Hardware: a third USB port wouldn't go amiss
The Apple unibody look still has the style advantage but the XPS 14z has a magnesium alloy chassis with an impeccable finish. There’s no play and no cracking. The various components fit perfectly together and the 14-inch panel has been fitted into a frame that is hardly any bigger than a standard 13.3-inch.
Aesthetically speaking, the keyboard is the least successful component here. On first sight, the keys look overly large, though when actually using it this isn't an issue. Keying is supple, quiet and all the keys are in the right places.
The multitouch touchpad is well-proportioned and while not clickable, has all the basic multitouch features (eg. two-finger scrolling). The glide is soft and precise.
The webcam 720p offers high quality in comparison to numerous competitor models. Its main fault is that the whites are a little dull but the image is detailed, the blacks not blocked out and movements relatively fluid and it’ll be perfectly okay for daily use.
The connectivity on the XPS 14z covers all the bases when it comes to daily requirements. There’s an SD card reader and a headphones and a mic socket on the left edge. On the right there’s a DVD player. At the back, the XPS 14z has a power supply socket, a mini-DisplayPort out, an HDMI out, a USB 3.0 port – for high volume data transfers if you have a compatible peripheral – a USB 2.0 port and an RJ45 (Ethernet) socket. From our point of view, an additional USB port wouldn’t have been a luxury especially as the two that are there are right beside each other and a single peripheral, such as a large USB key, can occasionally block both.
The XPS 14z is perfectly quiet and cool at idle and doesn’t make too much noise when handling simple tasks such as office documents but when you push it a bit harder, the fan does start up and is very audible. Temperature levels remain very well contained.
The 5253’s temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Power supply socket, mini-DisplayPort out,
HDMI out, USB 2.0 port, USB 3.0 port and RJ45 socket
Mic, headphones, SD card reader
Battery level and DVD burner
Processor power: good performance
The XPS 14z is equipped with a Core i5-2430M processor — the same as the one used on the Samsung NP3009E7A. Our tests show it allows you to do a bit of everything. Office document processing and Internet browsing are a walk in the park for it and it’s also efficient with more demanding applications (video encoding, 3D modelling, decompression), displaying perfectly reasonable processing times. It is just as good here as the MacBook Air.
Gaming: rapidly shows its limitsYou can play HD 1080p (Blu-ray equivalent) no problem on this machine. The Optimus technology allocates decoding to the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset as it uses less energy than the discrete graphics card.
In gaming you’ll no longer need to rely on the chipset as the NVIDIA graphics card is included for that. For the user, moving across to the graphics card is a transparent process with Optimus detecting when the capacities of the chipset have been exceeded and then switching over.
The GT 420M is however an entry-level card with limited capacity. Apart from a few less demanding titles such as FIFA 11, or older games (Quake 3 Arena, Half life 2), you’ll have to make concessions on definition and graphics settings and sometimes this won’t even be enough. The XPS 14z does however have the advantage over the MacBook Air, which only has an integrated graphics chipset to draw on.
Audio: a more than honourable performance
No complaints with the ins/outs. The signals are clean with no particular issues to detail, though a little extra power would have been welcome.
The speakers are also of good quality. The chassis doesn’t vbrate even at full volume and the sound doesn’t deteriorate too much. Note that the audio processing on offer does an excellent job, contrary to what you usually get. Once again, we would have liked a little more power but overall it’s among the best of what's currently available for laptops.
Battery life: 4h20 video playbackThe XPS 14z gives 4h20 video playback (headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth off). This is sufficient to make it a decent travelling companion but it’s still three and a half hours down on the MacBook Pro 13.3-inch which lasted 8 hours on the same test.
When it comes to weight, only an accurate set of scales will show up the difference between the XPS 14z (1.98 Kg) and the MacBook Air 13.3-inch (2.02 Kg).