Dell XPS 15 2016 review

Dell's superb workstation, gaming and entertainment laptop is not without flaws

Dell XPS 15

TechRadar Verdict

A powerful 15-inch laptop squeezed into a 14-inch sized chassis, the XPS 15 is a great fit for productivity work, gaming and entertainment thanks to its excellent 4K display. Just watch out for its lacklustre battery life, poor speakers and and shallow keyboard.


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    Thunderbolt 3

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    Battery life

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    960M not future-proof

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The XPS 15 sees Dell bring its evolutionary InfinityEdge display to a 15-inch laptop for the first time. If you're a fan of the XPS 13's space-saving design, but enjoy the productivity gains of a 15-inch laptop, Dell's latest machine promises workstation-class performance in a similarly compact chassis boasting the footprint of a 14-inch laptop.

As a former 11-inch MacBook Air owner, I was a fan of last year's revamped XPS 13. It looked the part, had the chops to cope with any task I threw at it and fit snugly into my backpack.

The XPS 15 sacrifices some of that portability in exchange for a roomy 4K display and a dedicated GPU. This makes the Dell XPS 15 a good, but not great, choice for 1080p gaming – but more on that later.

Design for life

The new XPS 15 bears little resemblance to its early 2015 predecessor, which itself was upgraded with a 4K display. The latest model's corners are much squarer, lending it a more box-like shape, and any silver flourishes on the inside have been swallowed up by a sea of matte black material.

Dell's latest XPS 15 is essentially a larger XPS 13 design-wise, from the black Dell logo etched into its silver aluminium lid to the thatched pattern on its black base. The laptop's minimalist look is the opposite of what you'll find on flashy gaming laptops. If you prefer the quietly subdued, no-nonsense look, then you'll enjoy what the XPS 15 has to offer.

Dell XPS 15

The slim, two-tone XPS 15 looks the part

I find the tactile, rubberized material around the trackpad much more welcoming than the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro's all-aluminium base, though the XPS 15 gets dirtier much easier. It attracts grease and natural hand oils like a sponge, so have a damp cloth handy if you want to keep it looking like new.

The touchscreen, on the other hand, does a better job of keeping fingerprints away. Any that do appear can be wiped away easily with a soft cloth.

On the underside of the XPS 15 are two strips of rubber that keep the machine in place when using it on a hard surface. Its display reclines around 45 degrees which, combined with the Sharp IGZO display's wide viewing angles, is enough to give you a good view of whatever it is you're doing when balancing the XPS 15 on your lap. You can manhandle the machine as much as you want, thanks to its stellar build quality, granting peace of mind when transporting it in a backpack without a case.

Everything on display

While the XPS 13's display tops out at QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800), the XPS 15 is configurable with a 4K touchscreen that boasts a 3,840 x 2,160-pixel resolution – and it's stunning to look at. Superlatives are often applied liberally when talking about laptop displays, but the XPS 15 deserves its praise.

Dell claims that the display covers 100% of the Adobe RGB color space, which is almost the case. Measured with my i1DisplayPro colorimeter, it achieved a hugely impressive 95%, which makes the XPS 15 a great option for photo editors who require spot-on accuracy,

The vibrancy of the display is exaggerated by Dell's PremierColor app, found lurking in the System Tray when you boot up the machine. Each of its six presets correspond to an activity you may be doing on the machine – from watching movies (Cinema – DCI-P3) to designing websites (Internet – sRGB), working with video (Rec.709/Rec.601) and editing images (Photo – Adobe RGB). I didn't see any reason to switch from the default 'Vibrant' setting, which produces deep blacks, colours that "pop", and bright, natural whites.

The XPS 15's superb colors are complemented by its high pixel density. At 282.4 ppi (pixels per inch), it's sharper than the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina (220 ppi) and the Surface Book (267 ppi) while matching the Asus UX501 (282 ppi), which also comes with a 4K display.


The XPS 15's display suffers from reflections

Having such a pixel-packed display brings the benefit of highly legible text, smooth lines on menus, crisp icons and massively detailed photos. Navigating archives to find a new desktop wallpaper suddenly becomes an enjoyable (and regular) task.

The XPS 15 ships with Windows 10's scaling set to 250%, which shifts the balance too far toward legibility, versus room on the desktop. Adjusting the slider to 200% gives you the same amount of space as a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution monitor without making a noticeable dent in clarity. If you're used to working with large spreadsheets, editing 4K video and undertaking other tasks that require a roomy working area, setting the scaling to 125% lets you squeeze in more rows and toolbars without making fonts and icons too small to make out.

The downside is that some Windows applications still aren't optimized for high-resolution displays, so you'll inevitably end up with tiny or huge icons and fuzzy images in applications that haven't been updated to take advantage of the extra pixels. You'll occasionally come across apps, such as Evernote, that don't even render fonts correctly at scaled resolutions. The good news is that developers are updating their apps to support scaled resolutions in much greater numbers than they were before Windows 10 came along.

Kane Fulton
Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.