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The premium Dell XPS 27 couldn’t decide on features, so it has them all

Dell couldn't decide on features for the XPS 27, so it added everything

Dell’s new XPS 27 is an improvement upon its predecessor in almost every way. 

The PC is popular again. Both IDC and Gartner report that personal computer shipments in the US climbed for the first time in more than a year, thanks in no small part to a veritable army of inexpensive Chromebooks and Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade. But a somewhat surprising category of machines spurred sales, too: all-in-ones. Microsoft’s new Surface Studio, Apple’s revamped iMac, HP’s Envy 27, and the Asus Zen AIO drove the desktop market to record heights in 2016. And at least one entrant — Dell — wants to keep things humming along well into the new year.

Dell’s putting its all-in-one bets on the XPS 27, a replacement of the XPS 27 Touch, a system we praised in our review, but which has gone awhile without an update. It boasts the second-newest generation of Intel processor, the 6th generation Intel Core i5-7400 (or i7-7700, if you pony up a bit extra). It also has AMD’s 400 series (M470X or M485X) graphics cards. And it supports up to 32GB of DDR4 SDRAM,  two terabytes of hard drive space, and 1TB PCIe SSD storage.

But the most striking thing about the new XPS is its design.

Upgrades abound

The XPS 27 is constructed of machined aluminum, a major upgrade from the hard plastic on last year’s modeled. And like the XPS 27 Touch, the touchscreen model sports a fully articulated, dual-hinge stand that allows for both height and pitch adjustments. Dell’s also improved the sturdiness, which should fix its predecessor’s tendency to wobble when tapped or touched. The XPS 27’s screen stood its ground when we took it for a brief test drive.

Perhaps the most significant addition, though, is an array of large, powerful front-facing speakers beneath the XPS 27’s display. A combination of two tweeters and four full-range drivers produce the bulk of sound, aided by 50-watt dynamic amplifiers that automatically adapt power level to content being played. The XPS 27 doesn’t have subwoofers — Dell said it lacked the physical space to accommodate them — but makes due with two of what the company says is a world first: passive radiators, with a pair of down-firing speakers that bounce sound downward, outward, and around the room.

More: Microsoft Surface Studio versus HP Envy 27: Which all-in-one truly has it all?

We’ll need to run the XPS 27’s sound system through its paces before we can make a final judgement on quality, but our initial impressions were positive. In a demo orchestrated by a Dell representative, middle and high frequencies came through clear as crystal. We were especially impressed by the speakers’ loudness, which at just 70 percent on Windows 10’s volume slider was perfectly audible from across a long conference room. (Dell claims it’s louder than both the HP Envy 27 and 27-inch iMac.)

Big sound comes with a big(ish) footprint

Unfortunately, the XPS 27’s upgraded sound system came at a cost. Thinness and lightness. It’s about two inches thicker than the XPS 27 Touch (3.16 inches versus 1.25 inches) and heavier (38.2 pounds versus 35.3 pounds). That’s not to say the XPS 27’s footprint is excessive — it’ll easily fit on all but the smallest (or most cluttered) of office desks. But it’ll take a little more effort to move it there.

The display seemed bright and vibrant in our brief time with the XPS 27.

In terms of ports and connectors, the XPS 27’s just about as well-endowed as its predecessor. On the side is a USB 3.0 port, SD-card reader, and 3.5mm audio jack, and around back are four additional USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-out port, a DisplayPort 1.2 connector, a gigabit Ethernet port, an analog audio out plug, and a USB Type-C connector. The Type-C connector is the highlight, here. In addition to supporting Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 high-speed transfer tech, it acts as a DisplayPort, USB 3.1 port, or bidirectional power connector, depending on what sort of adapter’s present.

More: 3 reasons you shouldn’t buy an all-in-one PC

The XPS 27’s IPS display is the other headliner. It’s 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) in resolution, a palpable jump from last year’s 2K (2,560 x 1,440) panel. And it’s tuned to the Adobe’s RGB spectrum, which Dell says delivers a wider gamut, higher contrast, and up to 64 times the number of colors conventional computer monitors are capable of displaying.

Whether Dell’s claims bear out remains to be seen, but the display seemed bright and vibrant in our brief time with the XPS 27. We did note glare from the demo room’s bright overhead lights, though — an issue mitigated, but not eliminated, by turning up the brightness.

You don’t have to touch

Dell’s made the touchscreen optional this time around, which we think is a wise move. Windows 10 may be optimized for touch, but the XPS 27’s high resolution — and by extension, high pixel density — can make selecting small buttons and menu items a challenging task. And with think there’s a certain set of users that’ll never be interested in touch on a computer this large.

Luckily, both the touchscreen and non-touchscreen XPS 27 ship with Dell’s Premier wireless keyboard and mouse. Just like the peripherals included with last year’s XPS 27, they’re comfortable in the hand, sturdy to the touch, and aesthetically neutral — in other words, perfectly suited for day-to-day tasks. Power users will no doubt want to opt for aftermarket accessories, but Dell’s default option will suit most owners just fine.

More: Acer Aspire C-Series offers a much more affordable Windows 10 all-in-one PC

On the software side of things, the XPS 27 supports most, if not all, of Windows 10’s headline features. Windows Hello integration is present and accounted for, thanks to an infrared camera adjacent to an HD webcam. And an array of far-field microphones let users summon Cortana from up to 15 feet away.

The XPS 27 makes a strong case for Dell’s brand of all-in-one computer. It may not match the Apple iMac or Microsoft Surface in looks, but its hardware packs a powerful punch. And with a starting price of $1,500 for the non-touch model, it makes a compelling alternative to the cheapest 27-inch iMac ($1,800) and Surface Studio ($3,000).

All the more impressive, Dell hasn’t sacrificed modularity in the pursuit of thinness. The new XPS 27 is just as upgradable as the XPS 27 Touch, meaning those inclined can pop off the aluminum rear cover and upgrade the hard drive and RAM. That should improve the longevity of the system, as RAM and hard drive upgrades are the most common.

More: Tired of messy cords and peripherals? The best all-in-one PCs can help!

We think the XPS 27 looks set to be a strong competitor in 2017. It has the hardware and features we’d expect from a modern, premium all-in-one, and seems to beat many competitors on price. Our only question is how well the XPS 27 will scale in pricing, as some of its best features aren’t standard.

The new XPS 27 goes on sale January 5.

Highs

  • Bright and vibrant display
  • Powerful sound
  • Latest processors with optional AMD graphics
  • Type-C support

Lows

  • Thicker, heavier than competitors