Computers & Laptops

Dell XPS 14z review

| | Updated on: Jan 24, 2012
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The Dell XPS 14z is the smaller successor to the very popular XPS 15z. A great spec sheet, anodised aluminium and magnesium alloy design and discrete graphics make it a killer in its segment. But there is a hitch. Those of us who've been spoilt by Ultrabooks, those Macbook Air-ish, sexy, lightweight performers that take up as much space as a thin folder, will tell you that it's pretty tough to come to terms with a 4-plus pound laptop with a bulky power adapter. Ultrabooks will change the face of laptop design, but until then, there are many of us who require powerful machines, and if it's one of those you're looking for, you might have to settle for something a tad more robust. The Dell XPS 14z which was first showcased at Dell World a couple of months ago might fit the bill.

Look and feel

For those of you who haven't yet seen the XPS 14z, you might be a bit surprised by its ‘Applesque' features. Go online and you're likely to find tons of comparisons between the Macbook Pro 13-inch and the XPS 14z, with good reason too. The similarity in the build, specifications and design make it pretty obvious that this is Dell's retaliation to Apple. However, that's not to say the 14z is in any way a replica of the Macbook Pro. Open up the laptop and you'll begin to see a fair bit of differences.

Dell claims that the XPS 14z is the “thinnest fully featured 14-inch laptop” in its category. With a thickness of 0.9-inches, it's certainly not skinny, but the wafer-thin top panel does add to its sleekness. Unlike the Macbook Pro which is made out of a single piece of aluminium, the XPS 14z does not feature a unibody design. The keyboard, surrounding frame and palmrests are coated in a metallic finish, and the edges of the lower body and trackpad have chrome detailing. It looks impressive, but definitely not as premium and solid as the Macbook Pro.

What is absolutely amazing about this laptop though is the 14-inch LG Shuriken display which Dell has squeezed into a frame that would normally fit a 13-inch screen. What this means is that when you open up the laptop, you'll be greeted with a lot of screen space. The display itself takes up the top of the chassis almost entirely, leaving a very thin border around the edges. The 1,366x768 resolution is pretty much on par with the Macbook Pro, but it is a downgrade from the1,920x1,080 screen that its XPS 15z counterpart offers. At the bottom of the screen you'll notice a coiled hinge and the screen itself is inset into the bottom half of the laptop, so it sits at a much closer angle than other laptops.

The keyboard sports the classic chiclet design which is almost a norm on most laptops today, but the keys are well spaced out and slightly curved, which made typing on it an absolute pleasure. Dual patterned speakers on either side of the keyboard do mean that the size of the keyboard itself has been cut down, but with the generous size of the Shift and Enter keys, I'm really not complaining. The arrow keys are quite tiny, and remind me very much of the Macbook Pro. The added bonus of backlit keys are always a welcome addition.

Dell has not opted for the popular unibody touchpad seen on many laptops, and instead has separate left and right click buttons. The trackpad itself was very roomy, and I liked the soft-press buttons too. The touchpad was also quite accurate, supporting gestures like two-finger scrolling and pinch to zoom with relative ease.

The most important feature users would look for on a heavy duty laptop like the XPS 14z would obviously be the ports, and there is no room for disappointment here. The thickness of the laptop means there's room for an optical drive (DVD burner), something you won't get on an Ultrabook. Additionally, there's a 7-in-1 card reader, two 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone, a mini Display port, HDMI port, two USB ports (including one USB 3.0 port) and an Ethernet port. The ports have been liberally distributed around the sides and the back, so you're never stuck with a tangle of wires.

A handy addition to the laptop is the presence of a battery meter – a row of five white dots that light up when you press a button to tell you how much battery power you have remaining. This feature used to be available on Macbook Pros earlier, but Apple has discontinued it with later models.

Media and software

The XPS 14z comes with quite a bit of preloaded software, not all of which you'll find useful. This includes Skype 4.3, Zinio Reader 4, Roxio Creator Starter and McAfee virus protection. Your program bar will also be accosted with the plethora of Dell programs including Dell Data Safe, a data protection software. My review unit ran Windows 7 Professional, although you can opt for Windows 7 Home Premium instead.

The laptop is perfect for any sort of media activity, whether it's watching videos, playing games or listening to music. The large screen is very comfortable for watching movies and videos played back with good contrast ratios and sharpness. The speaker volume was ample and I rarely had to turn it up all the way, although it does get a little tinny at maximum levels. Heat dissipation occurs through a vent in the side and one on the bottom and thankfully the XPS 14z doesn't heat up if propped up on a bed or in your lap, not something I can vouch for with the Macbook Pro.

Performance

The Dell XPS 14z comes in two variants, one running a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M processor with 4GB DDR3 memory and 500GB HDD, and the other running a 2.8GHz i7-2640M processor with 8GB DDR3 memory and 750GB HDD. You can also replace the hard drive with a 256GB SSD at an additional cost, which will also bring down the weight a bit. The discrete graphics I mentioned earlier are Nvidia GeForce GT-520M with 1GB video memory. Not exactly a gamer's fantasy but nevertheless good enough for regular PC gaming. My review unit had the more high-end configuration and I was never dissatisfied with the performance. Downloading large files, using the browser, typing out a word document and playing music files in the background simultaneously was a piece of cake on the XPS 14z. The ample storage is the one factor that puts it miles ahead of Ultrabooks, with which you can get a maximum configuration of a 256GB SSD.

I ran the PCMark benchmark which gave me a score of 8,202, which was a tad lower than the Macbook Air's 9,748. The Novabench score was 721, almost double the ASUS Zenbook's 453. Dell says the laptop offers 6 hours of battery life, which is quite accurate. I managed to get about 4 hours of continuous video playback.

Our verdict

After a week of use, I found that I could pretty much use the Dell XPS 14z as my primary computing device. If you're looking for a PC on which you can get your work done as well as play Crysis 2 on the side, this might not at all be a bad bet. In terms of tech specs, build and performance, the XPS 14z is almost on par with the Macbook Pro. If your primary concern is not portability or thinness, the Dell XPS 14z should be at the top of your list.

Love: Large screen, good selection of ports, fast

Hate: A bit heavy, only two USB ports

Rs 66,900

ketaki@thehindu.co.in

Published on April 03, 2012

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