Dell XPS 15z: Sincerely Flatteringby Jarred Walton on September 2, 2011 1:30 AM EST
Dell XPS 15z: A Good or Great Artist?
You can call the XPS 15z whatever you want. Is it a cheap knockoff of the MacBook Pro 15? Yes, but that’s just it: it’s a lot less expensive for a similar experience. The MacBook Pro 15 still wins out on build quality, and it packs a quad-core CPU. For the price, however, the XPS 15z is still a very nice laptop—and I know quite a few people that have already purchased the 15z for their own use. If good artists copy and great artists steal, what do you call an “artist” that is only moderately successful at copying but throws in enough unique twists to create an interesting work of art? Because that’s what Dell has done with the 15z.
There are a few areas of concern, like the rather thin and flexible aluminum casing and the relatively high temperatures under load. Upgrading the hard drive and/or memory is also rather difficult and you run the risk of damaging the casing/trim in the process (note: see below for an update on this). The 1080p LCD fails to live up to the standard established by the XPS 15, but it’s still better than most consumer laptop LCDs. Sound quality and the keyboard layout are also a step back from the XPS 15 in my opinion, but they’re still adequate. Balanced against the concerns we have a much sleeker form factor and better battery life.
Update, 1/18/2012: In case anyone still reads this, I have to really stress that over the past four months, the build quality of the 15z has really started to bother me. It has been my laptop of choice during that time, but it's not without issues. The chrome trim around the palm rest has come loose on two corners, and one corner actually got ripped up/bent when it brushed against my backpack at CES 2012. I think some of the issues were exacerbated by opening up the laptop and upgrading to an SSD (and taking pictures), but really, I can't stress enough how it feels like Dell cut a few corners and the result is a laptop that doesn't hold up as well as I'd like over the long haul. To make matters worse, my LCD recently cracked while I was typing on the laptop--like, I was literally looking at the LCD when the fracture appeared. That may have just been random bad luck, or the aftereffects of the stress of CES, but when the inevitable Ivy Bridge update of the 15z comes out, you can bet I'm going to pound on it a little more.
Really, that pretty much defines the type of user that should be looking at the 15z: it’s for people that value mobility over raw performance. It’s fast enough for any typical SOHO task, and it can handle moderate gaming. It’s also easy on the eyes and it comes priced aggressively. If you’re the type of user who drops their laptop on occasion or simply throws it in a bag without much concern for being careful…well, you’re careless and you shouldn’t be handling sensitive electronics devices! For those that treat their laptop like a $1000+ piece of equipment that could break if dropped, though, the 15z is a great system. I’d like to see a more robust cooling solution and thicker aluminum, which would address the build quality and heat concerns, but even in the present form the 15z is very good.
I’m hesitant to hand out any awards here, since the Mac crowd is almost sure to bring out their pitchforks, but even if the 15z’s design borrows heavily from the MacBook Pro, I don’t consider such things as appearance to be worthy of patents. Every laptop out there has a display, keyboard, speakers, etc. and if you can cram all of those things into a thinner and lighter chassis without running into severe problems, great. (That's such a nice idea that Intel has even created the Ultrabook category of laptops, so we'll see a lot more thin laptops in the coming months.)
The Dell XPS 15z does exactly that, and for a consumer laptop it’s still better than 95% of the other offerings—certainly nothing in its price range can touch it in terms of overall experience. For getting all of those things right, I’m giving the XPS 15z our Bronze Editors’ Choice award—the heat, build quality, and step back on the LCD and speakers are enough to keep it from the Silver and Gold.
Credit to Apple for creating some very nice laptops with their MacBook Pro line, but I don’t care for OS X (just ask Anand about CES 2011 where he watched me use his Mac for about five minutes and was cracking up), and I’m certainly not willing to fork over $2000+ for the type of configuration I’d like. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to shell out $1500 for a configuration like this review unit. I’d be more than happy with the base model XPS 15z, as long as I get the 1080p display upgrade. The i5-2410M might also help keep temperatures a bit lower, and with pricing starting at under $1100, you can grab exactly that.