You'd be forgiven for thinking Dell set out to mimic the look of the Apple MacBook Pro with the Dell XPS 15z. At a glance you could even mix the two up – especially when closed. Take a closer look, though, and the many differences become a lot more obvious.
For a start, when you open the Dell XPS 15z P12F up you'll find a rather strange-looking keyboard, squashed in between two large speaker grills. The unusual font used on the keys is presumably supposed to look modern, although the futuristic-70s effect is rather more square and angular – the kind of look that could well date again quickly. See also: What's the best laptop?
Dell XPS 15z: Features
Typing on the Dell XPS 15z keyboard is easy enough and the Spacebar, Backspace and Return keys are pleasingly large. However, it does seem to be a few keys short of a full set and the Arrow keys are somewhat small. But at least the keyboard follows Apple's lead and is backlit, which helps when you're using this notebook in a darkened room.
Below the Dell XPS 15z's keyboard sits a nice big touchpad, 100x54mm, which performs its function perfectly well. This unit from Cypress is delightfully responsive for basic cursor steering but leaves something to be desired for more ambitious pinch-to-zoom functions, for instance, which dreadfully lag your gestures. See also: Group test: what's the best high-end laptop?
Look up and you'll see the Dell XPS 15z's screen, complete with a finish so glossy that it'll dazzle you should you unwittingly catch the reflection of a light source. It does offer impressive, bright colours and sharp definition, though, and does a great job of playing high-definition video footage.
You won't even need to downscale full-HD content, as this screen is quite unusual in offering 1920 x 1080-pixel native resolution. For best results in Windows 7, we increased screen magnification to 125%, giving clear and legible fonts and suitably sized interface elements. Dell has also included a quick-launch overlay in the Windows 7 Home Premium – Dell Stage – which appears as large tiles floating on the wallpaper at the bottom of the screen. This could help inexperienced users find their way around Windows' sometimes confusing directory layout, to quickly access pictures, music and games.
Sound quality is not bad: a little lispy and metallic, and lacking in any bass, but better than many Windows laptops. As an entertainment-focused laptop the Dell XPS 15z is no slouch.
Dell XPS 15z: Performance
The processor specification of the Dell XPS 15z is admirable. Our sample had a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel i7-2620M which may have been around for nearly a year, but it was matched up with a generous 8GB of RAM to help the Dell to 135 points in WorldBench 6.
Since Dell built this sample Dell XPS 15z P12F, it's upgraded the processor options to include a 2.8GHz Core i7-2640M. This could even notch up the score further by a point or two.
The nVidia GeForce 525M graphics card with 2GB of video memory is also a beaut, propelling the XPS 15z to an average framerate of 51fps at Maximum detail settings in FEAR. While this isn't the best score we've seen from a laptop in this category, it gives an idea of the kind of graphics horsepower that shouldn't entireley disappoint a keen gamer.
The USB ports, including one which doubles up as an eSATA port, are all on the left hand side, just like the MacBook Pro. This might not seem like a big issue, but if like this reviewer you should be a left-handed mouse user and have a dongle for the wireless mouse in one of the ports too, you're likely to find yourself knocking into those peripherals on a frequent basis.
The author also isn't a fan of built-in batteries, although the 8-cell, 64Wh lithium-ion power pack inside the Dell 15z does a very good job. In our tests it lasted just short of seven hours (409 mins) in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity benchmark.
The slot-loading DVD rewriter is also reminiscent of the MacBook Pro, even if the eject button has counter-intuitively been placed three keys in from the top-right of the keyboard, rather than the obvious position in the top-right corner. And as optical drives go, it's also quite noisy.
Connectivity is decent – aside from the aforementioned USB ports and USB/eSATA combo, there is an HDMI port and a Mini DisplayPort – an Apple favourite, and something we're increasingly seeing on some Windows laptops now.
Single-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 are present, as is a multi-format card reader that'll deal with just about any card you care to try in it.