. All things considered, it's good stamina.
The battery life indicator on the side comes in extra-handy given you probably want to make sure there's enough in the tank before you leave the house/office.
Dell has essentially kept all the good bits from last year's model, but updated some of the parts inside. For example, the keyboard is still a bit like a MacBook one before MacBook keyboards were squashed with a 1,000-tonne weight, and the trackpad is an incredibly smooth rectangle of textured glass. There's nothing too exciting going on in either of those: no fingerprint scanners or pressure-sensing extras, but both parts are a pleasure to use.
The trackpad isn't floaty feeling, while the keyboard is well-defined without making much noise as you type. As you'd hope given the price, the keyboard has a backlight too. It can be set to two different intensity levels.
Finally, the speakers don't let the Dell XPS 15 down either, although they don't set any new standards. They have a full-warm tone, for laptop speakers, but their treble could do with a little more zing.
In the last few years laptops have polarised. We see plenty of high-end gaming laptops that will give you back-ache if you carry them around for too long, and a lot of ultra-slim ones that trade away some power for portability.
The premium 15-inch laptop is a rare specimen, and the Dell XPS 15 is the best you can get right now in this category. It's cheaper than a MacBook but has the same quality of parts at its core.
If you're after a laptop that can do pretty much anything and don't need the slimmest, lightest machine in the world, then you've found it right here in the XPS 15.
Alternatives to consider…
Apple MacBook 15
We don't know many people who bought one recently, but the MacBook Pro 15 lives on. The version closest to the XPS 15 we've reviewed is the one with the OLED touch bar, which starts at £2,349. It's incredibly expensive, and has a graphics card worse than the Dell. But if you have piles of money lying around it's still undeniably lovely.
Read the full review: MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: A touch of brilliance or totally brainless?
Asus ZenBook UX501
As we write this, Asus hasn't yet updated the UX501 to feature Intel's 7th gen processors, so for a cut price 15-inch option this is a safe bet. Sure, the Asus doesn't have the advanced design of the XPS - it's bigger, bulkier and has a much more reflective screen - but it's a decent laptop all-rounder and has a smart brushed aluminium finish, too.
Read the full review: Asus ZenBook UX501 review: Plenty of pros with a handful of lows