Product review: Dell XPS 15z

by Lee Hopkins on July 29, 2011 · 3 comments

in reviews,tools

Dell XPS 15z laptopVERDICT: A great laptop for home and personal use, but you’ll need additional kit if you want to use it in the work environment.

AS SOME of you know, I am a Dell fanboy. I’ve been using Dell kit for over a decade and haven’t looked back. Sure, there has been the odd moment of frustration, but that’s always to do with the software, not the hardware. The hardware has always performed marvellously, as has Dell’s Business Customer Service teams.

So it was with extra anticipation that Dell kindly sent me a XPS 15z to road test. I was excited because

  • I am in the mood to look for a new laptop (my existing one is 3 yrs old); and
  • I’ve always lusted for the extra grunt of the XPS range but could never afford to enter that into club.

What I immediately noticed when I opened the laptop was the keys: they are now the Apple-style chicklet type. This took a couple of days to get used to, but only a couple of days. I also noticed the cool metallic design of the laptop, and that it’s almost as thin as a Macbook Pro and weighs the same, but costs a heck of a lot less.

But what blew me away was the quality of the graphics and display. Now, hard-core power-users of Adobe products and gamers will always argue that a laptop is made or broken on the strength of the graphics card. Personally, I have no desire to spend extra $$ to get the very latest high-power graphics card because I’m not an Adobe power user or gamer; as long as I can quickly edit images in Adobe Fireworks, put together slideshows in PowerPoint and watch movies via iTunes or DVD I’m happy. I’m more of a wordsmith, which is definitely not graphics-intensive.

Yet when I watched any of my beloved Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs I was really impressed with the quality – both of the video AND the audio. The speakers are certainly not the tinny things we used to have to suffer from in yester-year.

Video – a good and bad experience

The XPS 15z is a 64-bit machine, and not all the software I use is ready for the power. Even though I had 6gb of RAM on board, the video converter I use to turn DVDs into iPad-friendly movies didn’t recognise the graphics card and so couldn’t use nvidia’s ‘CUDA’ wizardry (which accelerates the graphics card’s CPU to significantly speed up the encoding process). All of which made turning DVDs into iPad-friendly movies frustratingly slow. Not the fault of Dell, I hasten to add.

I downloaded a copy of my video editing software, Corel VideoStudio Pro X4, and gave that a go with some old editions of my vidcast. Thankfully, this time the results were MUCH better, and I reckon it was the combination of 64-bit technology with extra RAM that helped rocketsled the conversion process.

But it was when I wanted to use the laptop to present to clients that I came a cropper. What I hadn’t noticed was that there was no VGA output, just HDMI. Now, HDMI is great for high definition sound and video, but there are few digital projectors used by a/v hire companies that have HDMI inputs in them, and no client of mine had HDMI input on their boardroom-located large TVs. This I found out when actually on site at one client’s office, so we had to huddle around the admittedly large 17” screen of the laptop to watch some videos and review some Facebook Pages. I made sure I had my ‘old’ Inspiron laptop with me on subsequent client visits.

There are several workarounds to this annoyance.

1. Update your entire office so that monitors have HDMI input (none of mine do, and also expensive to do)

2. Update your client’s boardroom TVs (oh really? Like that’s going to happen)

3. Purchase a converter that turns HDMI output into VGA so that you can still connect your super-new laptop to your old projectors, monitors, etc. (price is about $299).

4. Or take the idea that my friend Glenn Murray kindly suggested and purchase a usb-out multi-converter for just $84.

I haven’t purchased Glenn’s suggestion; there’s no point since I’m not keeping this laptop. My next laptop is going to be a business-level Vostro 3750 which comes with both HDMI and VGA outputs, meaning that my clients and I have a bit more time to upgrade our hardware (TVs, monitors, etc.).

As an aside, I let my 20-year old stepson borrow the laptop to watch some DVDs on while he’s sick in bed. He connected up the laptop to his big screen HDMI-enabled TV and reckons the laptop is ‘fully sick with a sub-woofer’. I take it that means praise.

USB3.0

Apparently the ‘next version’ of the USB interface is not ‘standard issue’ with computer manufacturers around the world (at least it is with Dell, as far as I can tell). Bizarre! I’ve got a USB3.0 portable hard drive and when I connected it up to the XPS 15z data fair whipped in and out. No decision making required – USB3.0 is a must-have for manufacturers. As a user of USB3.0, you will be amazed at how quickly it will whip data around compatible devices.

CD/DVD

I admit to being nervous about the CD/DVD drive. Rather than the trays of olde, on the XPS 15z it is just an open slot into which you gently enter your disc. It is ‘grabbed’ and then sucked into the machine, after which a whirring sort of noise lets you know that it’s rotating. To me, it’s disconcerting. I’m worried about dust and dirt getting into the system and doing all sorts of scratching misbehaviour. Call me old-fashioned, but I felt more secure with a tray.

But then again, with everything moving to the clouds as Steve Jobs predicted, the need for a DVD player might be going the way of the need for a 1.44MB floppy drive.

Conclusions

I love this laptop. I love it for its design aesthetics, I love it for its speed of processing, I love it for its display which is crystal-clear and easy on the eyes. If only Dell had included a VGA out socket I would purchase one. But at least there’s an inexpensive workaround if you need it.

This is the ideal personal, student or gamer laptop: fast, cool to look at, easy to use and doesn’t weigh a tonne. But the business world is not yet ready for its HDMI-only output.


  • http://www.hellobenteoh.com.au Ben Teoh

    I was pretty excited about the 15z when I first heard about it. I checked it out at JB HiFi the other day and wasn’t as impressed with the aesthetics as I had hoped. It didn’t look as thin as reviews had said and the keyboard keys looked a bit odd.

    Still, the specs are great despite the lack of USB 3.0. Pity you’re not a gamer :)

  • http://www.LeeHopkins.net/ Lee Hopkins

    But it DOES come with USB3.0, Ben — there’s two USB3.0 ports

  • http://www.hellobenteoh.com.au Ben Teoh

    Ah cool, I must have read that it didn’t! Good to hear!

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