Small laptops are great, but for a blend of productivity and portability, 15-inch models are perfect. Two of the best manufacturers for laptops of that size are Dell and Lenovo, so picking between two of their flagship devices in that range isn’t easy.
Neither the Dell XPS 15 nor the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 is a style icon compared to more form-focused laptops like the XPS 13 or MacBook Pro, but they’re hardly bad looking either. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 sports thinner bezels than its last-generation counterparts, but retains the boxy-look so classic of the range. The Dell alternative does have thinner bezels and an altogether more modern-looking design than its Lenovo counterpart. It’s a little thinner than the ThinkPad but does weigh in heavier with the larger battery option. It has a silver exterior paint job compared to the ThinkPad X1’s overall black coloring, which impacts personal preference more than anything tangible.
Both laptops feature great keyboards with crisp, responsive keys and comfortable layouts. The Lenovo keyboard is slightly more enjoyable to use long-term, although either would be good for day to day use. The main difference here is the ThinkPad’s TrackPoint, which some people still swear by.
The XPS 15 sports a number of port options on its flanks and rear, offering up a pair of USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports (fast, but not that fast), an HDMI 2.0 output, a single Thunderbolt 3 compatible USB-C connector, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The ThinkPad sports a slightly more expansive port selection, with two Thunderbolt 3 compatible USB-C ports, a pair of USB-A 3.1 ports, an HDMI 2.0 output, a smart card reader, SD card reader, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a network extension port that when combined with an adapter dongle can be used for ethernet connections.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a starting price of $1,475 and offers an 8th-gen Intel Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB of DDR4 memory, an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics chip, and 256GB of M.2 SSD storage. All of that powers a 15.6-inch 1080p IPS display that can hit a brightness of 300 nits. Update options include a more powerful CPU — up to a Core i9-9980H — up to a terabyte of PCIe SSD storage, up to 64GB of RAM, and an OLED 4K display. The most expensive model costs $3,195. The XPS 15 has a much more modest starting price of $1,000 for its entry-level model, with a 9th-gen Intel Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB of DDR4 memory, onboard Intel UHD 630 graphics, and 256GB of PCIe SSD storage. The best configuration is $2,900 and comes with an Intel Core i9-9980H CPU, 64GB of DDR4 memory, a 2TB PCIe SSD, and an OLED 4K display.
The XPS 15 certainly offers more value at the lower end, with comparable hardware to the entry-level ThinkPad for a few hundred dollars less. However, once you get up to around the $2,000 mark the specifications and costs even out and they are far more comparable in terms of bang for buck. Our review configurations both had the Core i9-9980H CPU, and the results slightly favored the XPS 15. However, both laptops provide excellent performance for creative types who need the extra CPU power for photo and video editing.
Both laptops feature the same Samsung OLED display with awesome colors, contrast, and brightness, along with some of the deepest blacks you’ll find on a laptop. Both also provide excellent support for Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) video. You can get either laptop with Full HD and IPS 4K displays and with and without touch.
No 15-inch laptop is as portable as some of the smaller form-factor alternatives out there, but the two laptops in this head to head aren’t blocky workstations by any means. Indeed, Lenovo has gone out of its way to make the ThinkPad X1 Extreme much sleeker and streamlined than the other laptops in its professionally-targeted range. It measures 14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7-inches and weighs just 3.76 pounds as its starting weight. The XPS 15 is definitely the trimmer device, at 14.06 x 9.7 x 0.66-inches (0.45-inches at its thinnest point) but not by a huge margin. It is a little heavier, though, weighing 4.5 pounds with the larger battery option.
That battery comes in at 97 watt-hours, with the option of a much smaller 56 watt-hours in some configurations. The version we tested came with the larger of the two and the power-hungry OLED display. It lasted just over eight hours in our video loop test. Some newer laptops with low-power Full HD displays beat such a figure handily, but the OLED-equipped ThinkPad falls far behind with its 80 watt-hour charge delivering just six hours of video looping. That’s a respectable result, but the XPS 15 is just vastly more efficient.
Efficiency and style trump grunt
In our head-to-head testing of comparable hardware configurations, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 comes out on top, by a little. It also has a better selection of ports, but there’s no denying that it is the more costly of devices — especially at the lower end. It also has much weaker battery life — although few can compare with the XPS 15’s stellar efficiency.
The ThinkPad is certainly worth considering if you like its more professional look, feel, and gorgeous HDR display, but the XPS 15 remains our darling of the 15-inch form factor. It’s the complete package, offering great performance in general usage and gaming, long life on a single charge, and it looks good too.
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