“The XPS 15 is the king of big-screen laptops.”
- Excellent design
- Port selection is well-rounded
- Long battery life
- Doubles as a capable gaming PC
- Good value despite high pricing
- Bad webcam placement
- SSD suffers slow write speed
Most people don’t need a laptop like the Dell XPS 15. The average person spends closer to half as much as this $1,500 laptop. And even if it was in their budget, most people just don’t need a discrete graphics card, six-core processor, 16GB of RAM, and a larger 15-inch screen.
But what if you need that? What if you’re a video editor, or programmer, or designer, or architect, or music producer? You need a laptop that can handle the heavy workload you use every day. Or perhaps you just want to know your laptop can play games as well as it can work.
Welcome to the laptop you’ve been waiting for.
Party in the back, business up front
While the XPS 13 was refreshed earlier this year with a new color option and a redesigned thermal solution, the XPS 15’s design remains unchanged. That’s not an entirely bad thing, though. The XPS 15 feels more like a chameleon that blends in with its environment, instead of a flashy new toy.
The XPS 15 is a chameleon that blends in with its environment, not a flashy toy.
When closed, or when viewed from the back, the silver aluminum finish of the Dell XPS 15 is elegant and classy. It might not feel quite as modern chic as a Surface or Mac, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a coffee shop or photography studio, either. Open it up, and you’ll be greeted by black polycarbon palmrests and a keyboard that look appropriate sitting next to a ThinkPad or Inspiron. The XPS 15 always looks like it belongs, no matter where you use it.
The ultra-thin bezels still look great and keep the XPS 15’s profile sleek, but they’re not as unique as they once were. In fact, the XPS 15’s bezels are bested by the 91 percent screen-to-body ratio of the Huawei MateBook X Pro. Though it’s no longer cutting-edge, the XPS 15’s small footprint remains impressive.
Rather than make the thinnest or lightest 15-inch laptop, Dell has instead continued to focus on rigidity and durability. It’s a full pound heavier than the 15-inch MacBook Pro and 1.6 pounds more than the ultra-light LG Gram. At its thickest (0.7 inches), it’s thicker than even the Razer Blade, though the hinge shape allows for maximum efficiency. It’s also built like a tank. It takes two hands to pry its stiff hinge open, but that means you’ll have to try hard to find any flex or bending in the chassis or lid. That can’t be said for laptops like the LG Gram, which shoot for portability above all else.
While Dell has pulled back the port options on the XPS 13, there’s more options on the XPS 15. With two USB-A ports, a Thunderbolt 3 (four lanes of PCIe), HDMI, and a full-size SD card slot, the XPS 15 proves itself to be made for the messy, incongruent nature of business. Dell has smartly realized that limited connectivity might suffice for casual usage, but more options are needed when it’s time to get real work done.
The webcam will make you want to exercise, but the keyboard won’t
While some laptops are moving toward experimental, short-travel keyboards, the XPS 15 has taken a more conventional approach. That’s not to say you have a lot of travel to work with here, but Dell makes efficient use of its 1.3 millimeters. The keys have a satisfying snap-back that makes typing speedy and comfortable. We had no problem quickly getting accustomed to the action of the keys, and the layout is puts everything we needed in reach.
The webcam placement means inviting your video conferencing guests to shots of your double chin.
The touchpad is similarly responsive, reacting well to multi-finger gestures, two-finger tracking, and palm rejection. The click is a bit louder and clunkier than we prefer, but we became used to it. There are laptops with better inputs, such as Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or even the Surface Book 2 — but the XPS 15 is no slouch.
The webcam is more of a problem. In case you haven’t heard, the webcam on these XPS laptops has moved beneath the display, so you’ll be inviting your video conferencing guests to shots of your double chin, nostrils, and massive troll hands while typing. It’s a choice that was a bit easier to forgive on the cheaper, more mainstream XPS 13. But for a laptop that could be used regularly for business conduct, it’s a bit more of a compromise. For some this will be a deal-breaker, but others will never end up turning it on to find out how bad the angle really is. At least it’s centered this time around.
1080p is less desirable, but do you really want to pay for 4K?
The XPS 15 comes in either a 4K or 1080p variant, the latter being the one we tested. Opting for the less impressive screen nets you a significantly discounted price, and provides better battery life.
How does it perform? Well, unlike the XPS 13 — where the quality of the 1080p and 4K panels are in the same ballpark — the quality of this panel dips. It’s bright, maxing out at 397 nits, has a high contrast ratio, and even has a decent color gamut. However, it does have a few issues.
As you can see in the graphs above, the screen Dell chose for the 1080p model has a high rate of average color error at 3.32. It’s not so bad you’ll notice in daily usage, but it should be enough to make photographers and videographers worry. This can no doubt be lessened with calibration, but that’s not ideal in a brand new, $1,500 laptop.
Video editors will want to opt for the higher-resolution 4K model, which claims a wider color gamut and better color reproduction. But gamers, and most everyone else, are better saving $400 to pick up the 1080p version.
We wish Dell had made the speakers upward-firing, but they get the job done if you want to watch a movie and don’t have headphones on you. They’re loud and clear, but not beyond the scope of an average pair of laptop speakers.
Another speed demon
Dell’s 15-inch XPS laptops have always been of a different breed of laptop compared to the 13-inchers. The differences come down to performance. For the 2018 model, Dell has included the 8th-gen Core i7-8750H, a processor normally found in thin-and-light gaming laptops like the Razer Blade or Digital Storm Equinox. The 45-watt chip is an impressive piece of hardware that performs fantastic both in benchmarks and in general usage, especially when paired with the 16GB of RAM our $1,500 unit came with.
The bump to 8th-gen Intel Core chips brings significantly faster multi-core speeds, which the XPS 15 now enjoys. In Geekbench, the XPS 15 holds its own, though not against slightly bulkier machines with the same chip. As we’ll discuss in the graphics section below, the XPS 15 does throttle performance, especially in sustained, intensive processes. On the plus side, the XPS 15 never becomes overly loud or hot, even during the most strenuous tests.
With a processor like the Core i7-8750H, you’ll be able to run heavy software like Photoshop, Pro Tools, or CAD — even simultaneously alongside other open programs or browser tabs. It destroyed our Handbrake test, encoding a short 4K video in just two and a half minutes, which is the best score we’ve seen from a laptop and a solid thirty seconds faster than the Razer Blade.
This is the best score we’ve seen from a laptop and a solid thirty seconds faster than the Razer Blade.
While its processor performance stands out, the XPS 15’s storage left us a bit confused. For one reason or another, the 256GB Toshiba XG5 NVMe solid state drive that shipped with our review unit suffered slow write speeds. In our CrystalDisk Mark test, the drive wrote data at an average of only 154 megabytes per second (MB/s). After installing the Windows 10 April 2018 update, write speed worsened further, down to an average of 46 MB/s. As you can see in the graph above, that’s not even in the same ballpark as its competitors, such as the 1,974 MB/s of the Razer Blade. In fact, it’s closer to the speed of an old-school hard disk drive than a modern SSD.
This may be a bug in Windows 10 and, according to posts online, has impacted other machines with the same SSD, such as the Huawei MateBook X Pro. While read speed is more important to the overall experience, write speed will continue to be an issue until Dell, Microsoft, and Toshiba figure it out. We have reached out to Dell about the matter, but a fix remains pending.
Not a dedicated gaming laptop, but it gets by
The XPS 15 isn’t sold as a gaming laptop, but it’s always been surprisingly capable, the 2018 update has only improved that. An upgrade from the GTX 1050 to the 1050 Ti makes playing games on the XPS 15 even smoother and more responsive. The XPS 15 saw an 18 percent increase in its 3DMark score over last year’s model.
In our game testing we noted a similar increase in game performance. In lighter fare such as Rocket League or Fortnite, you can expect a smooth 60 FPS, even with the graphics settings maxed out at Ultra. Even when taxed with Civilization VI or Battlefield 1, we saw a significant jump in framerate over last year’s model. On Ultra settings we averaged 49 FPS in Civilization VI and 52 FPS in Battlefield 1. While that won’t compare to the best gaming laptops, such as the Razer Blade, it’s impressive given the XPS 15’s jack-of-all-trades design.
Again, you should know the XPS 15 can throttle at times. Even the more affordable Dell G3 Gaming Laptop, which has the same GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip, is a tad faster overall. That’s despite the extra RAM and processing cores the XPS 15 has. The 15-inch MacBook Pro has the same problem, as does the Surface Book 2, and basically any laptop with a thin profile and a fast graphics chip.
Despite its speed and large screen, Dell has managed to make battery life among the XPS 15’s strengths by including a large 97 watt-hour battery. The Razer Blade has an 80 watt-hour battery, while the Surface Book 2 features 90 watt-hour of juice. In the case of the 1080p model, the result of that large battery was some of the best battery life we’ve seen on a 15-inch laptop.
The laptop lasted just over 14 and a half hours looping a video. That’s even better than the XPS 13, and is only bested by the Surface Book 2, which still holds the crown at over twenty hours. In general browsing and productivity the XPS 15 provides more than a full day of battery, upwards of ten hours of usage.
The 2018 version of the Dell XPS 15 better than its predecessor in every way. While its look hasn’t changed, it remains a star in all the areas that matter most. Dell even upgraded the graphics card without increasing the price. There are a couple hiccups along the way, such as the webcam placement and the storage speed, but the XPS 15 remains our favorite 15-inch laptop.
Is there a better alternative?
The obvious choice is the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which won’t have the graphics capability, has worse battery life, and is quite a bit more expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, the Razer Blade is certainly a more capable gaming machine, but again — battery life is worse and it’s more expensive. As much as we love the Blade, there’s a trade-off there for the extra performance.
The laptop you should really consider before buying the XPS 15 is one of the Dell G series laptops. They aren’t nearly as thin, light, or premium, but offer better performance at nearly half the cost. The major compromises are screen quality, battery life, and touchpad quality, but if you’re on a budget, it’s a fantastic deal.
How long will it last?
The XPS 15 is a durable, up-to-date, machine. You can expect it to last at least a three or four years, depending how you use it of course. It comes with a standard 1-year warranty, which isn’t anything special.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Not everyone needs this much power, but for those who do, the XPS 15 is the 15-inch laptop we’d choose every time.
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