Dell's big, fast, 15-inch flagship laptop and its amazing touchscreen give the MacBook Pro Retina a run for its money
With a feel and finish rivaling that of the latest MacBook Pro Retina -- and a display capable of a super-Retina resolution of 3,200 by 1,800 pixels -- Dell's XPS 15 isn't cheap, tiny, or wimpy. If you're willing to pay the price, both in simoleons and in heft, the XPS 15 sets new highs on several fronts.
The unit I tested runs a "Haswell" (fourth generation) Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU; 16GB of memory; a 1TB hard drive with a 32GB solid-state cache; the aforementioned gorgeous, almost-4K, Gorilla Glass, 10-point touchscreen; an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of GDDR5 graphics memory; three USB 3 and one USB 2 slots; HDMI; a media card reader (SD, SDIO, SDXC); a Mini DisplayPort; an excellent, backlit, full-size keyboard; and Windows 8.1. You can order this configuration from Dell for $1,950.
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An uninspiring and still expensive $1,550 model has a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, a 1,920-by-1,080 screen, and integrated HD 4400 graphics. Or you can go whole hog and get the $2,350 version with a Core i7, 16GB of memory, a 512GB solid-state drive, Nvidia graphics, and a bigger battery.
Far from dainty, the XPS 15 weighs in at 4.44 pounds (versus 4.46 for the latest MacBook Pro Retina) and hits a maximum bulge of 0.7 inch (same as the MacBook Pro).
The display is gorgeous, but in my opinion the colors run too hot because of a Dell default setting. You can see this for yourself. Put a colorful picture on the desktop, flip over to the Metro Start screen, type "Windows Mobility Center" in the search box, and in the lower-right corner, under "Customized by Dell," look for the Default display color setting. Switch between "Splendid color," the default setting, and "Generic color." Watch the desktop -- particularly the reds -- and see if you prefer Generic color, too.
Some older desktop programs -- particularly games -- may have trouble adapting to the 3,200-by-1,800 resolution. Scott Hanselman has a good rundown of the problem, posted earlier this year. Windows 8.1 includes improvements, and several software companies have been shamed into rewriting their old programs to better handle nearly-4K displays, so some of the old programs now behave themselves. In my weeks of tests with plain-vanilla business software, I didn't encounter anything unintelligible.
The XPS 15's battery life is surprisingly good for a big laptop, never mind the super-Retina screen. Expect about six hours under normal conditions. I put the machine through my you-can-do-this-too acid test -- continuous runs of Windows 7's wildlife.wmv file using Windows Media Player on the desktop, 70 percent brightness, no sound or Wi-Fi -- and I came up with a respectable but not impressive 3 hours, 10 minutes.
Put under duress, the base near the vent turned warm, up to 110 degrees -- not exactly egg-frying territory, but uncomfortable nevertheless. The fan, when it kicked in, was noticeable but not overbearing (I work in a moderately noisy office).
I like the keyboard, but I like the MacBook Pro Retina's keyboard, too, and they're very similar. The track pad works simply and well, with swiping gestures and a defined zone for right click. There's no number pad. Touch on the screen responds as you would expect, with good edge coverage and full 10-point recognition.
The machine I tested has full TPM 1.2 support, but it does not have a fingerprint scanner. Your experience with finger scanners may be better than mine, but I don't consider the lack of one a debilitating loss.
In short, for most folks, the Dell XPS 15 Touch machine (in its two high-end configurations) is the best Windows laptop ever made. It's also among the most expensive. Even if you never touch the screen and work only on the desktop, the XPS 15 will keep up with everything you throw at it, looking superelegant in the process.
Downsides? You get 12 months of McAfee Security. It'll take a few minutes to blow that away. The wallpaper isn't commensurate with the gorgeous display. It'll take two more minutes to address that. Otherwise, it's a very clean machine.
For the past six months, my mobile machine of choice has been a MacBook Pro Retina, running Windows 7 under Boot Camp. This is the first machine I've seen that comes close to matching Apple's flagship -- high praise indeed. The Mac's battery life is better, and the MacBook Pro Retina is cheaper if you don't run Windows. The XPS 15 has touch support and Windows built in.
If you want a Windows-first machine, don't mind hauling 4.4 pounds, and haven't drained your expense account yet, Dell's XPS 15 is the machine to get.
This article, "Review: Dell XPS 15 Touch is the best Windows laptop ever," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
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