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Dell XPS 15z Review: Kinda Luxurious

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

Display And Audio Quality

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The 1080p display on the Dell XPS 15z is a highlight from the moment you open the laptop. The extra pixels make the display extremely sharp and provide plenty of usable real estate. High-definition video is brilliant - I happily watched quite a few more 1080p videos than I needed to in order to test the display. 

With that said, the extremely glossy coat can ruin the party. Every hint of light is reflected and, in addition to that, the gloss isn’t evenly spread. Whatever is reflected by the display shines back with a bumpy quality, as if the reflection had been passed through a photoshop filter before being sent back to your eyes. It’s no more distracting than any other high-gloss display, but it does make the laptop difficult to use in bright light. 

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Despite of (or perhaps because of) the gloss, overall image quality is decent. Black levels are just average and there is significant banding in the darkest portions of the gradient banding test image, but colors pop and most of the contrast test image shows significant differentiation. It’s obvious that Dell tuned this display to enhance perceived quality in movies and games. Considering the target demographic, that doesn’t seem like a bad call.

Audio quality is fine. At maximum volume there is enough omph to make movies enjoyable. Some distortion will be introduced when bass sounds are combined with other mid-range tones, but not any more so than with other laptops. Anyone looking to make this a competent media center will want to add a pair of headphones or external speakers. The audio jack location (at the front right side of the chassis) is excellent for the former, but annoying for the latter.

Cooling

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At idle the XPS 15z is predictably quiet. The combination of a fairly spacious chassis with mid-range hardware allows for reasonable temperatures at low fan speeds. In fact, the most noticeable noise made by this laptop during idle comes not from any fan but rather from the mechanical hard drive, which occasionally emanates a click or groan. 

Expect external temperatures in the low-to-high 80s when this laptop is at idle - low in the palmrest and most the keyboard, high near the exhaust vent. Speaking of which, the vent is actually on the bottom of the laptop. This unusual configuration prevents hot air from being blown across your hands or your desktop, but it also makes use of the laptop on cloth surfaces a particularly bad idea. 

While most of the laptop’s palmrest and keyboard remain in the mid-90s there are portions of the laptop that become hot under load. The rear bottom of the laptop reaches temperatures of 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Also toasty is the trim between the top of the keyboard and the display. I pulled a maximum external temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit from this area. Like the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, this laptop tries to fit a discrete GPU into a small space. The cooling system can only barely keep up.

Portability

The “z” designation on this laptop may fool you into thinking that it’s portable. A look at the specifications will tell you a different story. Yes, the thickness of just under one inch is nice, but in all other dimensions this is a typical 15.6” laptop. It weighs as much, and is as wide and long as, any other laptop with a display of this size.

You’ll find this laptop to be no more portable than your average mainstream laptop. Throw in the ultra-glossy display and high load temperature and you end up with a laptop that performs best when it’s left on a desk. 

Dell equips the XPS 15z with a robust 8-cell battery rated at 64Wh, which is a bit larger than average. In addition, the GT 525M supports Optimus. Dell is claiming up to 8 hours and 22 minutes of endurance, which would be excellent. 

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Reality, as it turns out, is a bit different from marketing. I’m sure that, at the lowest possible brightness setting with minimal usage, this laptop could achieve over 8 hours. But that’s not a realistic usage scenario.

Overall the XPS 15z is about average for a laptop of this size. As you can clearly see in the graph above, it hangs well with the ThinkPad T420. A 5 to 6 hour battery life is what you can expect from most of today’s 15.6” laptops if you're not asking much from the processor.

Software

Dell’s notorious software hasn’t gone anywhere. Most of the industry seems to be retreated a bit from pre-installed baddies, but the XPS 15z is full of it ( I’ll leave you to replace “it” with more specific word).

Where to start? There’s some sort of dock that hangs out on the desktop just north of the taskbar. A few of its functions link to Windows libraries, which is a replication of the taskbar’s potential functionality. Once you start digging into categories like books and magazines the purpose of the dock becomes clear. It is an advertising platform for Dell’s partners, which include Zinio Reader, Blio, Cozio, and Nero.

Other highlights include McAffee, which is as annoying and needlessly alarmist as ever, and a Dell’s own backup service, which prompts you for action with pop-ups that appear in the lower right-hand corner.

April 19, 2012 | 05:20 PM - Posted by BC Hiker (not verified)

I haven't had a hands on with the the HP Envy, but they acutally have both the Dell XPS 15z and the Sony Vaio S 15.5 at Sam's Club. I like the look and the keyboard (plus number pad) on the Sony better than the dell, but the Sony screen is super flimsy. I don't remember another laptop with such screen flex.
The Dell is more solidly constructed, but the I really dislike the keyboard.
This is just an at a glance opinion, but I also like the Dell 1080 screen better than the Sony 1080 screen.

April 19, 2012 | 10:19 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Yea, I don't know what Sony was thinking with the displays on their new laptops. They're all terribly constructed.

I've also heard that some Sony 1080p displays suffer from the same "red is orange" problem as the HP Envy.

My pick of the bunch is the HP Envy 15, as it has performance, a good user interface and solid construction.

April 20, 2012 | 12:29 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

someone might want to blur out the windows product key on the high resolution shot of the bottom of the laptop.

April 20, 2012 | 04:22 PM - Posted by Soulman83 (not verified)

Looks are purely subject. Saying looks weren't outdated then but is now just means you expected a radical re-design.
I see new laptops with new techy looks but my brain isn't fooled so easily anymore.
It's the hardware inside and how smooth the egronomics of the laptop are, and the XPS laptops have a good combination of this.
The keyboard needs to be placed differently and the keys are small, but the backlit ones make up for it.

THe XPS has a smooth, refined design and DELL want to keep it that way.

April 23, 2012 | 11:18 AM - Posted by Outsider (not verified)

I know the emphasis is on gaming performance, but there are screen comments here and I noticed some diversity of displays in the review. Perhaps you can have a review that addresses various displays- like a more current review of glossy, gamut matte and their various percentages, LED, etc, etc. Does it really make that much difference?

At any rate- thanks for doing these- as I'm in the market at about this ballpark.

July 15, 2012 | 12:45 AM - Posted by DIE.DELL.DIE (not verified)

Hey, I've had this laptop for a bit over a year, and the display itself is really nice, but the screen kinda annoys me. It's glossy (I didn't have any other options, they may have them now) and I use it on the plane so to conserve battery, I turn down the brightness, and all you can see then is the reflection. I could use it as a mirror! Haha =] It's a bit frustrating, I've just learned to live with it.

April 26, 2012 | 06:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is the XPS i7 a good laptop for video editing? How does it stack up against a Mac Book Pro with an i7?

Do you prefer Mac to PC for video editing or is that not the case anymore since they use the same intel processors?

Thanks.

May 16, 2012 | 03:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have had my Dell xps 15z for about a year and to be honest the video editing is awful compared to a mac. The dell software takes up so much ram that it is impossible to edit video because it constantly comes up with errors due to there not being enough memory. I finally gave up on making my short 2 minute video and used my mac.

July 15, 2012 | 12:39 AM - Posted by DIE.DELL.DIE (not verified)

This laptop has been the worst experience I've ever had with technology EVER! I mean the laptop is fine when it works fine, I actually like it, but I've had the hard drive replaced 3 times, the optical drive replaced, the mother board replaced, the screen and shell replaced, the microphone replaced and there was more that I can't remember. Not to mention, that this is the second laptop I've had of this model, BECAUSE A DELL TECHNICIAN BROKE THE FIRST ONE! None of this was caused by me, there was a faulty part in the laptop. And after all this, Dell refuses to give us an extended warranty. This laptop may work perfectly fine for you, but it and their service has caused me to HATE Dell and I will slander their name everywhere I can. I am so sick of this, I am just getting a Mac.

August 6, 2012 | 09:06 PM - Posted by puneeth (not verified)

I own Dell xps15z,I am not able to install designing software like assays,pore ,catia and even I was not able to install sum game also can any one help me

September 1, 2012 | 05:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How much does it cost around...? nd how long can it hold the battery time..nd how about gaming ? :) pls reply..thank YOu :)

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