PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Pre-2020, Dell’s XPS laptop line was clearly focusing on entry-level devices. But Dell turned it up a notch with the new XPS 15. The 2020 update delivers a high-end design that expands the screen size without increasing the body size.

We’ve spent over a week with the XPS 15 and are walking away pretty pleased. Unlike the Surface Book 3 which keeps an aging design, the XPS 15 doesn’t try to be too much or let a confusing design mess it up.

There are a lot of laptops begging for your attention, but it arguably comes down to software preference. And for Windows devotees, we’ve found that the XPS 15 quickly rises to the top.

Dell wasted no space on the design

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

There isn’t much wasted space on the XPS 15. Its svelte build may even have you pulling out a ruler to confirm that it’s in fact a 15-inch laptop. It’s just 0.71-inches thick and weighs in at 4 or 4.5 pounds depending on your configuration. Notably, the XPS 15 can fit inside the dimensions of a 16-inch MacBook Pro with room to spare.

Dell future-proofed the XPS 15 a bit, building into it a ton of ports: The right hand side features a USB-C port, an SD card reader and an audio jack. The left has two more USB-C ports and a lock port. Better yet, Dell includes a USB-C to USB-A and HDMI adapter in the box which is something we firmly believe that all laptops should come with. It not only makes it easier to set up a laptop, but it just brings more value. You don’t need to fumble around looking for one or spend extra cash on top of already buying a new laptop.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN
PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

The XPS 15’s build feels high-end. Its machined aluminum outer shell is a silver that looks polished, but doesn’t call much attention to itself. When it comes to opening the laptop you won’t find a true lip, like on a MacBook Air or Pro, but rather a slight indentation. It’s a little difficult to get it open at first, but after a few tries you can push up with just a thumb. Interestingly enough, once you open it a crack there’s an LED bar where the lip would normally be. While a nice touch, we don’t see it serving much of a purpose.

The star of the show is the display. It’s nearly bezelless, meaning it’s nearly a fully edge-to-edge display. There’s no wasted space with thick black bars around all sides. It’s thin on the top and bottom, and thinner on the left and right. It’s nearly a 16-inch display as well, coming in at 15.6-inches diagonally.

It’s a Dell InfinityEdge display and you get your choice of two variants. A 15.6-inch FullHD 1920x1200 display or a 15.6-inch 4K UltraHD+ 3840x2400 touch display. For the masses, we’re confident the FullHD variant will get the job done, we just wish it had touch support as it’s a great way to control Windows 10.

We’ve been testing the higher-end 4K UltraHD+ display and it really is a beauty. If you plan to do any type of creative tasks, or dare we say gaming, you’ll want to make the upgrade. You can see more colors in an accurate fashion and it just pulls you in more in comparison to a standard HD panel. We didn’t experience any fuzzy text or image manipulation, either.

In everyday use, the XPS 15’s display really pulls you in. The slim bezels lead to a 92.9% screen-to-body ratio. It also helps that the main case is in a sleek carbon fiber black —- that goes for the keyboard and trackpad as well. That stealth-like quality really lets you focus in on the display.

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

As far as the keyboard goes, it’s pretty good. We still favor Apple’s Magic Keyboard as the best typing experience. But the XPS 15 isn’t a slouch. The keys have more of a connected feeling to some degree, as each keypress can lead to some vibrations. But it also demonstrates the recoil of each keypress, as keys bounce back up quite nicely. Key spacing, along with respective row spacing, feels pretty roomy. From time to time, we did find ourselves accidentally hitting tab or caps lock, though. Overall, it’s a punchy experience with a unique coating on the top that feels like a soft plastic for each keycap.

Unlike the Surface Book 3, which opted for a tiny trackpad, the XPS 15’s trackpad is a decent size. It gives you ample room for dragging and dropping files. You can move through quite a bit of screen real estate with a relatively simple movement. If you choose to do so, you can turn on tap to click —- but you do get a tangible clicker here within the trackpad. Like most Windows laptops, it’s not a click anywhere, but rather from the bottom half down.

Like the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the left and right sides of the keyboard are flanked with speaker grills. It’s really good and nearly on par with the 16-inch from Apple. But, we found this lacks bass a bit, though the soundstage depth is nearly identical. It can fill a room easily and we didn’t hear any tinyness or audio breaks.

Let’s talk performance

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

As with any laptop, you can customize the specs to your liking —- and that leads to varying prices. The Dell XPS 15 starts at $1,299 for a pretty standard build with an Intel i5 processor paired with integrated graphics and 8GBs of RAM with 256GB of solid-state drives. We’d recommend at least bumping up to 16GBs of RAM, and if you plan on using it for photo or video editing (or any creative task) to opt for a separate GPU.

For slightly under $2,000, you can get an XPS 15 with 16GBs of RAM, 512GB of storage, an Intel Core i7 processor and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 with 4GBs of dedicated RAM. This is likely a model that will last for several years and can scale as your workloads increase.

Our review unit was a bit more feature-filled. We’ve been testing an XPS 15 with an Intel Core i7 and 16GBs of RAM along with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. All of this paired with 512GB of internal storage. More mundane tasks like writing, checking emails, updating spreadsheets and monitoring analytics were all breezy. We were able to heat things up a bit with Photoshop and Lightroom running at the same time while using Excel to open up a large spreadsheet. With higher-intensity tasks, we noticed the fan kick in and the XPS 15 can kick out a good amount of heat, but it does aid in letting you scale to higher-power tasks.

As we do with any Underscored review we also ran the XPS 15 through a series of benchmarking tasks. These are processors that resemble real-world use and stretch the device into high-performance territory. With GeekBench 5, the XPS 15 scored a 1,202 on single-core and a 7,143 on multicore. Those not only match up with our experience testing the XPS 15, but land pretty nicely with other laptops we’ve tested. The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro (a higher-end laptop) scored a 1,121 and 4,172 respectively, while the Surface Book 3 scored a 1,264 and 3,296, respectively. The XPS 15 bested these especially on multicore and shows some behind the scenes work to make it an efficient machine.

We decided to run the compute test twice as it focuses on graphics — once with the integrated Intel graphics card and once with the dedicated NVIDIA graphics processing unit. It scored a 6,347 and 40,997 respectively. That’s a quick way to see just how much of a difference a dedicated unit can make. We noticed that speed bump in real-world usage with photo editing, video conversion and even some light gaming. More importantly, we didn’t experience any issues switching between integrated graphics and the dedicated card as we did on the Surface Book 3. It’s a prime example of how a simpler design is a safer bet that leads to a stronger experience.

On battery life, it fell a bit lower than anticipated, and that likely has to do with the 4K UHD screen. On the Underscored battery test, which consists of a video on loop with brightness set to 50% and Airplane mode engaged, we landed firmly at seven hours. Our real-world usage resulted in the XPS 15 reaching 0% closer to 10 hours.

Bottom Line

The Dell XPS 15 is a fantastic laptop that delivers big value. We really like that a dongle comes in the box to help with USB-C ports, but it’s also a machine that’s as great with design as it is with performance. You can really scale if you opt for a GPU and an Intel Core i7. The end result is a device that doesn’t break the bank and will last for many years.

We really like this updated look on the XPS 15, and think Dell created a sleek-looking powerhouse with a display that steals the show.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.