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Dell XPS 14 review – if the average ultrabook is not enough for you

Dell XPS 14 review – if the average ultrabook is not enough for you
By Andrei Girbea - @andreigirbea , last updated on 16 Jul 2012
Summary: If you want a slightly bigger and faster ultrabook, the Dell XPS 14 is a stylish option. It is one of the most beautiful laptops out there and has plenty of aces down its sleeve, unfortunately it is a bit too heavy, at 4.5+ pounds and only features an average display.
Rating: 3.5 / 5   Price range: $1099 to $1499

THE GOOD

solid built, excellent looks, good backlit keyboard and trackpad, fast and able to deal with games as well, decent speakers

THE BAD

a bit heavy, not the best screen, extra options are quite expensive

Ultrabooks are a getting more and more popular these days, but not everyone finds a 13.3 inch laptop suitable for daily use. So here’s where devices like the 2012 version of the Dell XPS 14 could come on scene, with a slightly bigger display and a bit of extra speed, especially when it comes to dealing with games and graphic apps.

We’ve tested the XPS 14 in the last two weeks and we were definitely satisfied with it, for most of the time. It’s not perfect though, as there are some aspects Dell could have done better on this ultraportable.

Long story short, the Dell XPS 14 is a stylish ultrabook, although slightly beefier than the average devices in this class, but also more powerful and able to last longer on a single charge. But is this combo good enough to catch potential buyers? Read the rest of this review and you’ll find out.

Dell XPS 14 video review

The Video review will take you through most of this laptop’s aspects, but if you’re looking for details, you’ll get them in this written review.

Design and Interior

Taking the Dell XPS 14 out of the box, you’ll quickly realize this is a very beautiful laptop, as Dell uses a mix of silver aluminum and black rubbery plastic for the entire body. Yes, the overall shape and the lid’s design look a lot like what we’ve seen on Apple’s MacBook Pro, but that’s not necessarily bad.

Sleek aluminum body

Sleek aluminum body

The underbelly and the interior scream Dell though. The bottom part is covered in this black plastic, with grills on the front for speakers and on the back for the cooling exhaust.

A simple underbelly, without acces to the battery on internals

A simple underbelly, without access to the battery on internals

Lifting the lid, there’s the same rubbery finish used for the interior. In fact, the entire design is so simple, without any bling, without any extra stickers, it’s just clean and stylish. And that’s why I like it.

Smooth and classy interior

Smooth and classy interior

Oh, and there aren’t even status LEDs messing with the design, except for one bigger LED on the front edge that blinks and takes different colors when the laptop is in use, in sleep mode or charging.

The ports are lined on the sides. On the left there’s the PSU, the LAN adapter, the HDMI and mini-DisplayPort and two USBs. On the right there’s the headset and mic jack, a card reader and a Kensington lock. And while I certainly like the extra space on the right, I would have appreciated more an extra USB port and VGA output.

Left side

Left side

Right side

Right side

All in all, the Dell XPS 14 is for sure one of the most stylish laptops out there, right next to the likes of HP’s Envy 14 or the Macbook Pros. It does feel a bit massive, with its 0.8 inches thick body and weighing about 4.7 pounds, it’s for sure heavier than I’d like my ultrabook to be. But there’s a reason for all that, as you’ll find out later in this clip.

Keyboard and touchpad

The Dell XPS 14 packs the classic XPS keyboard we’ve seen on this line for a while, with spacious and slightly concave keys and adjustable back-lightning .

Backlit keyboard

Backlit keyboard

This keyboard is pretty good and will allow fast and accurate typing, but the shallow travel of the keys does not make it exactly the best out there.

As for the trackpad, it is spacious and accurate, although its surface however is not as smooth as I’d want. It offers support for a bunch of multitouch gestures you don’t usually get on Windows laptops and they’re actually working as intended, but it also integrates the click buttons, like with most modern trackpads, but personally I’d rather have independent click buttons on my laptop.

Both the keyboard and the trackpad are above average

Both the keyboard and the trackpad are above average

Screen

A good laptop nowadays should have a top-notch display and unfortunately that’s not really the case for the Dell XPS 14. Behind that sheet of gorilla glass lies a 400 nits 14 inch screen, with 1600 x 900 px resolution.

So everything would be alright if the viewing angles wouldn’t be so narrow. Don’t get me wrong, they are not awful, but I was certainly expecting a lot more from a computer in this class and price range.

The viewing angles are just bad on this screen

The viewing angles are just bad on this screen

On the other hand, when looking at the screen straight on, everything looks quite good, as this screen offers above average contrast and punchy colors. But those viewing angles are such a deal-breaker.

Hardware and performances

So yes, the screen isn’t this laptop’s greatest asset, but at least the device is decently snappy. Dell offers the XPS 14 in a bunch of different configurations and my tested unit came with an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U processor, 4 GB of RAM, Nvidia graphics, with Optimus and hybrid storage.

These allow the Dell XPS 14 to fly during the everyday activities, but also handle more serious tasks, like running video and photo editing software, HD multimedia content and even some games, although not really the latest titles (BTW, here’s a list of good gaming ultrabooks available in stores). Still, do not forget there’s only an ULV platform inside this laptop, so don’t expect too much out of it or you might be disappointed.

About that Nvidia chip, since the tested Dell XPS was a pre-release sample, it showed that if features and Nvidia GF117 chipset, but based on Core speed, I believe that was what is known as the Nvidia GT 620M, and not the faster Nvidia 630M that equips this laptop as standard.

I’ve ran a couple of benchmarks on the tested Dell XPS 14 and the results are below. You’ll notice that in terms of graphics, this is significantly faster than the average ultrabook available today, as it’s only one of the few to feature discrete graphics. Also, given the issue with the graphic chip on this tested model, I actually expect the XPS 14 that you’ll find in store to be able to get higher scores in all of these tests.

And here are the results:

  • 3DMark 11: P1223;
  • PCMark Vantage 64 bits: 7484;
  • PCMark 07: 2795;
  • CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 16 fps, CPU 2.36 pts;

Battery life

Dell decided to fit a bigger than average 69Wh battery inside the XPS 14, and this is why this laptop is a bit too chubby and heavy. But this also helps the laptop run for about 6-7 hours during daily use on a single charge, and this is better than most other ultrabooks can offer.

So there is a tradeoff here: increased battery life for a slightly bulkier package, but that’s one I am more than happy to take.

The bigger battery makes this laptop bulkier, but also offers proper battery life

The bigger battery makes this laptop bulkier, but also offers proper battery life

Noise, heat, speakers and others

Like I said before, the Dell XPS 14 is not really a laptop meant for extremely complicated tasks, that’s why it will become a little bit hot and noisy when pushed, when rendering videos or running games for instance. On the other hand, you’ll hardly have any issues with temperatures or noise during the average daily use and I’m sure that’s what you’ll use this laptop most for.

The speakers, placed on the underbelly, behind that front plastic grill, are actually quite good on this laptop. However, they can be easily obstructed when used on bedsheets or on your lap, when traveling, and that will mess with the overall sound quality.

The Dell XPS 14 runs fairly quiet and cool

The Dell XPS 14 runs fairly quiet and cool

Pricing and availability

As for prices, the Dell XPS 14 will start at about 1100 US dollars for the base config, which is pretty close to the one we’ve tested here.

You can easily configure your own option on Dell’s website, but adding extra options can easily see the prices skyrocketing, as some of the upgrades, like going for SSD storage or a Core i7 processor, are obscenely pricey.

Also, this article curates a list of shops that tend to offer price cuts on the DELL XPS 14, so you might want to have a look at it as well.

Wrap-up

All in all, the Dell XPS 14 is an interesting laptop. Like most XPSs, build quality and aesthetics are some of its greatest assets, next to the comfortable keyboard and trackpad. And the battery life is something that sets this particular unit apart from most of the competitors.

But then again, so does the price and the screen is for sure something Dell should have taken better care of, as it’s just not good enough for a laptop in this price range.

The Dell XPS 14 is a solid ultrabook, although I'm not sure why you'd pick this one over the XPS 13 or 15

The Dell XPS 14 is a solid ultrabook, although I’m not sure why you’d pick this one over the XPS 13 or 15

However, I’m not really sure who’s Dell trying to target with their 2012 XPS 14. This laptop is not really as portable as a 13.3 inch ultrabook, but it doesn’t offer a massive increase in performances either, as it’s still built on an Intel ULV hardware platform.

Thus, as a potential buyer, Dell makes you choose between their light XPS 13, their powerful XPS 15 and this one, that goes just in the middle, offering a tradeoff between the two. But is this tradeoff good enough to take? That’s up to you to decide of course, but I for one feel that I’d rather go for either of the other two options, based on my needs: mobility or speed.

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Andrei Girbea, aka Mike, Editor-in-Chief and a huge fan of mobile computers. Since 2007, I've only owned smaller than 12.5" laptops and I've been testing tens, if not hundreds of mini laptops. You'll find mostly reviews and guides written by me here on the site.

1 Comment

  1. Mario

    August 31, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Amazing review! :)
    I just ordered this laptop, after considering all three – 13, 14 and 15.
    It’s mainly for college usage and I think it’s just perfect. Since I’ll be travelling a lot, this is a nice piece, also, in classrooms, the screen angles are rather good for me haha, less people can watch my screen :p and the colors are unf!
    As it’s possible to run some games, that’s cool, but I’m also glad it’s not the best ’cause I dont want any distraction from studies now do I, heh ;)
    Speaking of serious tasks, the most I’ll push this ultraportable to will be some photoshop, maybe illustrator and I believe that it can handle. Keep the good work, cheers:)

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