The Dell XPS 15 offers serious power and nearly 12 hours of battery life in an attractive chassis.
Editor’s Note 7.19.21:
Laptop Mag does not generally recommend laptops two years or older. If you are in the market for Dell XPS 15, please check out our review of the
Dell XPS 15 (2020)
Dell’s XPS laptops are considered the gold standard when it comes to premium notebooks, and the latest XPS 15 is no exception. Priced at ($999 to start, $1,399 as tested), this is one of the most powerful laptops on the market, thanks to its Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics. It’s also drop-dead gorgeous with its slim, modern industrial design, incredibly thin bezels and lovely display. The 15-inch still suffers from the XPS line’s biggest flaw — an ill-placed webcam — but, overall, this is one of the best laptops you can buy and a formidable foe to Apple’s much pricier 15-inch MacBook Pro. It’s also one of the laptops with best battery life.
Dell XPS 15 price and configurations
I took the $1,399 iteration of the Dell XPS 15 for a spin. It has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q GPU with 4GB of VRAM, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 panel. (Note: Dell now sells this model with 512GB of storage)
The base mode costs $999 and drops the CPU down to a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-8300H chip with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 display.
Want a 4K screen? Be prepared to fork over at least $2,099, which will get you the 3840 x 2160 touch screen, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD. If you want even more power, Dell has a $2,449 model that offers an overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK CPU.
Dell XPS 15 design
With its clean industrial silver aluminum lid and undercarriage sandwiching a soft-touch black interior accentuated by smooth, rounded corners, the latest XPS 15 looks pretty identical to its predecessors. It’s not a bad thing, as the laptop is very sleek and looks great in an office.
The laptop is a little underdressed for a LAN party, but it’s still an attractive system no matter how you slice it. Similar to the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro, the laptop sports only one adornment — the glossy Dell insignia in the center of the lid. It’s a minimalist chic that I dig.
Swathed in soft-touch black-carbon-fiber, the laptop’s interior is just as familiar as its exterior, down to the power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader in the top-right corner. The barely there InfinityEdge bezel surrounds the 15.6-inch display, giving way to the large bottom bezel housing the webcam.
Measuring 14.1 x 9.3 x 0.5-0.7 inches, the 4.2-pound XPS 15 is one of the slimmer notebooks in its class. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 also weighs 4.2 pounds, but has a much thicker profile at 13.5 x 9.9 x 0.9 inches, much like the HP Spectre x360 (4.6 pounds, 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.8 inches). The Apple MacBook Pro (13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches) is slimmer and lighter at an even 4 pounds. The Huawei MateBook X Pro is the smallest of the bunch at 2.9 pounds, 12 x 8.5 0.6 inches, but it also has a smaller 14-inch screen.
Dell XPS 15 ports
The XPS 15 has enough ports to allow for a solid work or gaming battlestation.
There’s another Type-A port on the left alongside a Thunderbolt 3 port, an HDMI 2.0 port, a headset jack and a port for the AC adapter.
Dell XPS 15 display
We tested the XPS 15 with both a 4K, Ultra HD touch screen and 1080p non-touch screen. As evidenced by the fine veins and deep red color of the flower in the XPS 15’s wallpaper, the matte 1920 x 1080 display is capable of producing rich color and sharp detail. When I watched the trailer for Support the Girls on the 15.6-inch panel, Regina Hall’s honey-brown skin seemed to radiate, despite her silver-frosted eyeshadow. Details were clear enough that I could see individual strands of the actress’ chestnut-brown hair, including her honey-blonde lowlights.
Given how vivid the color is on the XPS 15’s panel, I wasn’t too surprised to learn that it can reproduce 115 percent of the sRGB gamut. That’s a very good result, but if you want the best display, you’ll want to upgrade to the 4K panel, which covers 160 percent of the sRGB spectrum. Both models coast past the 111-percent premium laptop average. When it comes to color, the competition falls somewhere between the XPS 15’s 1080p and 4K displays, with the MacBook Pro, Spectre x360, MateBook X and Surface Book registering 117 to 131 percent, respectively.
The XPS 15 performed a bit better on the brightness test, averaging 371 nits, which was enough to outshine the 310-nit average as well as the Spectre x360 (340 nits) and the MacBook Pro (354 nits). However, the Surface Book (417 nits) and the MateBook X (458 nits) were significantly brighter. Unfortunately, the 4K panel on the XPS 15 was dimmer than I would have liked, at 322 nits, which just tops the category average but is less luminous than its rivals.
Dell XPS 15 audio
I wasn’t expecting much from the XPS 15’s speakers, but I was happy to be enveloped in loud, relatively clean audio. The laptop’s bottom-mounted speakers filled our conference room with Kevin Ross’ gorgeous voice as he sang Andre 3000’s “Prototype” a cappella.
The melodies were nice and clean while the mouth pops and finger snaps were precise. The only rough spot was when the singer went for the high notes, which introduced significant distortion that I tried to smooth out with the pre-installed Waves Audio software, to no avail.
Dell XPS 15 keyboard and touchpad
Normally, if a keyboard had shallow travel like the XPS 15 (0.7 millimeters), I’d be ripping it a new one, since it falls beneath our preferred 1.5mm. But the island-style keys’ saving grace is the above-average 70 grams of actuation force that adds some much-needed bounce to the typing experience. I hit my typical 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test without bottoming out.
The 4 x 3.1-inch touchpad provides plenty of space to navigate web pages and documents, and was quick and responsive to boot. I had no problem pinch-zooming to enlarge or decrease images or doing a three-finger tap to launch Action Center.
Dell XPS 15 performance
For such a relatively slim system, the XPS 15 packs quite a punch. For this review, we tested two high-end configurations. The 1080p XPS 15 packing a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of RAM had no problem running Windows Defender while I watched an episode of My Hero Academia with 20 open Google Chrome tabs — some of which had Twitch streams and Slack running. Unsurprisingly, the 4K model with a Core i9 CPU didn’t slow down during our real-world tests, either.
The XPS 15 did equally well on Geekbench 4, where it notched 19,775, besting the 11,492 premium laptop average. It cruised passed the Surface Book (1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-8650U), the MateBook X (1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-8550U) and the Spectre x360 (3.1-GHz Intel Core i7-8705G), and their respective scores of 12,505, 12,913 and 15,340. But the MacBook Pro and its overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK took the win with a score of 23,138.
During our Excel productivity test, the Core i7-equipped XPS 15 paired 65,000 names and addresses in 44 seconds, crushing the 1:32 category average. The Core i9 model was even quicker, completing the test in just 38 seconds. The MacBook Pro came in second at 0:52, with the Spectre x360 right behind at 0:57. The Surface Book and the MateBook X clocked in at 1:31 and 1:49, respectively.
When we ran the hard drive test, the XPS 15’s 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 23 seconds, which translates to a write speed of 221.3 megabytes per second. That matches the Spectre x360 (512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) but misses the 419.7MBps average. The MateBook X (512GB NVMe PCIe SSD) was a bit faster at 282.7MBps, and the Surface Book (1TB PCIe SSD) did even better at 318.1MBps. But the MacBook Pro and its humongous 2TB PCIe SSD scorched the competition with a ridiculous 2,599.6 MBps. The 1TB PCIe SSD in our 4K XPS 15 beat all but the MacBook Pro, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 4 seconds for a rate of 1272.3 MBps.
The XPS 15 rebounded on the Handbrake Video Editing test, taking only 10 minutes and 12 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p, smoking the 21:35 average. The 4K model with a Core i9 required even less time, at 9:51. The MacBook Pro wasn’t too far behind at 10:16. The Spectre x360 clocked 15:01, while the Surface Book and the MateBook X posted times of 23:00 and 27:18.
Dell XPS 15 graphics, gaming and VR
Beneath the silvery skin of this premium mainstream laptop beats the heart of an entry-level gaming laptop. Outfitted with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q GPU with 4GB of VRAM, the XPS 15 can crunch numbers with the best of them and play a game or two at low-to-medium settings. The laptop demolished our Dirt 3 benchmark with a frame rate of 189 fps.
That’s more than half the 71-fps premium laptop average. The Spectre x360’s AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU wasn’t far behind with 182 fps. The MateBook X (GeForce MX150 GPU) and the MacBook Pro (Radeon Pro 560X) delivered respective scores of 117 and 83 fps.
The XPS matched the 22-fps average for Rise of the Tomb Raider (1920 x 1080 on Very High), but missed our 30-fps playability threshold. The Surface Book and its GTX 1060 GPU obtained 33 fps. The Dell performed much better on the Hitman test, achieving 60 fps, but it couldn’t match the Surface Book’s 72 fps.
When you aren’t trying to save the world from impending doom via zombies, demons or aliens, the XPS will automatically switch to its integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU via Nvidia’s Optimus technology.
Dell XPS 15 battery life
The XPS 15 with a 1080p display can conduct a master class on endurance. The notebook lasted 11 hours and 53 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. It easily outlasted the 8:26 category average, the Spectre x360 (5:20), the MateBook X (9:55) and the MacBook Pro (10:21). The Surface Book came closest to matching the winner with a time of 11:34, which dropped to 3:12 when we tested the tablet on its own.
As expected, the 4K display and Core i9 CPU take a toll on battery life, but even the decked-out XPS 15 lasted a respectable 7 hours and 34 minutes on our test.
Dell XPS 15 heat
Despite its metallic lid and undercarriage, the XPS 15 did a good job of staying cool. When we measured key points of the laptop after streaming a full-screen HD video for 15 minutes, the touchpad hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The center of the keyboard reached 83 degrees, while the bottom registered 92 degrees. Each measurement was well within our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Dell XPS 15 webcam
While I appreciate super-slim bezels, Dell and other companies have to find a better place for the webcam than positioned right above the hinge. When I launched the camera app, the “nose cam” lived up to its name, capturing my chest and nose in the shot. It took quite a bit of adjusting on my part to get an appropriate angle.
Still, the XPS 15’s integrated camera managed to perfectly capture the color in my bright pink dress. Details were sharp enough to capture some pilling on the garment as well as striations in the fabric.
Dell XPS 15 software and warranty
Dell pre-installed several helpful branded utilities, including Power Manager, which allows you to run diagnostics on the system’s battery as well as adjust fan speed and power consumption for more demanding tasks. Mobile Connect lets you access your smartphone from your laptop, including calling a Lyft or playing a mobile game like Futurama: Game of Drones. If you need to troubleshoot an issue, Dell also included Help & Support, which features informative videos, shows your warranty status and runs system diagnostics.
Unfortunately, the system has its fair share of bloatware, including Cooking Fever, Candy Crush Saga, Royal Revolt 2: Tower Defense and Netflix. There are, however, more useful third-party applications such as Killer Control Center, which lets you prioritize network bandwidth. Dell also included McAfee Security, and 20GB of cloud storage via Dropbox for a year.
Productivity, multimedia and even a bit of gaming — the Dell XPS 15 can do it all — and do it well. For $1,399, you get a system that has an attractive, slim design that’s bursting with power, including an Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable, and the display is simply lovely. Throw in nearly 12 hours of battery life, and you’ve got a certified beast. It’s just enough to overlook the annoying camera placement.
But if you’re hungry for power and have ridiculously deep pockets, there’s the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,399 and commands a hefty $2,899 when you step up to a Core i9 CPU and Radeon Pro 560X graphics. But if you’re looking for a relatively unassuming powerhouse that can do a little of bit everything relatively well, the Dell XPS 15 should be at the top of your list.
Dell XPS 15 Specs