Ultrabooks are a getting more and more popular these days, but some of you might find the many 13.3-inch options too small for daily use.
If that’s the case, the Dell XPS 14 could be a model to consider, with stylish design, sturdy unibody construction, a 14-inch display and slightly faster hardware that’s going to show its strength in games and graphics demanding programs. Just keep in mind this Dell is beefier and heavier than most of the other ultrabooks available at this point, and it also has a high price tag.
Regardless, I spent the last two weeks with the XPS 14 and I was overall satisfied with the experience. There are still some aspects Dell could improve on this ultraportable, but it check most of the right boxes and it’s something I would recommend if you need the bigger screen and extra power.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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;
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.
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 muffled when using the laptop on a bedsheet or on your lap, and that can greatly hinder the overall sound quality.
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.
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.
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.