Editor’s Note 7.19.21: Laptop Mag does not generally recommend laptops two years or older. If you are in the market for Dell XPS 15, please check out our review of the Dell XPS 15 (2020).
I love being wrong (sometimes). Case in point, the Dell XPS 15. I loved last year’s model with its heady mix of looks and power, so much so that I didn’t think it could get much better. But the latest XPS 15 ($2,249 reviewed, $999 starting) is a lot better. This marks the first time the XPS 15 gets an OLED display, which is in itself monumental. But the system also packs an overclockable Core i9 processor and pairs it with a discrete Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU, making for one beautiful beast. Yes, they also fixed the webcam.
There are, however, some trade-offs for all that beauty and power — the Dell XPS 15’s battery life is just over 8 hours. The non-OLED Dell XPS 15 battery life lasts slightly longer at 8 hours and 48 minutes. But on a notebook this stacked, I’m betting the eight-hour battery life is a tiny flaw you’ll be willing to overlook. We certainly have, which is why we named the XPS 15 one of the best 15-inch laptops, best video editing laptops, best 4K laptops and best laptops for college students.
Dell XPS 15 price and configurations
I tested the $2,249 configuration of the Dell XPS 15, which has a 9th Gen 2.4-GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK processor with 32GB of RAM, a 1TB m.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of VRAM and a 4K OLED display.
The $999 base model has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB m.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 display.
The $1,599 iteration gives you a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-9750H CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB m.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of VRAMand a 1920 x 1080 display. An additional $400 doubles the RAM and storage and adds a 4K panel.
Dell XPS 15 design
Aluminum and carbon fiber — a match made in techie heaven. At least it is when you’re talking about an XPS laptop. On the XPS 15, the combination is upscale and modern, something you’d be proud to show off in a coffee shop or board room. The chrome Dell logo gleams in the center of the silver anodized aluminum lid, just like the slightly chamfered edges of the system.
Adding rigidity and a stylish flair to the mix is the carbon-fiber keyboard deck, which houses the full-size keyboard, a large touchpad and the circular power button playing double duty as a fingerprint reader.
As with all modern XPS notebooks, the latest 15 rocks those barely-there bezels, courtesy of Dell’s InfinityEdge design. But unlike all but the most recent XPS 13, the webcam on the 15-inch is right where it belongs, smack-dab in the top bezel.
The weight of the Dell XPS 15 is 4.5 pounds. Its dimension is 14.1 x 9.3 x 0.5~0.7-inch, which is on a par with its competitors. The 15-inch HP Spectre x360 (4.5 pounds, 14.2 x 9.8 x 0.8 inches) is only slightly bigger, while the 4 pound, 13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6-inch Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch) is smaller and lighter.
Dell XPS 15 ports
Dell has outfitted the XPS 15 with enough ports and slots to make it a formidable workhorse. It’s one of the few premium systems to offer an SD card reader.
In addition, you’ll find a USB 3.1 Type-A port with a wedge lock slot and a battery indicator button on the right side of the laptops. Along the left is another USB 3.1 Type-A port with a Thunderbolt 3 port, HDMI 2.0 and jacks for power and a headset.
Dell XPS 15 display
Let’s give a big round of applause to the latest member of the OLED club. This marks the first time Dell has put an OLED panel on the XPS 15.
Boasting dramatic, lively colors with rich, detailed contrast, the XPS’ 15.6-inch 4K (3840 x 2160) panel must be seen to be believed. I was immediately taken with how the amber street lights glowed against actress Jodie Turner-Smith’s warm mocha skin and accentuated each twist in her long box braids as she rode in the car. Smaller details like the patchiness of Daniel Kaluuya’s beard and the small water droplets deposited in his hair from melting snow were easy to see.
The non-OLED 4K version of the XPS 15 isn’t a slouch by any means, successfully showing off the luxurious sheen of Kaluuya’s crimson velour jumpsuit. But it wasn’t as vibrant as its OLED counterpart.
Measuring for color reproduction capability revealed the OLED XPS 15 can produce 239% of the sRGB gamut, while the non-OLED system hit 210%. Both displays are much more vivid than the 128% premium laptop average and the MacBook Pro’s 114%. However, neither laptop was a match for the Spectre x360’s 258%.
Wowzers, is that bright. When I first started reviewing the OLED XPS, I thought it was pretty bright. Then I realized that it was only at 50%. When I set it to maximum, I almost needed to whip out some shades to look at the 626-nit panel. The non-OLED screen averaged 418, nits, which is more on a par with the 334-nit average, the 403 nits from the MacBook Pro and the 483 nits from the Spectre x360.
And while the XPS 15’s display is stunning, it’s also durable thanks to being made from Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It comes in handy when you want to reach out and use the touch screen. And while the 10-point capacitive touch screen is quick and accurate, you might want to invest in the optional Active Pen ($49.99) to avoid unsightly smudges on this lovely screen.
Just in case the colors aren’t vivid enough for you, Dell preloaded several utilities to help. PremierColor lets you tweak color gamut, temperature and brightness. When it’s time to watch video, you have CinemaColor, which offers several easy profiles to quickly adjust the screen. There’s also DolbyVision, which can further enhance color and contrast on standard definition panels.
Dell XPS 15 audio
In the next iteration of the XPS 15-inch, I want top-mounted speakers. Dell should put them in the hinge or toward the bottom corners. As it stands, the XPS 15’s bottom-mounted speakers are loud, loud enough to fill my smallish living room with audio that was clear, yet shallow depending on the song.
For instance, the string orchestra accompanying Sam Cooke on “A Change Is Gonna Come” was just as sweet and lilting as his raspy tenor was morose yet hopeful. However, the bass was lacking on Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” although the artist’s rap/singing was nice and clear, as was the piano.
To help enhance the audio quality, Dell preinstalled Waves MaxxAudioPro software. It has 24 presets, including Hip-Hop (Soft), R&B, Movies, Oldies, Loudness and Classical.
Dell XPS 15 keyboard and touchpad
Maybe it’s the 79 grams of actuation force talking here, but typing on the XPS 15’s island-style keyboard is a mighty comfortable experience. Despite the rather shallow 1.1 millimeters of key travel (1.5 is our preferred minimum), my fingers never bottomed out as I typed the review. I even hit my usual 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test with no problem.
The keys are large and have generous spacing. And the backlighting allowed me to burn the midnight oil without too many errors.
The 4.1 x 3.1-inch Precision touchpad is spacious, fast and responsive. Performing Windows 10 gestures such as a three-finger tap to summon Action Center or a three-finger swipe to access recent apps was near instantaneous.
Dell XPS 15 performance
Who wants more power? I do. And Dell more than delivers with the XPS 15, cramming an overclockable 9th Gen 2.4-GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK processor with 32GB of RAM into an otherwise slim chassis. The laptop ate through my real-world tests, streaming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Netflix with 25 additional open Google Chrome tabs, some of which were streaming from Twitch or YouTube while others ran Slack and Tweetdeck.
The XPS 15 delivered scintillating results on our synthetic tests as well, nailing an impressive 28,882 on Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test. That simply shattered the 16,226 premium laptop average as well as the 17,195 put up by the Spectre x360 and its 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-8565U CPU. But equipped with its own 8-core Intel Core i9-9980HK CPU, the MacBook Pro managed to deliver a result of 31,012.
The XPS 15 got a measure of revenge on the Handbrake test, taking only 8 minutes to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. That’s faster than the MacBook Pro’s 8:10 as well as the Spectre x360’s 21:13 and the 22:13 average.
When we ran our usual File Transfer test, the XPS 15’s 1TB m.2 NVMe PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 10 seconds for a transfer rate of 508 megabytes per second, beating the Spectre x360 SSD (424 MBps). However, both scores are below the 620.3 MBps category average.
We also ran the Black Magic storage test, in which the XPS obtained a read/write speed of 2,116/2,224 MBps. The MacBook Pro’s SSD posted a faster result of 2,612/2,611 MBps.
In addition to its integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, the XPS 15 also has a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of VRAM for more intensive tasks. When we ran the Dirt 3 benchmark, the XPS 15 achieved 80 frames per second beating the 68-fps premium laptop average. However, with their respective AMD Radeon Pro Vega and Nvidia MX150 GPUs, the MacBook Pro and Spectre x360 notched 120 and 118 fps.
Dell XPS 15 battery life
There’s a price to pay for all that power and a screen that gorgeous. Thanks to all that high-powered finery, the OLED iteration of the XPS 15 lasted only 8 hours and 7 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness). The non-OLED model lasted a bit longer at 8:48. Both times will get you through a full work day and are longer-lasting than the Spectre x360’s 7:46.
But the 8:26 premium average outpaces the OLED XPS 15, while the MacBook Pro, which lasted 10:21, bested the competition.
Dell XPS 15 heat
The XPS 15 can get a bit hot under the collar, but thanks to venting located in front of the hinge and along the bottom of the laptop, it’s never uncomfortable to use in your lap. After 15 minutes of playing a YouTube video, the touchpad measured a cool 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The center of the keyboard reached 96 degrees, which is just above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The notebook’s undercarriage was a warm 102 degrees.
Dell XPS 15 webcam
Dell just might have one of the best webcams I’ve used on a premium laptop, and they made it themselves. After consistent complaints about the “nose cam,” the company went back to the lab and create a shooter measuring only 0.9 inches, making it Dell’s smallest to date. But it’s not the size that matters, it’s the image quality. And I’m happy to report that Dell doesn’t disappoint.
The test shots I took in my living room had accurate color from my chocolate complexion, purple locs and marigold-and-white dress. There’s definitely some visual noise, but it’s not nearly as bad as what you’ll find on competing systems. Plus, it was sharp enough that I could make out the heart cutout on my ring when I gave the peace sign.
Dell XPS 15 software and warranty
Dell’s usual cast of helpful pre-installed utilities make an appearance on the XPS 15. You get Power Manager, which runs diagnostics on the system’s battery as well as adjusts fan speed and power consumption for more demanding tasks. Mobile Connect lets you mirror your smartphone to your laptop, so you can call a Lyft or play mobile games like The Elder Scrolls: Blades on the XPS’ captivating screen.
Need to troubleshoot an issue?
Dell also included Help & Support, which features informative videos, shows your warranty status and runs system diagnostics.
There’s also a fair amount of bloatware thanks to Windows 10 including Plex, Digital Delivery and Update ensures that your apps, drivers and BIOS are kept up to date.
There’s a fair amount of bloatware on the XPS 15, though, including Plex, Music Maker Jam, PicsArt Photo Studio and Netflix. That’s not to say there aren’t a few useful additions. The notebook also has McAfee Security and Dropbox with 20GB of free storage for a year. You also get Killer Control Center, so you can set which applications get bandwidth authority.
Power, I need more power! The iteration of the Dell XPS 2019 is a workhorse of the highest caliber. Inside that stylish, 0.7-inch thick aluminum chassis lies an overclockable Intel Core i9 processor, a speedy 1TB m.2 NVMe PCIe SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, effectively giving consumers premium good looks with workstation-caliber power. And speaking of good looks, you can configure this bad boy with a spectacular 4K OLED display, which makes just about anything look great. And at $2,249, it’s thousands of dollars less than a tricked-out Apple MacBook Pro ($6,549).
However, the 15-inch MacBook Pro does offer longer battery life and a faster SSD. It is also lighter than the weight of the Dell XPS 15, but the MacBook Pro is not the best value in its class. The 15-inch HP Spectre x360 is a more reasonable alternative. For $2,049, you get an OLED display that’s even more vivid than the XPS 15, but lacks the battery life or performance of either competitor. Overall, if you’re looking for extreme power and beauty without having to take out a second mortgage, the Dell XPS 15 is a top option.
Credit: Laptop Mag