- Editor's Rating
- Solid performance
- Excellent build quality
- Beautiful display
- Average battery life
- Expensive as configured
The market for premium 15-inch laptops designed to be “desktop replacements must be alive and well because the Dell XPS 15 2016 model fills exactly that role. Many of our readers fall into one of two categories. They either want thin-and-light laptops like the Apple MacBook or Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, or they’re shopping for notebooks that fit a very specific niche; a gaming notebook like the Aorus x3 Plus V5 or a rugged business laptop like the Panasonic ToughBook 54.
The Dell XPS 15 laptop is none of those things. In fact, the concept of a high-performance 15-inch notebook that competes directly with the Apple Macbook Pro is downright “old fashioned” when you consider how many consumers now use their smartphones as their main “compute device” whenever they need to access the Internet. Nevertheless, what the Dell XPS 15 2016 model lacks in originality it makes up for with high-quality construction, high-performance components, and a premium appearance. Are those qualities enough to offset the high price tag and mediocre battery life? Let’s take a closer look to find out.
Build and Design
The XPS series has long been considered the “halo” products for Dell; these notebooks typically incorporate the newest processor technology, optional dedicated graphics, and feature chassis designs built with more expensive materials to convey the look and feel of a premium, luxury product.
The Dell XPS 15 2016 model upholds that legacy thanks to its aluminum screen lid and base plate combined with a carbon fiber chassis and rubberized palm rests to improve your comfort while typing. Dell’s design team once again used smooth, rounded corners and soft-touch textures at every opportunity.
One glance at this notebook and you’ll immediately recognize it’s a massive 15-inch laptop. Despite that imposing footprint, the XPS weighs in at just 3.92 pounds (1.78kg) without the power adapter. That might still seem heavy compared to the latest generation of ultraportable notebooks and 2-in-1 devices, but until last year almost every premium 15-inch notebook weighed 4.4 pounds (a full 2.0kg) or more. While the XPS 15 isn’t exactly “thin and light” it is impressively thin for a notebook with a 15.6-inch screen; just 0.67 of an inch (17mm) thick when closed.
Our only complaint about the design of the XPS 15 is one that is fairly common among modern consumer notebooks: The XPS 15 lacks any quick-access panels for owners to perform DIY upgrades at home. If you want to open the chassis yourself then you’ll have to remove ten Torx screws on the bottom of the chassis.
It’s true that you can still open the chassis, although Dell clearly wants to discourage DIY upgrades given the lack of quick-access panels and the use of Torx screws rather than standard Philips screws.
Ports and Features
One of the most impressive updates to the design of the Dell XPS 15 laptop is the array of ports on both sides. The right side of the XPS 15 contains the power jack, a single USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI out, a combo USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.0 port that supports data transfers up to 40Gbps, and a combo headphone/headset jack. If you look at the left side of the notebook you’ll find a full-size SD card slot, a second USB 3.0 port, a battery life indicator, and a Kensington lock slot.
Although the XPS 15 has fewer ports than a typical 15-inch laptop from 5 years ago, it’s important to keep in mind these are more ports and features than you find on most ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1 devices. The previously mentioned battery life indicator, which activates up to five small LEDs to display the amount of battery life remaining, is a welcome feature but we would have preferred to have Dell move this to the front edge of the notebook or place it on the bottom panel of the chassis. The currently location of the battery life indicator takes up valuable space that could have been used for a removable SIM card slot, another USB port, or a second USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.0 port.
Screen and Speakers
Our Dell XPS 15 2016 review unit included the optional 15.6-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160 resolution) “InfinityEdge” touch display. This is a $400 upgrade option at the time of this writing but it makes a dramatic impression on anyone who sees it.
The colors produced by this IPS display panel are rich and nicely saturated. The display delivers wide viewing angles in line with what we’ve come to expect from modern IPS panels. The backlight is even across the entire screen and bright enough to make the screen uncomfortable to view indoors at the brightest setting. Unfortunately, the 4K display’s backlight isn’t quite bright enough to overcome the glare coming from the glossy screen surface when you take the notebook outside under direct sunlight. We really hope that Dell eventually offers the 4K display with the standard anti-glare matte surface to improve outdoor usability.
The built-in stereo speakers are more than adequate and produce distortion-free sound up to their maximum volume setting. These speakers easily fill a room with sound and are more than enough for watching streaming video content or a Skype video call. That being said, an integrated subwoofer would have been a nice addition considering this is a 15-inch notebook that takes up a large footprint on a desk. Adding a subwoofer would have required making the chassis of the XPS 15 thicker than it is now but it might have been worth it.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Our editors were surprised to see that very little has changed in the design of the keyboard and touchpad for the Dell XPS 15 laptop in the last two years. Granted, the full-size backlit keyboard with Chiclet style keys still delivers very good tactile feedback thanks to its ample key travel and flex-free design. The audible feedback and actuation pressure is just right; preventing unwanted typos and helping reduce fatigue when you’re typing for hours at a time. Still, a 15-inch notebook chassis offers more than enough space for either a number pad or dedicated home, end, pgup and pgdn keys; neither of which are found here. Yes, the home, end, pgup and pgdn keys are secondary functions of the arrow keys if you press the Fn key while pressing the corresponding arrow key … but that just feels unnecessary when there is this much unused space around the keyboard.
It’s a minor complaint, yet we suspect more than a few XPS 15 owners will end up wishing that Dell made better use of the available space around the keyboard.
Dell XPS 15’s oversized touchpad is centered beneath both the keyboard and the chassis. This is a a buttonless “clickpad” designed to let you press down anywhere on the surface to produce a click. We usually complain about how clickpads frequently have trouble distinguishing between a left click and a right click, but Dell’s implementation is surprisingly accurate. We didn’t run into any problems while testing this notebook. The only minor annoyance we encountered related to the touchpad is that the clickpad action is arguably too audible; anyone sharing a quiet room or office space with you will hear every click of the touchpad.
Our Dell XPS 15 2016 review unit features the sixth-generation Intel Corei7-6700HQ quad-core CPU running at 2.6 GHz or up to 3.5 GHz with Intel’s Turbo Boost. This is arguably the best processor you can put into a thin 15-inch notebook at the time of this writing and it will handle just about anything you throw at it. The integrated Intel HD 530 graphics aren’t ideal for editing 4K video but even the integrated graphics will drive the 4K display at its native resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels.
That Intel integrated GPU runs most of the time since it draws only a fraction of the power consumed by a dedicated graphics chip. Still, thanks to Nvidia’s Optimus technology, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M dedicated graphics will automatically kick in whenever you need more horsepower for Ultra HD video editing or serious gaming. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M dedicated GPU runs on 2GB of GDDR5 video memory and is practically a must-have if you’re going to choose the 4K display like the one in our review unit.
Speaking of must-have upgrades, we were pleased to see that Dell chose a M.2 format solid state drive running on the PCIe interface rather than the aging SATA interface. Just like the ASUS ZenBook Pro that we reviewed last year, the PCIe SSD delivers significantly faster read speeds and write speeds … meaning just about everything you do happens faster. In fact, unless you really feel the need for a 4K display we wholeheartedly recommend that you spend the money for the highest capacity PCIe SSD that you can afford rather than spending the same money on a 4K display.
Our Dell XPS 15 2016 review unit has the following technical specifications:
- 15.6-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) InfinityEdge touch display
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor (2.6GHz, up to 3.5GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB cache)
- Intel HD 530 integrated graphics
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M dedicated graphics (2GB of GDDR5)
- 16GB DDR4-2133MHz (up to 32GB supported)
- 512GB PCIe Solid State Drive
- Wireless: DW1830 3×3 802.11ac 2.4/5GHz + Bluetooth 4.1
- Built-in 720p webcam
- 1-year limited warranty
- Starting Price: $999.99
- Price as configured: $2,229.99
wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Let’s come right out and say it: The battery life from our review unit of the Dell XPS 15 laptop is mediocre at best. Before we get into the specific numbers about battery life we should mention that the 4K display consumes significantly more wattage than the standard Full HD (FHD) display panel. Each and every one of those extra pixels requires power … and that means the battery drains faster than it would when running a lower-resolution panel. Likewise, Nvidia dedicated graphics are an inherent disadvantage when it comes to our battery life test because Futuremark’s PowerMark benchmark utilizes the notebook’s discrete GPU during the battery life test. If you simply browse the Internet using the Intel integrated graphics and never do anything that demands the graphics performance of the Nvidia GPU then the battery would last longer.
The battery inside our review unit of the XPS 15 lasted less than 3 and a half hours using the PowerMark benchmark. This is closer to what we expect from a gaming notebook than an ultraportable … but that makes sense given that the specs of the XPS 15 are closer to a 15-inch gaming laptop than a MacBook.
PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results listed in minutes (higher scores mean better life):
After everything is said and done, the Dell XPS 15 2016 model is one of the best notebooks you’ll find in the 15-inch premium laptop category. The XPS 15 easily rivals the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro and delivers various cutting-edge features on par with the ASUS ZenBook Pro. Unfortunately, the mediocre battery life and expensive price tag (relative to the previously mentioned MacBook Pro and ZenBook Pro) prevent us from giving this Dell our Editor’s Choice Award.
Nevertheless, the XPS 15 is an impressive notebook even if it doesn’t “quite” deliver the absolute best value in its class.
- Solid performance
- Excellent build quality
- Beautiful display
- Average battery life
- Expensive as configured