The Dell XPS 15 is a solid 15.6-inch multimedia laptop. It can't quite match the blistering performance of the top-rated Asus Zenbook UX51VZ, but the chunkier, heavier Dell does offer some wallet-friendly configurations so you can nab a big-screen, full-HD laptop for less.
Fast, but not the fastest. The base Dell XPS 15 packs a pretty run-of-the-mill Core i5 setup, albeit with discrete Nvidia graphics. Experts instead test the version that's set up to battle the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (*Est. $2,200 and up) with a quad-core Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 750 GB hard drive plus 32 GB solid-state drive (*Est. $1,700). RAM and SSD upgrades are available.
With a traditional hard disk, the tested Dell XPS 15 version can't quite match the SSD-equipped 15-inch MacBook with Retina Display or Asus Zenbook UX51VZ (*Est. $1,840 and up) for speed. Still, it's a solid performer and is even a pretty decent gamer: "It tore through Crysis at 74 frames per second (fps) and Lost Planet 2 at 58 fps -- only gaming-specific laptops did better," says PCMag.com. Battery life isn't too shabby at about five hours of web surfing or video playback.
Hefty, but it does offer Blu-ray. At about 5.8 pounds, the Dell XPS 15 outweighs the slimmer, sleeker Asus UX51VZ and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display by more than a pound. "I can't see carrying the XPS 15 around with you more than once in a while," says CNET.
There's no touch screen, but a roomy keyboard and responsive multi-touch clickpad work nicely. The base Dell XPS 15 has a built-in CD/DVD burner that's missing on the Asus UX51VZ, and step-up versions include Blu-ray. Connectivity/ports are ample with three USB 3.0 jacks, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Ethernet, microphone/headphone combo, headset and Kensington lock ports, plus a 3-in-1 card reader.
Good -- not great -- screen and speakers. Bright and vivid, the Dell's 15.6-inch full-HD screen nearly matches the top-rated Asus's except for the glare. Unlike the matte-screen Asus, the glossy Dell screen "was a distraction at times, reflecting everything from the lights to ourselves," Laptop Magazine says.
Audio also misses the mark slightly. It's loud and better than average, but Laptop Magazine's tester senses some distortion in vocals, and DigitalTrends.com says the bottom-mounted speakers get muffled.
There's nothing original about the XPS 15's aluminum shell; it "looks like a dead ringer for the 15-inch MacBook Pro," only darker, Laptop Magazine says. Inside is magnesium alloy, with a soft-touch typing deck that stays cool and comfortable under testers' wrists.
Good warranty, but crummy support. The XPS 15 comes with one year of Dell's Enhanced Support. This includes premium phone support with faster answering times and more extensive help, plus in-home service to fix warranty-covered problems after remote diagnosis.
However, Dell's "dismal phone service" relegates it to last place among laptop brands in a test at Laptop Magazine. When staffers ask anonymous tech-support questions, Dell's phone reps are more interested in selling extended warranties than providing assistance.
Dell does improve its tech-support rating in this year's PCMag.com reader survey, but it still fails to win a Readers' Choice award that also considers reliability.
Great price on a solid multimedia laptop. If you need a powerful multimedia laptop for the lowest possible price, the Dell XPS 15 is tough to beat. But if you can swing the extra cost, experts say the Asus Zenbook UX51VZ's lighter, slimmer build, better screen and speakers and speedier performance are worth the money.
Review Credibility: Excellent Although it can't quite match the Editors' Choice 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, "the Dell XPS 15 takes a close second place," Westover says. The Core i7 version turns in strong benchmark performances, and it costs less than the MacBook.
Review: Dell XPS 15 (Summer 2012), Brian Westover, July 30, 2012
2. Laptop Magazine
Review Credibility: Excellent "An impressive combination of beauty and power," says Smith, who agrees that the Dell XPS 15 is "a good MacBook Pro alternative." She tests a Core i7 version, too.
Review: Dell XPS 15 (2012) Review, Sherri L. Smith, July 14 , 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Its "rock-solid design" lifts the Dell XPS 15 above similarly configured laptops, Ackerman says after testing a Core i7 version. But this powerful configuration is expensive and "too heavy for regular commuting."
Review: Dell XPS 15 Review, Dan Ackerman, Aug. 7, 2012
4. Computer Shopper
Review Credibility: Excellent The Dell XPS 15 earns 4 out of 5 stars and an Editors' Choice badge at ComputerShopper.com. After thoroughly testing a Core i7 version, Delaney finds very little to nitpick on this "productivity and multimedia workhorse."
Review: Dell XPS 15 (2012) Review and Ratings, John R. Delaney, Nov. 2, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Reviews here are more concise than some, but they're still based on thorough testing of a Core i7 version. Bradford recommends the Dell XPS 15 as a well-rounded, powerful multimedia laptop, but says, "it's just unfortunate that the line's legendary audio quality isn't what it used to be."
Review: Dell XPS 15 Review, K.T. Bradford, Dec. 20, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good "Easily one of the best laptops we've ever seen," says this British website of the Dell XPS 15. Parsons does find some weak spots -- it's a little hefty, and his tester could use a solid-state drive and better battery life -- but overall, it's a 5-star laptop.
Review: Dell XPS 15 Review, Jeff Parsons, Oct. 3, 2012
7. Laptop Magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Dell flunks phone support in this test. Reps not only refuse to answer staffers' simple questions but one actually fakes a sweepstakes in an effort to sell an extended warranty. Tech support over the web is OK, but Dell still finishes dead last among eight laptop brands.
Review: Tech Support Showdown 2012, Editors of Laptop Magazine, Sept. 17, 2012
Review Credibility: Good Dell improves its tech-support ranking in this year's PCMag.com reader survey, but still finishes with below-average scores among 10 laptop brands.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013 Winners: Laptops and Desktops, Ben Gottesman, Feb. 20, 2013