by Roger Kay

The Dell XPS 15 is a beast

Feb 01, 2016
Computers and Peripherals

15-inch portable is not an oxymoron.

I recently got my hands on a demo system from Dell, an XPS 15, and the thing is a killer. First of all, no one has carried around a 15-inch notebook since 1997, and second of all, it’s a beast. Now, I mean that in the nicest way possible. But its specs are really off the chart.

So, a 15-inch portable. Isn’t that an oxymoron? 15.6″, actually. I mean, by definition, isn’t something like that more of a boat anchor than a “high-mobility device?” Well, yes and no.

You see, the XPS 15 has one of Dell’s new InfinityEdge displays, and that “youge” panel fits in a bezel about the size of most 14s. I laid it on top of a 13-incher I have laying around, and it stuck out only about a centimeter. But the proof, the acid test, the one true measure, is will it fit in my laptop bag.   And, ladies and gentlemen, it slides right in. Contrast that with the Alienware 15, which most decidedly does not.

Okay on size, but what about weight? Well, folks, the thing weighs just under 4 lbs with the minimum config (56 Watt-hour battery, solid-state drive, and non-touch display). Now 4 lbs is a lot more than an iPhone, but a lot less than the ancient 15″ MacBook Pro I found some guy using in a lounge at LAX.   He didn’t know how much it weighed, but handed it to me to feel for myself. “Both hands,” he cautioned, as he shoved it at me.

And the InfinityEdge screen on that demo? It’s a 4K. That means 3840×2160. Do you have any idea? Some years before 4K became a thing, I made up a 3420×1920 palette out of three 27″ monitors set in portrait mode and strapped together with AMD’s Eyefinity Display technology. Although it was three separate screens, it produced the equivalent of a 46″ monitor. All for less than $1,000. Even today, that kind of real estate in a single piece of glass will set you back something north of three grand.

So, here’s the thing: the XPS 15 has MORE pixels on a sheet that’s one-third the diagonal. Do you even have a concept for what text looks like on something like that? You might need a microscope just to tell that it’s words down there. Well, never fear, Microsoft to the rescue. Windows 10 has a nice feature that lets an OEM set a recommended compensation on text so that it’s magnified up to readability. On the XPS 15, that figure is 250 percent. Which is great, except that every application developer has to use the Microsoft API to enable the feature. Not all the makers of the apps I use have found these controls yet. Giving me a choice between scrunched and tiny.

But pictures, oh my gawd, they are beautiful. The weird paradox of information quantity is that, when it’s text, more of it is harder to digest. It’s easier to read 10 words than 10 lines, and much easier than 10 pages, and much, much easier than 100 pages, and much, much, much easier than 1,000 pages. But with visual information, it’s the opposite. More information is better. Greater pixel density makes for clearer pictures. My head explodes just thinking about it. But, collecting myself, the sharp panel from Sharp is bright and magnificent, all while not using too much energy, which is great for portability.

Which kind of gets us to who the XPS 15 is targeted at. The 4K version (there is an FHD model for less money) can handle full Adobe color gamut coverage, which is just right for perfect fidelity print or video production. And it can handle multiple color spaces. Thus, the XPS 15 is really aimed at graphics professionals, the traditional Apple market. Which doesn’t mean that a few law firms won’t pick up a bunch just because they can.

So, what will it set you back? Two grand for the top-end model with 4K touch, the latest Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, 16GB of DDR4 memory, nVidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive.

If you blanch at the price, you’re probably not in the target market. Randall Heaton, the Dell product manager in charge of the XPS 15, told me that the company tends to sell a high mix of high-end configs. For example, he said, “i7 was 80 percent of what we sold” in the prior generation XPS 15.

One thing is sure: I won’t be embarrassed to take that bad boy around with me. It may be big, but, like a runway model, it’s thin and beautiful, made with all kinds of boss materials like carbon fiber, Gorilla Glass, mag alloy and machined aluminum — just like its smaller siblings in the XPS family.