Phil Mickelson versus Tiger Woods, set for a $10 million showdown Thanksgiving weekend. King Kong versus Godzilla, coming to theaters in 2020. The equivalent of these great rivalries for creative professionals is the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro versus the Dell XPS 15 (starts at $999.99; $2,099.99 as tested). The latter is starting to look a little stale—this year’s model 9570 looks like last year’s 9560, which matched the 9550 before it—but it’s still got the moves. In fact, it’s got more of them, thanks to a swift six-core “Coffee Lake” processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics. Throw a relatively low price into the mix, and you’ve got a repeat Editors’ Choice winner—a laptop that easily stands with the Microsoft Surface Book 2 and LG Gram 15 among the best desktop replacements you can buy.
The 2018 edition of the XPS 15 continues its tradition of undercutting the MacBook Pro’s price. The $999.99 starter model offers a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of memory, a 1TB hybrid hard drive, and a 1080p non-touch display. Our $2,099.99 test unit competes with Apple’s $2,799 model, each with a six-core Core i7 chip, 16GB of memory, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, and discrete graphics (AMD’s Radeon Pro 560X for Apple, the GTX 1050 Ti for Dell).
Apple wins on clock speed, Dell on screen resolution (3,840 by 2,160 touch versus 2,880 by 1,800 non-touch). If the slightly slower processor bothers you, you can configure an XPS 15 with Intel’s screaming Core i9-8950HK, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD for under $2,850. The comparable MacBook Pro is $3,899.
As before, the XPS 15 is a good-looking, tapered slab that combines a silvery aluminum lid (with centered chrome Dell logo) with a black soft-touch carbon-fiber keyboard deck. The base model weighs a trim 4 pounds with the non-touch screen and a 56-
Dell’s skinny InfinityEdge screen bezels help make the system slightly smaller than most 15.6-inch laptops (0.66 by 14.1 by 9.3 inches; compare the Lenovo ThinkPad L580 at 0.9 by 14.8 by 10 inches) but preclude putting the webcam in its customary place above the display. Instead, it follows the XPS tradition of being centered below the screen, where it gives your Skype colleagues a looming view of your chin and nostrils. At least the view is averagely well-lit and focused.
The Dell has only one Thunderbolt 3 port to some rivals’ two and the MacBook Pro’s four, but it has a good array of other connections. On the left are the socket for the shirt-pocket-size AC adapter, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, an HDMI port, the Thunderbolt 3 port, and an audio jack. On the right, you’ll find another USB Type-A port, an SD card slot, a light-up battery gauge, and a Noble lock slot. Killer 802.11ac and Bluetooth wireless are standard. The power button doubles as a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello logins.
You’ve Got the Look
Laptop screens don’t come any better than the Dell XPS 15’s high-resolution panel, which the company boasts covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color gamut for accuracy when viewing and editing images. Though slightly reflective, it doesn’t have the distracting mirror-glass finish of many touch displays—reflections come into play only at wide viewing angles, which are otherwise excellent.
Brightness and contrast are first-class, and fine details are as sharp as you’d expect from a 4K display. Colors get muddy when the brightness is turned down but are rich and vivid when it’s up, making viewing images, streamed videos, or even plain Web pages a pleasure. Really, my biggest gripe about the screen is that it doesn’t tilt back quite as far as I’d like.
The keyboard feels shallow but snappy, with good tactile feedback making up for its lack of travel. It’s no match for, say, the luxurious feel of a Lenovo ThinkPad T series, but it permits fast, accurate typing with a little practice. The cursor arrows are small (and team with the Fn key for Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down instead of there being dedicated keys), but they’re in the proper inverted T instead of an Apple- or HP-style row. The oversize, buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly.
The XPS 15’s sound is above average. The small speakers on its chin easily fill a room with minimal distortion and no tinny tones. I could hear individual voices in Broadway choruses, while instrumentals were full, albeit short on booming bass.
Gobs of Get Up and Go
Matched against last year’s model and a set of 15.6-inch rivals, the XPS 15 made short work of our performance benchmarks. The system surpassed the 3,000 points that we consider excellent in the PCMark 8 office productivity test, despite the fact that 4K screens are usually a
The system’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU is the thermally throttled Max-Q version, so it’s not quite as impressive an upgrade from last year’s GTX 1050 as it could be. Still, it put up a good fight against the Surface Book 2’s GTX 1060, scoring well in 3DMark and—at 1080p, not 4K, resolution—clearing the 30 frames per second (fps) required for smooth gameplay in our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations. In the real thing, the Steam game Rise of the Tomb Raider, the XPS 15 posted 43.6fps at the High and 37.9fps at the Very High quality preset at 1080p.
One big improvement from the 2017 model is battery life. While the model 9560 lasted barely six hours in our unplugged video playback test, the 9570 had the stamina for almost 11 hours—still near the bottom of our competitive stack, but much more practical for getting through a workday plus an evening’s entertainment or streaming.
A Multimedia Marvel
It’s not cheap compared to today’s flock of $1,000 gaming laptops, some of which offer superior gameplay, but the Dell XPS 15 isn’t a gaming specialist so much as it’s a decathlete, able to switch from productivity apps to
Of course, it can’t stop sales of MacBook Pros to loyal Apple customers—Dell could offer it for $19.99 with a free set of steak knives without doing that. But for most buyers of desktop-replacement laptops, the XPS 15 belongs at the top of a very short list.