Dell XPS 15 (2020) review: The ideal 15in laptop?

Despite consistently featuring in our list of best laptops, The Dell XPS 15 hasn’t had a major design update for years, so it was welcome to hear, earlier in 2020, that it was due a big overhaul.

With a new slim, lightweight design to match its smaller sibling, the XPS 13, the Dell XPS 15 (2020) aims to establish itself as the laptop of choice for those who value performance as much as they do portability.

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Dell XPS 15 (2020) review: What you need to know

The XPS 15 (2020) is Dell’s answer to the Apple 16in MacBook Pro. It’s primarily designed for professional users who want more power beneath their fingertips and in their laptop bag than a traditional ultraportable might offer.

As such, 2020’s Dell XPS 15 comes stuffed with high-powered components. You have the choice of either a 10th Gen six-core Intel Core i7-10750H or a Core i9-10885H accompanied by a discrete Nvidia 1650 Ti GPU and a range of RAM and storage options. And it’s all squeezed into a chassis that’s easy to sling in a rucksack and carry around from location to location.

The biggest update from a physical point of view this year, however, is the screen, which is now nigh-on bezel-free on all four sides. Previously the XPS 15’s “Infinity Edge” display had a relatively large bezel at the bottom; that’s now largely disappeared.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no longer an OLED display option for the Dell XPS 15 but, since the 4K touchscreen on this year’s machine is a wide-gamut unit rated at 100% Adobe RGB coverage, that isn’t too much of a loss.

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Dell XPS 15 review: Price and competition

Prices for the Dell XPS 15 start at £1,949 for the Full HD+ (1,920 x 1,200), Core i7-10750H model and this comes with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD.

The model I have costs £2,499 and comes with a six-core Core i7-10750H, a GTX 1650 Ti GPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB NVMe SSD plus a UHD+ (3,840 x 2,400) display. And, as usual, there’s a host of other models to choose from:

Our review model:

Rest of the range:

The main competitor for the 2020 Dell XPS 15 has to be the 16in Apple MacBook Pro. It has a fractionally larger, non-touch display (also wide gamut) and is targeted, similarly, at creative professionals who need power on the move.

Generally, the MacBook is poorer value for money, with list prices starting at £2,399 for a six-core Core i7-9750H, an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

However, you can push the 16in MacBook configuration much further than the Dell’s, with the ability to go up to an eight-core 2.4GHz Core i9-9880HK, AMD Radeon Pro 5600M, with 64GB of RAM and a massive 8TB of SSD storage. That will, however, set you back a hefty £6,699.

Other alternatives at around this price that we’ve reviewed recently have been more focused on gamers. The Razer Blade 15 Base (2020) is probably the closest match in terms of overall form factor and specification; it’s available at slightly more reasonable prices than the Dell.

The 4K OLED touchscreen model with a Core i7-10750H CPU and an RTX 2070 GPU, for instance, will set you back £2,299 for an overall saving of £200. Not bad considering the RTX 2070 is a superior GPU to the GTX 1650 Ti in the Dell.

Dell XPS 15 review: Design and features

Whichever of the specifications you choose, the Dell XPS comes in the same, slim, tough-feeling body. The laptop measures 345 x 230 x 18mm (WDH) when closed and weighs 1.83kg for the non-touch variant or 2.05kg for this 4K model. That’s pretty good for a 15.6in workstation laptop and the USB-C power supply is remarkably small and light, too, tipping the scales at an additional 443g.

The finish is smart, with smooth, matte aluminium covering the lid and underside and a natty carbon fibre inside surrounding the keyboard and wristrest. The whole lot feels incredibly solid: there’s barely a creak or groan when manhandled and the lid is reassuringly stiff and flex-free.

There isn’t much in the way of legacy connectivity here, aside from the presence of a full-size SD card slot and a 3.5mm headset jack but you do get three USB-C ports. Two of these are Thunderbolt 3 and one is USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbits/sec).

Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, is handled by a 2×2 MIMO Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650s card with Bluetooth 5.1 support.

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Dell XPS 15 review: Keyboard and touchpad

As I’ve come to expect over the years, the Dell XPS 15 (2020)’s keyboard is excellent. It has plenty of travel and lots of lovely feeling positive feedback. The layout is great, too, with large left and right Shift keys, a double-height Enter key and a power button in the top-right corner that doubles as a fingerprint reader.

The diving board touchpad is, likewise, a joy to use. It’s absolutely massive, measuring 151 x 90mm in size, works reliably and responsively during testing and the left and right clickers have just the right responsiveness. They’re not too heavy or too light and the sound that accompanies each press has a quiet thunk to it instead of the brittle plastic clack of some touchpads.

Dell XPS 15 review: Display

The 4K screen on our review sample is, likewise, top quality. It has a resolution of 3,840 x 2,400 which gives an aspect ratio of 16:10 and the extra height this gives over shorter or 16:9 displays is a boon for productivity applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Premiere.

Not only that but, unlike so many displays on Windows laptops, the display Dell has chosen to use is a wide-gamut unit. Where most laptop screens are only capable of reproducing the sRGB colour space, or marginally more than it, the 4K screen on the Dell XPS 15 can go well beyond.

Indeed, keen photographers will be pleased to discover that the panel covers more than the AdobeRGB (107.7%) gamut, which bodes well for professional photographers and those needing to work in wider colour spaces than sRGB. That equates to around 156.4% of the standard sRGB gamut and 110.8% of DCI-P3.

Peak brightness is also very good at 464cd/m2 and the display’s contrast ratio of 1,518:1 ensures images have plenty of pop and verve. Colour accuracy also hits the heights. You’ll need to make sure the HDR Windows settings are disabled (otherwise adaptive contrast ruins everything) but, with that done, you’ll be rewarded with an average delta E colour difference in AdobeRGB of 1.23.

And if all that wasn’t impressive enough, the Dell XPS 15 (2020)’s display is also HDR400 certified and Dolby Vision capable. However, this is where things start to fall apart, due in no small part to the display’s rather heavy-handed use of adaptive contrast.

Enable HDR in the Windows settings, fire up the Netflix app and you’ll see that many modern shows like Altered Carbon and Locke and Key are listed with Dolby Vision logos, showing that something is, indeed, working correctly. The problem is that, where an advanced TV might deploy local dimming to achieve the high contrast ratio required by Dolby Vision, only dimming and brightening specific parts of the screen, the XPS 15 appears to dim and brighten the entire display.

This is noticeable, and more than a little disconcerting, especially where scenes transition from relatively dark to quite bright, with the adaptive contrast lagging a second or two behind cuts.

That’s not the only issue, though. Enable HDR and the laptop appears to cap frame rates at 30fps with the result that all on-screen animations, and games, appear to drag horribly. I’d advise against using Windows’ HDR mode at all as a result although this does mean missing out on one of the key benefits of the new 4K display.

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review: Performance

These issues also put paid to the idea that you might use the XPS 15 to game in HDR, which is a shame because the hardware is reasonably capable.

Our review unit’s Intel Core i7-10750H CPU and GTX 1650 Ti graphics card isn’t the most powerful combination you can get at this price. Gigabyte’s Aorus 15G offers more for less, as does the Razer Blade 15 Base (2020), albeit without that luscious wide-gamut 4K display.

The speed of the 1TB Micron SSD is a mite disappointing but, overall, the XPS 15 is more than fast enough to take on demanding creative applications such as heavy-duty raw photo editing and video editing and it isn’t all that far behind the 16in Apple MacBook Pro we tested at a cost of £600 less.

I ran the laptop through a few games benchmarks, too, and while its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti can’t match the RTX 2070 in the Gigabyte and Razer machines, it’ll play most games at a decent lick. You will be capped at 60fps due to the 60Hz display, though.

Battery life, too, is quite good for a large machine such as this. In our video rundown test, the Dell XPS 15 (2020) lasted 7hrs 24mins with the display set to 170cd/m2, HDR disabled and flight mode engaged. That’s a match for the 16in MacBook Pro and superior to both the Gigabyte Aorus 15G and the Razer Blade 15.

You’ll still need to run to the mains at least once a day, but the laptop should at last you past lunchtime as long as you ensure you’re not doing anything too demanding with it.

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Dell XPS 15 (2020) review: Verdict

All of which leads me to the verdict, which is a tricky thing to deliver on the Dell XPS 15 (2020). That’s because, while there are plenty of things I love about this laptop, there are also some aspects that disappoint.

Let’s start with the positives: the build quality is excellent – on a par with anything Apple has to offer – and the display quality is great. The keyboard and touchpad are beyond reproach and there’s enough power to cope with the most demanding creative applications. Plus, it’s a huge amount cheaper than the equivalent 16in MacBook Pro for the equivalent specification.

On the other hand, that wide-gamut display doesn’t deliver on its Dolby Vision-enabled promises in a convincing manner. And, if gaming is your priority, there are rival Windows laptops that offer more performance bang for your buck, such as the Razer Blade 15 (2020) and the Gigabyte Aorus 15G.

Despite its foibles, however, the Dell XPS 15 (2020) remains a very good laptop for professional creatives. If you want a 16in MacBook Pro rival for less, it makes an excellent choice.


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