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I traded my MacBook for a Dell XPS 15 for a month, and didn't regret it at all

The Dell XPS 15 (9530) is as good as the legends say, with a timeless design and a configuration for just about every type of user.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Dell XPS 15 Display

Coming from the MacBook's industrial design, my first impression of the Dell XPS 15 was how much more rugged it looked and felt.

June Wan/ZDNET

When you're shopping for a Dell XPS laptop, you know exactly what you're getting. The bezels are wicked thin, the display shines bright and colorful, and the performance is as good as the design. Over the years, the overall look and feel of what is arguably Dell's most competitive laptop model has remained mostly the same; that's how timeless the original was.

Also: I tested Dell's latest XPS laptops and can't recommend them enough

In fact, this year's Dell XPS 15 looks and feels the same as last year's model, and I'm not complaining. Only now, the performance of the laptop is more capable, thanks to a shift to Ada Lovelace GPUs, though Dell still tells me the XPS line is more tailored for prosumers, content creators, and just about anyone but gamers.

I've been testing the Dell XPS 15 over the past month, relegating my trusted MacBook Pro and MacBook Air to the sidelines, and am concluding my review period with the belief that this remains one the best options for Windows users. Here's why.

View at Dell

Coming from the MacBook's industrial design, my first impression of the Dell XPS 15 was how much more rugged it looked and felt. The exterior is chiseled with sharp lines and rounded corners, and the brushed aluminum lets you know that this laptop means business.

Also: This 16-in-1 Thunderbolt dock is the PC accessory of my dreams

The XPS 15 weighs a healthy 4.21 lbs, and its presence was most definitely felt as I backpacked throughout New York City for work and briefings. Fortunately, on top of the three USB-C ports -- two of which are Thunderbolt 4 -- Dell includes an SD card slot and a  3.5mm headphone jack. For those aforementioned briefings, I often need to transfer photos and videos -- captured with my mirrorless camera -- to my laptop for editing, and the built-in SD card slot is much appreciated.

As for the bottom half of the laptop, I found the XPS 15 keyboard a little too low-profile for my tastes. The soft-touch keycaps can feel mushy and not as tactile as I'd like for my type-heavy workflow, though the backlighting gets plenty bright for those late-night writing sessions.

Also: I found the best keyboard for students, and its ChatGPT shortcut proves it

The carbon fiber weave surrounding what is one of the larger trackpads I've used on a 15-inch laptop is a nice, edgy touch, serving as a rather comforting wrist rest when gliding and clicking around. The outstretched design can work against the trackpad at times, with the XPS 15 processing my inputs as a "pinch out" or "pinch in" when my left wrist was simply laying a little too close to the middle surface.

Dell XPS 15 Keyboard
June Wan/ZDNET

There was more to say about the XPS 15's design last year when the changes were actually new, so I'll plug our review for those who want a more in-depth analysis of what's been pictured in this article. My takeaway is that while I prefer the all-aluminum build -- both on the inside and out -- of the MacBook or Microsoft Surface Laptop, it's great to see Dell stick with a distinguishable design language -- one that I'm sure has many other fans.

Also: This Acer laptop may be the most affordable way to have an Nvidia 40 Series GPU

The review unit that Dell provided me features a 13th-gen Core i7-13700H, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, an RTX 4070 (40W), and a 3.5K resolution OLED display, which was the most noticeable upgrade of all. Visually, this is one of the most -- if not the most -- sharp-looking, color-accurate displays I've seen on a laptop, and it's a feature that I'd recommend potential buyers opt for if photo and video work is central to you. 

When paired with the top-firing speakers flanking the sides of the keyboard, the multimedia experience on the XPS 15 can be mesmerizing. It's one of the few display-speaker pairings that I'd rank alongside Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Dell XPS 15 touchscreen display

The 3.5K display supports touchscreen inputs, too!

June Wan/ZDNET

The ability to configure the XPS 15, from the processor to the Windows operating system to the graphics card to the display, is great to see, especially if you fancy the design and form factor of the laptop but don't want to overspend on excess power. In fact, the review unit I tested was more than enough for my week's work, with the XPS 15 breezing through multi-window applications, 4K video editing on Adobe Premiere Pro, and some touch-ups on Adobe Photoshop.

Also: Best laptops for graphic designers, according to experts who use them

What's more impressive to me is how long the XPS 15 held up in between charges. Even when using it to power an external monitor, I averaged about six to seven hours of usage before the 10% lower battery warning appeared. Keep in mind that I'm tasking the machine with video exports, frequent conference calls (with a suboptimal 720p webcam), and miscellaneous things that pop up throughout a journalist's work week.

ZDNET's buying advice

If I were to buy the Dell XPS 15, I'd be comfortable with a less-powerful RTX 4050 and a smaller storage size of 512GB, since most of my work is saved on the cloud. With the 3.5K resolution display add-on, that rings me up at around $2,049, a relatively fair price for one of the more premium Windows laptops out there. 

You'll save an additional $300 if you can live with the FHD+ (1920 x 1200) non-touch display. And if looks are all you really care about, the Dell XPS 15 can be had for as little as $1,299. No matter the price, you can expect reliable performance and battery life, and a design that's as timeless as they come.

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