Dell has always struggled a bit with the look of this keyboard. Despite the backlit chiclet keys that are comfortable to type on, the plastic here seems out of place—something we've noticed on other of Dell's laptops, such as the XPS 13.
The touchpad is better-finished than before and fits just right with the chassis. It supports multitouch commands (zooming, two-finger horizontal and vertical scrolling...) with bravado. Just remember, before you can use certain commands you have to activate them in the driver, where you'll find videos demonstrating how to perform each gesture.
The connectivity consists of: three USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort output, an HDMI output, an RJ45 (Ethernet) port, a headphone/microphone combo jack for a hands-free kit and a headphone jack. It also has an SD card reader and a DVD burner.
We were disappointed to see the lack of USB ports on the right side, which would have avoided having to run your mouse cable around from the other side of the computer. It may be a detail, but it's one that could easily get annoying if you use an external mouse on a regular basis.
The new XPS 15 handles heat extremely well, given that even when you push the computer to its limits with processor-heavy software and benchmarks it barely reaches 42° C (107.6° F). Noise, however, it doesn't handle extremely well. It stays silent during startup, but at full momentum it makes 45 dB(A) of noise and if you keep up that same momentum for too long the noise eventually reaches 52 dB(A), at which point it officially gets on your nerves.
Laptop brands have a terrible habit of pulling out all the stops when it comes to components and finishing but leaving the screen by the wayside. With this 2012 version of the XPS 15 you could say that Dell has done better—scratch that, less terribly—than most.
The colours are pretty out there with a Delta E of 8.4 and the contrast is 580:1 no matter how high or low you set the brightness. That's high enough to make the XPS 15 eligible for an overall score of four stars (a laptop must have at least 600:1 contrast to get an overall five star rating and over 300:1 for a four star rating).
Waves Maxx Audio is back, a software suite that we already know packs some good performances. And the XPS 15 is no exception. As long as you fiddle with a couple of the presets, some of which can be just slightly over the top, you'll get a proper, clean sound out of the built-in speakers—speakers that give good performances except when at maximum volume.
The sound out of the headphone jacks—there are two, one is a combo jack—is just as clean. The only drawback is that you can't turn either of the jacks into a mic-only input for a traditional headphone + microphone setup.
Our Review Model: Dell XPS 15 EssentialThe model we were sent for review features an Intel Core i5-3210M processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GT 630M video card and a 500 GB hard drive (7200 RPM). Whereas the comments above refer to all versions of the Dell XPS 15 (2012), the observations below apply to the configuration we tested only, as each model has different specifications. Individual components may also vary depending on the country/region you live in (see inset).
Fitted with an Intel Core i5-3210M processor like the Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition and Sony Vaio S13 Series, the XPS 15 has excellent computing power. It can handle everyday tasks such as productivity and web browsing without a lag, as well as more CPU-intensive tasks such as 3D modelling and video editing.
When it comes to overall responsiveness, the lack of an SSD becomes an issue on the version we tested. The 500 GB HDD (7200 RPM) offers plenty of storage space and remains relatively quiet, but doesn't do much to help the startup time. The XPS 15 Essential takes about a minute to boot including the time to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi and 15 seconds to shut down. Note that all three standard versions sold in the UK do contain an SSD, so the performance won't be the same as what we got (see inset).
The video card in our model is a GT 630M coupled with 1 GB of dedicated RAM (3DMark06: 9300). This is a mid-range card that you also find on the rare ultrabooks with a dedicated GPU. It's perfectly at ease with 1366 x 768 pixels but has more trouble with this display's native Full HD resolution. With less demanding games such as any of the FIFA series, the GT 630M excels. But once you move on to bigger games like Max Payne 3 or Darksiders II you have to switch to lower resolution to gain any real fluidity.
And it's with more graphics-laden games such as these that the noise from the fan starts to become noticeable.
Weighing in at 2.6 kg, the XPS 15 isn't light enough to carry around with you at all times. But that's to be expected with a 15.6-inch screen. However, if you are going to pack it up and bring it out with you the overall dimensions (37.1 x 24.9 x 2.32 cm) are compact enough for it to slip easily into any backpack. During continuous video playback (with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off, the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in) the battery lasts around 4 hours and 15 minutes, which is respectable enough to get you through that long train ride...
- Good computing power
- Design and finishing
- Backlit keyboard
- Low heating
- Good audio
- Reasonably priced optional upgrades
- Decent battery life: 4 hrs 15 min
- Noisy when hard at work
- No SSD to reduce the startup / shutdown / saving / response times
This 2012 generation of the Dell XPS 15 has a well-finished, upgraded chassis, good processing power, quality audio components, good handling of everyday tasks and a certain amount of gaming capability. All these things make this, in our opinion, a computer worth buying. With just a little more work on the screen and less noise the XPS 15 could easily have earned all five stars. So, Dell, you know what your mission is for 2013!