Dell XPS 15 9510 review: Come for the screen, stay for everything else – Ars Technica
Most people buying a laptop these days will get by just fine with a 13- or 14-inch thin-and-light PC like the Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon. These laptops have reasonably powerful processors and integrated graphics that are good enough for an external monitor or two, but they prioritize a thin profile and light weight over performance.
Still, sometimes you need something larger and more powerful, whether it’s because you want a bigger screen to use away from your desk or you need extra processor cores or graphical power for editing videos or playing games. And if you want those things in a laptop that doesn’t totally disregard size and weight—and if you prefer or require Windows instead of macOS—that’s when you buy something like the XPS 15.
The latest XPS 15 (officially, model number 9510) is yet another iterative improvement for a laptop that has always looked and felt like a blown-up version of the XPS 13. But six- or eight-core Intel Tiger Lake processors and a new Nvidia GeForce RTX GPUs with ray tracing capabilities make this version of the XPS 15 especially appealing for professionals and light gamers, even if updated competitors like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (and, when it’s finally released, an updated version of the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon) give it a run for its money.
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The design of the XPS 15 hasn’t changed much since 2016-ish, when Dell took the then-new slim-bezeled design of the XPS 13 and blew it up. And as with the XPS 13, the changes in the years since have been incremental but significant. The under-the-screen, up-your-nose webcam has migrated back to the proper position above the screen. The laptop has gotten marginally thinner and lighter, the trackpad has gotten even larger, and (with the exception of an SD card reader and a headphone jack) the laptop now uses Thunderbolt and USB-C ports exclusively, like the MacBook Pro. The two ports on the laptop’s left side are Thunderbolt 4, while the one on the right side is USB-C—any of the three can be used to connect an external display or charge the laptop, you’ll just want to make sure you use any Thunderbolt accessories with the faster ports.
The biggest difference in more recent years is the introduction of a new 16:10 aspect ratio for the screen, cutting the bottom “chin” bezel and filling that area up with screen instead. It’s not quite as tall as the 3:2 screens that Microsoft uses across the Surface lineup, but if you’re using an older laptop, jumping from 16:9 to 16:10 is a deceptively large upgrade in usable screen space. More symmetrical bezels also just look better. There’s no impression of wasted space.
We tested the “3.5K” OLED version of the screen, which sits in between the 1920×1200 IPS panel at the low end and a 3840×2400 IPS display at the top of the range. The difference between “true” 4K and this screen’s oddball 3456×2160 resolution is unlikely to be observable by the naked eye—the thing you’ll notice is the OLED panel, which has the typical benefits and pitfalls of the technology. The screen’s ability to totally turn off individual pixels gets you nice, deep blacks and an essentially infinite contrast ratio.
But out-of-the-box color looks a bit too vivid and oversaturated, and the peak brightness takes a step down from to 400 nits from both IPS panels’ 500 nits. (I measured a peak brightness of 385 nits on our review unit with an i1 DisplayStudio colorimeter.) You may notice a slight “graininess” to the screen when you’re looking at the monitor up-close, especially when viewing solid colors. This is a side effect of some OLED screens’ subpixel layout. It’s not a deal-breaker for most uses but it’s something you may want to avoid for high-end photo editing or graphic design, despite the display’s 100% coverage of the sRGB color gamut and 98.7% coverage of the DCI-P3 gamut (again, as measured with the i1 DisplayStudio colorimeter).
I tested the white XPS 15, which aside from the color is different from the black-and-silver model in some small functional ways. The laptop’s palmrest, which is covered in a soft-touch texture in the black version, feels harder and more plasticky under my wrists. And a white-backlight-with-white-keys will now and forever look muddy and indistinct in anything but a pitch-black room. The keys are perfectly legible in a dimly lit room with the keyboard backlight off, so I found myself keeping it turned off most of the time.
The white version of the XPS 15 limits your component choices—both the cheapest and the most expensive configuration options are only available in black. On Dell’s site, choosing the white version of the laptop automatically bumps you up to a Core i7 processor, 16GB or more of RAM, a 512GB or larger SSD, and dedicated graphics instead of integrated (though these are mostly upgrades we would recommend for this kind of laptop anyway).
The backlight issues of the white version aside, the XPS 15’s keyboard feels good to use. Like Apple’s post-butterfly MacBook keyboards, the keys feel firm but provide a reasonably comfortable amount of travel, and I’ve got no complaints about key spacing or layout. I still have a slight preference for ThinkPad keyboards, which feel a bit softer and have slightly better travel, but most people will be able to get comfortable with either of them. Dell has also followed Apple’s lead in including an almost comically large one-piece glass trackpad in the XPS 15. I was nervous to rest my wrists directly on top of it, but I didn’t notice any major issues with palm rejection. Like all trackpads that meet Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad spec, finger tracking and multi-touch gestures are all reliable and accurate, too. There’s not much to report about the power-button-mounted Windows Hello fingerprint sensor, either: It’s there, and it works (Dell doesn’t offer an IR face-scanning camera like the ones in most Microsoft Surface models and a few other PCs, but this isn’t a deal-breaker).
The XPS 15’s webcam and speakers are both serviceable but nothing to write home about. The webcam does a decent job with white balance and exposure, but details look fuzzy and blurred. The speakers have good stereo separation and voice calls will come through loud and clear, but the bass is underwhelming in the way that laptop speakers are usually underwhelming. This was true no matter how much I tweaked the “MaxxBass” setting in the laptop’s audio control panel. On the contrary, rather than improving the bass, I found that turning the bass up too much just made everything else sound worse.
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