Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Dell XPS 15z

Apple, be warned: the Dell XPS 15z has definitely got the 15-inch MacBook Pro in it's sights. Elegantly designed, with an aluminum chassis, chrome strip and a well laid out keyboard, it's clearly gunning for Apple's high style quotient. The hardware under the hood is quite impressive as well. But is all this enough to steal the MacBook Pro's thunder?
Packaging and Contents
The packaging is what we've come to expect from Dell's XPS series. A stylish box houses the device along with the charging adapter and a bunch of CDs.
First Impression
Look at the device from a distance and you will be forgiven for mistaking it for a MacBook Pro as it has the same silver matte finish. But what distinguishes it is a unique hinge, prominent Dell logo and a chrome strip around the border. Lift the lid and you will be greeted by a 15.6-inch Full HD Widescreen display and a well laid out, backlit, chicklet style keyboard.

Our instant reaction when lifting the device - it's really heavy, but the build quality is extremely good.
Straight off, for a machine that costs Rs. 80,900, it boasts of some impressive specs including 8GB RAM, 750GB HDD, a Sandy Bridge 2.70 GHzcorei7 processor and a 2GB NVIDIA 525M graphics card. Two USB 3.0 ports also make an appearance. Too bad Dell couldn't round up the package with a Blu-ray drive, as the device possesses a standard read/write dual layer DVD drive. The device also has a gorgeous full HD 1080p display.
On PC Mark, the device had a score of 8518 so you can expect it to do some serious multi-tasking with ease. Converting video, listening to music, downloading a file from the Internet and copying a file to a thumb drive were all executed simultaneously.
The hinge that holds the screen in place is by far one of the best built we've ever seen in a notebook. The keyboard on the device is very unique. If the Lenovo G570 has great rounded keys, then the Dell XPS 15z takes it to the next level. The chicklet style keyboard has rounded individual keys that feel a little smaller than what you'd expect but are very comfortable to type on. The keys themselves are soft and well spaced out, thereby allowing little room for error.
The F1 to F12 keys can be used for functional controls such as brightness, volume, media controls etc. To control these functions you need to hold down the "fn" key. We would have liked to see an option to have these keys dedicated to functions without the use of the 'fn' button.
Unlike the Mac or other laptops that lets you control the level of backlighting on the laptop, the 15z has just one setting - on/off.
Just like the MacBooks, the 15z has a slot loading drive rather than a DVD tray. This adds to the ergonomic and novelty value of the device.
In terms of connectivity, the device houses an HDMI out, mini display port, e-SATA cum USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports along with a 7-in-1 card reader on the left. Another cool feature picked straight out of the MacBooks is the LED battery indicator located on the left panel. There are 5 led lights and the number of lights that glow indicates the battery level. The device need not be turned on to check the battery level and it's a quick and handy way to see how much juice you've got left. Previously, Dell housed this same feature at the bottom panel of the device and we are glad to see it repositioned to the left panel.
On the right, the device houses the slot loading dual layer DVD drive alongside one headphones and microphone jack. Previous Dell laptops have been credited with housing two headphone jacks. It was a handy feature and we definitely felt the absence of the second jack on this machine. The charging port is located at the rear of the device.
The trackpad is fairly large and has dedicated left and right click buttons. Going the Apple way, Dell has incorporated multi-touchcontrols on the trackpad. You can now use two fingers to scroll horizontally and vertically. The scrolling experience fells rough on the plastic trackpad and you will most likely use the traditional method of click and drag to scroll.
The 6-cell lithium ion battery of the device is a bit disappointing. On the Battery Mark test the device scored 110423. Push the device to its fullest potential and it will last you for 1 hour 51 min. Use the device sparingly and the test shows that the device will last for about 4 hours. We expected a bit more from the battery life of the device. 
You will undoubtedly use the device to browse the Internet watch videos and listen to music. On this count, the Dell XPS 15z performs well. The device has a beautiful 1080p display and movies look great on it. The colours produced on the display lack a bit of vibrancy. We noticed this, not while doing regular work, but when watching  full HD movies such as Avatar, Tangled and Megamind. The display is a great USP especially if you are one who is a HD buff and like all your videos in 1080p.
The audio produced from the speakers is relatively loud, the vocals are clear but the speakers lack bass. The Dell XPS L501X had a dedicated JBL 2.1 speaker system that sounded awesome. These, however, can't match up to those but produce great audio none-the-less with a bit of sacrifice on the bass.   
With a 2GB Nvidia 525M graphics card, a 1080p display and a 3D mark score of 7381 users can really expect to push the device to its limit. We played a bit of Crysis 2 on it. Pushing the graphics settings to hardcore and resolution to 1080p, the game ran but we faced a lot of lag. Reduce the settings to moderate and you can have a decent Crysis 2 experience.
This may not be ideal for a dedicated gaming notebook. You may want to take a look at the Alienware series for that, but for those of you that need a machine for dedicated processing and a bit of gaming on the side can consider picking this one up. 
The Dell XPS 15z is a great overall package. Take it's claim of being one of the thinnest notebooks around with a pinch of salt though - it isn't. Though it's a bit heavier than we would like, the build quality is splendid and the internal hardware impressive. If you need some serious power under the hood of a notebook, the XPS 15z should definitely be on your list.
Very good build quality
USB 3.0
1080p display
Loud speakers
Great keyboard
Battery life
Would Blu-ray be too much to ask for?
Price: Rs.80,900
Processor: Intel Core i7 2.7GHz
OS: Windows 7 home premium 64-bit
HDD: 750GB
Graphics: 2GB Nvidia 525M
Display: 15.6-inch 1080p
Backlit keyboard
6-cell lithium ion battery
Performance: 4
Price: 4
Ease of setup: 5
Ergonomics: 4
Wow Factor: 4
Overall: 4.5
Benchmark scores:
3D Mark: 7381
Battery Mark: 110423
Forecast: 3 hours 47 min 16 sec
Test: 1 hour 51 min 13 sec.
PC Mark Vantage:
PC Mark Score: 8518
Memories score: 4678
TV and Movies score: 4592
Gaming Score: 5168
Music Score: 7192
Communications score: 10597
Productivity score: 6972
HDD score: 4226


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