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Long-term review: The Dell XPS 15 Touch is the laptop to beat

Scot Finnie | Feb. 3, 2016
Dell's latest Windows 10 laptop is lightweight and powerful, with one of the best displays around.

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The recently introduced series of Dell XPS 15 9550 Touch and Non-Touch laptops has been getting a lot of attention. These devices are loaded with high-tech goodness -- in fact, there's no doubt in my mind that Dell served them up targeting would-be MacBook Pro buyers. And as someone who's been using the MacBook Pro 15 Retina for several years, I can tell you that Dell hit its mark.

I went top of the line for this review, selecting a unit that costs $2,230. This configuration of the XPS 15 Touch comes with a 6th-generation ("Skylake") Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port and a Precision Touchpad (more on this later). I added to the wow factor by selecting a 4K touchscreen, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB GDDR5 along with the Intel 530 integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB Samsung PCIe NVMe SSD (add $520 for a 1TB SSD).

If you’re looking for a equivalent Apple system, you’re not going to find one yet. Apple has still to release a Skylake MacBook Pro, and while it debuted new Skylake Macs in the fall, they still have Thunderbird 2 ports.

This means that if you’re looking for the latest high-performance technology, this Dell is the one you want. Here’s my long-term, in-depth review that should answer all your questions.

Display happy

Everything starts with the display on the XPS 15. Apple's Retina displays are extraordinary, but the top-of-the-line Dell XPS 15 4K touchscreen display is gorgeous. I've been using this laptop since Thanksgiving and I'm still impressed by the crispness of lines, curves and typefaces -- and the richly saturated colors. My only wish is that you could crank the brightness up to 110%. (Friends know me to be a brightness freak.) And in case you're wondering, Dell's specs put the screen brightness at 350 nits, which is about as bright as it gets.

Of course, you can't make full use of the Ultra HD 4K resolution for everyday computing on a 15.6-in. screen, but Windows 10 does a good job of scaling resolution. Still, scaling takes away the very thing that high-resolution gives you: Screen real estate and being able to see stunningly detailed images.

It isn't until you attach an external 4K screen that's 32 in. or so that you gain appreciable advantage. I connected a Dell UltraSharp 27-inch 4K monitor to the XPS 15 and found that the highest resolution I could stand with Windows 10 scaling was 2560 x 1440 (anything higher, and everything on the screen became too small to read). At that rate, I'd be better off with a less expensive 2K monitor.

 

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