When Apple dropped the MacBook Pro 16-inch, there was just nothing really in the PC world that compared to it. Like, sure, we had stuff that was way more powerful, or lighter, or with longer battery life, but there was no laptop in existence that compared as an all-rounder that I could point at and be like, "There, PC peeps, just go buy that one!" Until today.
Right out of the gate, the XPS 15 and 17 mean business.
The tall screen, the aluminum wrapping around the edges. If the long-term experience holds up to the first couple of glances at these things, then they might just be the best laptops on the market.
For a laptop to be truly excellent, it has to nail all of the parts that you interact with: the keyboard, the trackpad, the screen, and, of course, the chassis. If any one of these parts sucks, it doesn't matter how light or powerful or long lasting it is; you will eventually grow to hate using it, and the XPS 15 and 17 are a masterclass in nailing these features.
Starting with the chassis, it's not like the old XPS 15 is bad. It's just that it, and every other Windows laptop, now feels distinctly last gen compared to the XPS 2020 lineup.
Their screens are shockingly rigid considering their size and thinness, the reassuring resistance of the hinge feels quality and without sacrificing a smooth one finger lift, and the carbon fiber top deck gives the keyboard an incredibly rigid surface to rest on. And it makes such a big difference.
On something like the MacBook Pro or the XPS 13, with their short snappy keys, I can absolutely blast out a quick instant message, but sometimes I struggle getting into that flow like I can on, say, a ThinkPad that I prefer for long-form writing, like a video script.
These XPSs somehow managed to be perfectly tuned for both, and they're an absolute joy to use. With 1.3 millimeters of key travel, it's a bit more than the XPS 13, but it maintains the excellent snap at the top of the stroke, and it's just, muah. But, here's the thing, even if this is the best keyboard on the market, the likes of Microsoft, HP, and Lenovo have been putting out A-plus keyboards for some time now, so having a good keyboard isn't nearly as much of a differentiator as what lies below it: the absolutely gargantuan trackpad. Thank you, Dell. I now finally have something concrete to point at while I'm yelling at all the other Windows laptop makers to improve their trackpads. It still isn't quite as big as the MacBook Pro 16-inch, but in fairness to Dell, they didn't have the extra space created by Apple's larger bezels to work with. And to my hands, the tracking is every bit as accurate and easy to use. And compared to Windows alternatives, this trackpad just, well, it just blows them all out of the water, with the only one in the same league being the Razer Blade 15, but even that is a B-plus-plus or an A-minus compared to the A-plus that we're looking at right here.
One note, by the way, some of the XPS 15s on the very first batch have a slight wobble on the bottom, so if this happens to you, call up Dell for a replacement. That is a defect, and that problem has since been fixed.
Up top, though, really is the shining star, and I mean shining because this display hits 500 nits. The way that it reaches all the way from the top down to the bottom of the device, really, I mean, I've talked about this before, but I found it changes the way I use it, making me treat the XPS 15, and then especially the 17, much more like a small desktop compared to a big laptop.
Out of the box, the colors are over-the-top vibrant with 107% coverage of the Adobe RGB color space and Delta E values of over 20. But by simply opening up the Dell Color Checker and selecting Adobe RGB for the color space, those values dropped to an average Delta E of four and a maximum of six. That's color accurate enough for basically anyone other than a professional photo or video editor, and if you're one of those, you probably already have your own calibration tool anyway.
My one complaint about the display is the options. Come on, Dell, please give us a 1200 P-touch option. Right now, the 4K Touch option is a $300 adder, and, like, yeah, sick display, but that is really steep for something that I've felt for a long time is not really necessary at these screen sizes.
At the top of the display, we find Windows Hello facial recognition, still my favorite way to unlock a laptop, but what's cool is if you're more into fingerprint sensors, Dell included a snappy one of those on the Power button as well, and that's been super useful, what, with wearing masks being all the rage these days.
By the way, if you're wondering how the heck they got a webcam into that tiny bezel up top, the answer is by just making it really bad. Like, to be clear, it's a lot better than having it down under the screen so it's looking up my nose all the time or whatever, but come on.
What I can properly appreciate, though, are the speakers. Both models are excellent in this regard, with a surprising depth of bass and clarity of travel for a laptop. I think it's pretty safe to say these are among, if not the best, speakers on a Windows laptop, even if they don't quite match up, let's be fair, to the incredible sound that Apple was able to get out of the MacBook Pro.
So as a laptop that you interact with then, Dell has crushed it. And if this was a thin and light, we basically would be able to call it here, but with the XPS 15 coming in at 4 1/2 pounds and the 17 a full pound heavier, we need some real horsepower in order to justify the heft. So why don't we crack 'em open and take a look at what's inside?
To open up either of the XPSs, all you need to do is remove the eight Torx T5 screws, do a little bit of smudging, and off comes the bottom panel. Now normally I wouldn't look twice at a bottom panel, but these, oh, these are pieces of art. They're CNC milled from a single piece of aluminum, and between the curves that are sculpted with a ball-end mill and the surface finish that they got on the outside, I think it is pretty safe to say that this is not a cheap part.
Both units have massive batteries relative to their size, which I consider to be a mandatory upgrade, by the way, from the 56-watt-hour base model battery, with the 15 getting up to 86 watt hours and the 17 getting close to the maximum allowed on a plane in the U.S. with 97 watt hours. This netted us about nine hours on the XPS 15 and closer to 10 hours on the 17, although, with the brightness of the display and the power of these components, how you're using these laptops is going to greatly impact your real world battery life.
I mean, there were times with the screen brightness up, with SOLIDWORKS open, that the battery would die after just four hours. But then also there was this one time that our battery test glitched out after a couple of hours on the 17, and it kept idling along for over 17 more hours.
Above the battery, there we go, both of them have easy access to dual M.2 SSD slots and dual SODIMM slots to make storage and RAM upgrades easy, but that's where the similarities stop.
Inside the XPS 15, we find pretty much what we'd expect in a laptop of this class. We've got two heat pipes and two fans that make for a total of around 50 watts of cooling capacity. In optimized mode, this solution kept our CPU around 90 degrees with solid performance, but Dell also provides an Ultra Performance toggle that pushed our eight-core Core i7-10875H to deliver more performance than a top-tier desktop from two years ago at the expense of thermals and possibly longevity, but, hey, we did say it was a MacBook Pro competitor, didn't we?
The GTX 1650 will allow for a pretty decent gaming experience if you're willing to drop the settings and set your resolution to 1080p, but this isn't a gaming laptop, and I imagine it's gonna get more use speeding up renders in Premiere, and it also managed SOLIDWORKS quite well.
Moving over back to the XPS 17, though. Dell has really stepped up their game, and this is, honestly, a different class of machine. Look at this cooling system. Attached to these two huge fans is a massive vapor chamber that is straight from the wet dream of a thermodynamics professor. Even with 100 watts of cooling though, the Core i7-10875H still still gets toasty in Ultra Performance mode so we wouldn't recommend using it all the time, but with this cooling, it managed a Cinebench R20 score of nearly 4,000, making this thing 20% faster than a MacBook Pro 16-inch not to mention that it's RTX 2060 Max-Q shreds the AMD GPUs that Apple stubbornly continues to use, at least for now, while also delivering good performance in games.
I mean, that's the thing. Of course, a dedicated gaming laptop of the same price is gonna destroy either the XPS 17 or 15 both in terms of graphics performance and responsiveness with high refresh rate displays being pretty much standard on anything over a thousand dollars, but I think that almost anyone besides a full-time gamer or a video editor or 3D modeler is going to be more than happy with the performance that's on tap here, which doesn't mean that we don't have any complaints.
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Notebookcheck discovered that the XPS 17 actually dips into its battery when it's under full load because the included 130-watt power adapter can't quite keep up. So if you're hitting the CPU and GPU hard at the same time, you can actually lose battery charge even though the laptop is plugged into the wall. We've confirmed this behavior, both with our unit and with our Dell rep, who said that it was a decision to keep the size of the AC adapter down. And, like, okay, fair enough, but I do wish that in the configurator there was an option for a heavier and more powerful adapter so the customer can decide which trade off they wanna make, bringing us to the other big trade off: the Intel CPU.
This is the Zephyrus G14.It houses a Ryzen 9 4900HS, an eight-core processor that puts Intel's current mobile chips to shame. With a less sophisticated cooling solution, we're seeing higher multi-core performance, higher single-core performance, and longer battery life from a physically smaller battery. I'm gonna give Dell a pass on this generation for only including Intel in their XPS lineup. I don't think anybody saw AMD's Mobile 4000 Series being as good as it is, but next time around, I'm not gonna be so forgiving. I expect to see an AMD version of the XPS 15 and 17 for those of us who want the maximum performance from our devices next time.
Also, in fairness to Dell, if they had gone with AMD, they would have missed out on all of these juicy Thunderbolt 3 ports, of which the 15 has two and the 17 has four. And, in turn, they would have missed out on one of the coolest use cases of the XPSs. Now I personally would have liked to see at least one USB Type-A, but still, this is pretty cool.
So this is the Dell WD19TB a Thunderbolt dock that, over a single cable, let's you turn your XPS into a full-fledged desktop experience. We're talking dual 4K displays, Gigabit Ethernet, mouse and keyboard, along with a dongle or two.
Technology Connections recently created a 27-minute love letter to this approach, and, for many people, it's an awesome way to nearly seamlessly transition from a great portable experience to a great less portable experience, whether it's for work or for gaming.
As you've probably guessed by now, these computers don't come cheap. Like, we're talking full-blownsies Apple pricing here. I mean, they start at 1,300 and $1,400, but the thing is, if you're shopping in that price range, in my personal opinion, there are better value options. So by the time we get to a config that I would actually recommend, you can expect to pay at least two grand for the XPS 15 and getting closer to three for the 17. But I also can't really complain because, sure, they're expensive as all heck, but you're also getting what I think is the best Windows laptop that money can buy. And if Dell can figure out how to get AMD and Thunderbolt into the next one, I might even be ready to call it perfect.
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If it also had an HDR OLED display, maybe higher refresh rate. 5G mobile connectivity would be nice. Better webcam. Caching functionality on the fingerprint sensor so you don't have to touch it again once you get to the login screen. I think a better GPU on the 15 inch would be pretty nice, and how about like an illuminated Dell logo on the back? Like, when did that become not cool anymore? Then it would be perfect.