Last week, I traveled to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2019, the mecca for latest and greatest innovation in mobile. Even before the trip, I had started planning all the gadgets I would need for this work trip. In order to ensure smooth work from there, I had zeroed in on the smartphone and headphone that I will carry but the lingering question was which laptop to take to write my stories. Just a day before I was about to fly out, Dell sent the XPS 15 and while it is a beefy laptop, I decided to take it along. I have used it for everything, from writing articles, sharing content with my colleagues to playing Fortnite, and there is lot to like about it. However, it falls short of being the perfect laptop by a whisker.
For me, the Dell XPS 13 stands as one of the best laptops of 2018. It nailed the idea of a thin and lightweight laptop without compromising on keyboard and trackpad. Dell made it so good that they had little space to integrate the webcam on top. Even in the 15-inch laptop segment, there have been improvements with the launch of new laptops from Apple, Microsoft and Lenovo. So, the XPS 15 9570 is not only up against a formidable challenge but also the test of time. Can Dell rely on a design from 2015, and yet stay competitive? Here is our review.
Design and Display
There is no getting around the fact that Dell makes some of the best PC hardware in the market right now. For years, the Windows side of the laptop market has offered choice at competitive price, but none managed to compete with Apple’s MacBook line in terms of design and build quality. Dell changed that when it introduced the first major redesign for the XPS in 2015. The recipe for challenging Apple was pretty straight forward: use best-in-class aluminum, chamfer it in right amount, texture it for proper touch feel and finish in industrial colors. Sure, that recipe worked back then and you know what, it works even now.
The Dell XPS 15 is definitely the best looking and most well engineered 15-inch laptop you can buy right now. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is slim, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is straight out of science fiction with its dynamic fulcrum hinge, but the XPS 15 feels like a laptop through and through. The aluminum chassis makes it look big and clunky but when you carry it around, like I did, you realize that it is not that heavy. If there is one machine that comes closer to the XPS 15 in terms of design and feel then it has to be the ThinkPad X1 Extreme.
The XPS 15, like other XPS models released in the past year, features a 15.6-inch display with really thin bezels around it. The bezels on the XPS are not as thin as those found on new ZenBook models from Asus but they are still better than most other laptops in the market. Our review unit came with a 4K UHD InfinityEdge display, which has 400 nits of brightness and supports 100 percent of RGB color gamut. But there is also an option to choose a Full HD variant with same 400 nits of brightness and 100 percent sRGB color gamut support.
The display chosen by Dell is just incredible. It shows deep colors and the contrast has been tuned with content creators in mind. If you are someone who consumes a lot of 4K UHD content then you will appreciate this display, but if you are someone who creates 4K content then you will appreciate this display even more. I handed this XPS 15 to a friend, who is a wedding photographer for a day, and after using it to tweak his photos from a recent assignment, he called the display ‘perfect’.
The design elements extend to interior as well with the palm rest and the entire area surrounding the keyboard being decked with carbon fibre. If the palm rest on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme feels rubbery and that on Surface Book 2 feels metal then the one on XPS 15 feels premium. While focusing on design, Dell did not exclude ports. It comes with two USB 3.1 port, one HDMI 2.0 port, one Thunderbolt 3 port with 4 lanes of PCIe and a DisplayPort. One thing that sets it apart from other 15-inch laptops is the battery gauge button which indicates the battery capacity in five levels.
Performance and Battery Life
Dell is offering the XPS 15 in two different configurations in India. There is a base model with Intel’s 8th generation Core i7-8750H processor, 16GB memory and 512GB SSD storage priced at Rs 138,190. Our review unit, which is the second configuration, comes with a 4K UHD panel, 32GB memory, 1TB SSD storage and Intel Core i9-8950H CPU is priced at Rs 218,490. The one thing shared by both the models is the NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti graphics processor with 4GB of GDDR5 video memory.
With that kind of configuration, the Dell XPS 15 handles anything you throw at it with ease. The laptop never for once suffered any kind of slowdown despite it running Windows, and that too when you push it to the extreme. For instance, I took this laptop to that same photographer friend to see how Adobe Premiere Pro works with video editing. The result: it worked perfectly. There was some kind of harmony between the software developed by Adobe and the hardware built by Dell. Whether it is about rendering a 4K video or building a timeline and scrubbing it, everything seemed smooth to my eyes. This machine was built with content creators in mind, and Dell does not disappoint.
When it comes to gaming, you start to see how thermal design and choice of components are two different things. If you intend to play Apex Legends or Fortnite at 1080p then the GTX 1050 Ti plays really nice. But when you start pushing it beyond that’s when the now infamous thermal throttling kicks in and the game starts dropping frame rate. Most forums suggest that thermal throttling is more profound on the Core i9 model compared to Core i7 and honestly putting such a powerful CPU into such a sleek chassis seems nothing but an overkill.
While the XPS 15 is great for complex applications, I found it the most useful while I was transferring data from Pixel 3 XL to the laptop. The data transfer speeds are so quick that I wonder how much time I have wasted in life by using slower transfer protocols.
All big powerful laptops are like gas guzzlers. They take away too much battery to power the performance oriented hardware. It is partially true in the case of Dell XPS 15. On an average day of MWC, where I’m juggling between booths of various tech brands and then saving and storing data from those moments, I saw the XPS 15 last for around seven to eight hours. However, when I used more intensive applications, the battery life dropped to the sub-five hour levels. It is not bad but it is not that great either. I believe the Core i7 model mated to a Full HD display should last longer than this Core i9 model.
Keyboard, TrackPad and Software
When I type, I always prefer keyboard that has excellent spacing between keys and Dell makes some great keyboards. It achieves that without need for an aerolift that Asus has adopted or any other kind of trickery. It’s a keyboard that has genuinely great travel, excellent cushioning underneath those keys and spacing that is just perfect. It is not flawless. The arrow keys are relatively small and don’t offer the same feedback as rest of the keyboard. It is a small blemish on an otherwise great keyboard.
I wrote in my review of Asus Zenbook 13 that the laptop scores high on portability, design and balanced performance but the software is bad and the trackpad lacks precision. For years, Macs have led the PC industry for great trackpads and while Microsoft is making Windows reach there with precision drivers not all the OEMs do well. Dell and Microsoft’s own Surface lineup have trackpads that can give a fight to Mac. The XPS 15, due to its larger size, packs a larger glass trackpad that recognizes every gesture almost instantaneously. Whether you are scrolling through a webpage or using the trackpad to focus on a game, this works straight out of the box. However, power users would like to have a dedicated mouse like Logitech’s MX Master to be more productive.
The XPS 15 came for review with Windows 10 version 1803 or the April 2018 Update. Just few days back it received October 2018 update which bumped the version number to 1809. With October update, you get dark theme in file explorer and improvements to search ahead of the big change scheduled for this year. One of the most useful features is the cloud clipboard which syncs clipboard data across all of your Windows 10 devices and your phone app, which is really useful when you have to send SMS from your phone but don’t want to take out the phone. The October 2018 Update was pure garbage when it shipped initially but is stable and brings quite a few useful features.
Verdict: Should you buy?
Dell XPS 15 is undoubtedly a great laptop, but falls short of being perfect for two reasons – the webcam is still in that weird position, and thermal throttling can hurt in the long-term. However, if you are looking for a premium 15-inch laptop then there are not a lot of great options. While there are a ton of gaming machines with latest hardware and large 15-inch display, the choice in premium segment is a bit limited.
When it comes to Windows options there is the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2, Lenovo’s excellent ThinkPad X1 Extreme, and now the Dell XPS 15. All of these machines suffer from thermal issues when you push them to the extreme but one area where Dell really scores is the build quality and overall design. It is easy to say that XPS 15 is a very well designed 15-inch laptop and there are areas where it is even better than Apple MacBook Pro.
After using the XPS 15 for over two weeks, I am convinced about one thing – there is no need for a Core i9 model here. Anyone who plans to buy this machine should instead opt for the cheaper model with Core i7 and Full HD screen. You don’t lose out on a lot and yet get access to good selection of ports and hardware. Dell has already fixed the thermal issue with next generation XPS 13 and I think the 2019 version of XPS 15 should address it later this year. For now, the XPS 15 9570 is the productivity machine that most consumers would want to trust.