PC companies are striving to make their 13-inch laptops thinner and lighter, a trend that has been good for our shoulders and back, but not so good for performance. Fortunately, there are 15-inch laptops that counterbalance, offering not only quad-core processors, but increasingly powerful and desktop-like graphics chips.
Dell’s XPS 15, like Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, tries to cross the line between slim and powerful. It’s not the smallest or most powerful laptop, but last year’s model struck a good balance between size and speed, even if the best configurations were on the expensive side. This year’s version doesn’t change much, but a new, more power-efficient GPU, a Kaby Lake CPU upgrade, and a fingerprint reader still make it worth reconsidering.
Look and feel
|Specifications at a glance: 2017 Dell XPS 15 (as reviewed)|
|Screen||15.6-inch 4K IPS touchscreen with Adobe RGB support|
|OS||Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
|Processor||Quad-core 2.8GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) Intel Core i7-7700HQ|
|RAM||16GB 2400MHz DDR4 (user upgradeable to 32GB)|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 630/Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5 RAM|
|HDD||512 GB PCIe SSD (expandable to 1 TB)|
|Networking||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||1x Thunderbolt 3, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI 1.4, SD reader, headphone jack|
|Mate||14.06″ x 9.27″ x 0.45-0.66″ (357 x 235 x 11-17mm)|
|Weight||4.5 pounds (2 kg)|
|Price as rated||$2,074.99|
|Other benefits||720p webcam, backlit keyboard, Microsoft Precision Touchpad, fingerprint sensor|
This iteration of the XPS 15 design is just over a year old, and Dell hasn’t tampered with it much. The laptop is essentially a bloated version of the thin-bezel XPS 13 that the company released to rave reviews in 2015. The slim bezel around the top and sides of the display looks pretty cool and also helps Dell reduce the laptop’s footprint, fitting a 15-inch screen into something slimmer and lighter than a 13-inch laptop five or six. years ago maybe.
Like all modern XPS designs, Dell uses aluminum for the lid and bottom of the laptop, combined with a pleasant-to-the-touch (yet oil-catching) soft-touch palm rest and keyboard tray. Add a solid backlit keyboard and a Microsoft Precision Touchpad, and you’re pretty much done with the recipe.
Dell offers two 15.6-inch display options with the XPS 15: a basic 1080p IPS display with no touch support and a 4K touchscreen. Our review unit uses the latter, and it’s a beautiful panel (although it could really use an anti-reflective coating). It’s high resolution and razor sharp, yes, but it also supports the Adobe RGB color gamut rather than the more common (and limited) sRGB. Apple achieves something similar with the DCI-P3 panels it has used in recent Macs, iPads and iPhones, although the two color spaces have different strengths. Apple’s P3 space includes more reds, yellows, magenta, and some greens, but Adobe RGB has an edge when it comes to blues and greenish-blues.
The nice thing is that Dell also ships an app called PremierColor with the XPS 15. By default, the “Vivid” setting covers not only the Adobe RGB gamut, but also the P3 gamut. If you need to work in a specific color space, you can easily switch between Adobe RGB, P3, and sRGB. If you think you can use a widescreen display, the XPS 15 should serve you well. The 1080p display will probably be fine too, based on the bezels Dell normally uses in its XPS machines, but that’s a bit on the low resolution for a modern laptop of this size.
The weight of the laptop depends on the configuration you choose. Cheaper models with 1080p displays use a 56Wh battery; they also usually mount a 32GB sold boot drive with a 2.5-inch spinning HDD to expand the amount of storage available. Those versions weigh four pounds, in line with Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro. More expensive XPS 15 configurations with 4K displays go all-in on PCI Express SSDs, filling the space saved by the 2.5-inch drive with more battery. Those 97WHr versions weigh 4.5 pounds, although otherwise they are exactly the same dimensions.
Beneath the screen is the XPS series’ trademark, oddly placed webcam that shoots right up your nose (women have also pointed out to me that it’s placed at chest level), a quirk we’ve never liked, but necessitated. is framed by the narrow top. And below the keyboard and to the right of the trackpad is a ($25, optional) static Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader. It’s a nice addition that addresses one of our minor complaints about the original XPS 15 and ticks one of the boxes on our list of requirements for high-end laptops in 2017.
Speaking of that list, the XPS 13 also includes a single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port on the right side. This port is not used for charging – the included adapter is rated at 130W, and the fact that the USB Power Delivery specification only goes up to 100W could explain why, and unfortunately you can’t charge the laptop with a USB-C charger, even if you have one. However, the port opens the door to fast storage and external GPU connections, in addition to 10Gbps USB 3.1 gen 2 and DisplayPort output via USB-C Alternate Mode.
The laptop also offers a small but respectable array of ports: two USB 3.0, one on each side; a full-size HDMI port; a full-size SD card reader; and a headphone jack. A lock slot and a battery indicator button round it out.
If you’d like to read more about how we feel about the XPS 15 design and the overall look and feel of the lineup, check out our original review of the XPS 15, plus reviews of the XPS 13 and XPS 13 2-in-1. Our overall verdict remains the same as always: it has an oddly placed webcam and it’s difficult to completely remove the palm rest from your hands, but Dell has built a very nice laptop overall. It controls most premium PC boxes, and it has a distinctive look that doesn’t immediately resemble a clone of a laptop from Apple or anyone else.
Just the briefest notes on the software kit of the XPS 15, which defaults to Windows 10 Home, but can get Windows 10 Pro with a $50 upgrade: Entry-level PCs are most heavily subsidized by crapware, and as premium consumer PCs , the XPS 15 keeps it to a minimum. You have a McAfee subscription that can be easily removed, a Dropbox storage offering of 20 GB, a Microsoft Office demo, and a huge amount of Dell utilities and driver files (including Nvidia’s entire GeForce Experience deal).
The aforementioned Dell PremierColor app is probably the most interesting of the Dell software, closely followed by the Dell Update utility, which promises the fast download and installation of new BIOS and driver downloads from Dell. An 11GB recovery partition takes up a chunk of your usable space, but as always, you can regain it by using Windows 10’s built-in recovery options if you want those gigabytes back.