Apple's MacBook Pro may well look the part when it gets pulled out in a swanky coffee shop, but it commands a steep price tag. The Dell XPS 15z offers noticeably similar styling and excellent performance for a far more wallet-friendly sum.
It's available now from £899. Our review model was at the top of the range and is available for £1,199.
If you glanced quickly at the Dell XPS 15z, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had seen a MacBook Pro. The XPS 15z has a very similar aluminium shell that curves smoothly at the edges. Of course, there is a Dell logo on the top of this guy, rather than a picture of half-eaten fruit. The chassis makes the XPS 15z feel very well built and definitely gives it a premium look.
Unlike the MacBook Pro, the XPS 15z is not made entirely from aluminium. Inside you'll find grey plastic surrounding the keyboard and trackpad. It's less nice to look at than the metal casing, but it seems solid and doesn't detract from the premium feel. As the XPS 15z is considerably cheaper than the MacBook Pro, we can't expect it to totally match their beautiful unibody construction.
The build quality was definitely let down on the bezel around the screen. On our review model, the plastic was noticeably peeling away at the corner. When we viewed the bezel from above, we could clearly see the plastic separating from the screen, revealing the glue in between.
The XPS 15z has an LED battery indicator on the left hand side -- it's very similar to the one you'd find on a MacBook Pro. Sadly, on this model, the button was set rather far inside, making it look poorly constructed and cheap. We're not sure if this is a manufacturing error or just the design, but we weren't keen on it.
The XPS 15z has a 15.6-inch screen, so it's definitely not an ultra-portable machine. It's beautifully slim though, measuring only 25mm tall -- it's one of the thinnest 15-inch laptops available. At around 2.5kg it shouldn't weigh you down too much either.
The keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand we like the rounded, isolated keys -- they're easy to press and comfortable to type on. On the other hand, we feel that Dell could have used more of the space to make it slightly bigger. It sometimes feels a little squashed up, surrounded by a sea of grey plastic.
We don't want to seem picky here, but we're also not fans of the font Dell used on the keys. Rather than go for a traditional, easy-to-read font, it has opted for a 'futuristic' style that doesn't match the mature, classy feel of the rest of the machine.
To the left and right of the keyboard you can find large speaker grilles. We hoped that the speakers would provide a big sound to match the big spaces they take up, but sadly we found that they gave a sound we can only describe as average. You'll definitely need to keep the XPS 15z plugged into some good speakers when you're watching films or listening to music.
The trackpad is nice and wide, which helps that cursor fly across the screen. The buttons are also a good size and are easy to press, albeit a little spongy.
The 15.6-inch screen provides decent colour rendition with good brightness. It's not the best screen we've ever seen on a laptop but it's definitely above average. We found high-definition content looked great, with rich contrast and deep blacks -- it would certainly suit someone looking for a portable media machine.
The XPS 15z model we had for review was packed with some strong specs, so we expected a very good performance in our benchmarks.
Inside was a quad core 2.70GHz Intel Core i7 2620M paired with 8GB RAM. Those specs allowed the 15z to post an excellent score of 8,406 in our PCMark05 benchmark tests. Based on that score, we'd expect this guy to laugh in the face of high definition playback while multitasking and casually turn its hand to photo and video editing without a second thought.
On the 3DMark06 benchmark -- which tests a computer's gaming abilities -- the XPS 15z returned a score of 7,383 -- an admirable score. We'd expect to see even recent titles running on this without too much trouble, but you may have to dial the settings down a little.
It didn't quite beat the score of the Asus N53SN that managed an impressive 8,815 in 3DMark06 -- if this were a gaming match between the two, we'd have to give it to the Asus.
The XPS 15z then is a very capable machine. The top 15-inch MacBook Pro is available with similar specs to the Dell, although the Dell uses a slightly faster processor and has better graphics capabilities so we would expect it to give a better performance all round. That version of the Macbook Pro however costs over £2,000 -- a whole thousand pounds more than our top-end XPS 15z.
Battery life on the XPS 15z isn't anything to write home about. When we ran the Battery Eater test, it managed to last 1 hour and 16 minutes before giving up. It's a brutal test for a battery though that runs the CPU at a constant 100 percent, so you will get a better time with more cautious usage.
There may be a few minor issues, but overall the Dell XPS 15z offers great performance in an attractive, portable shell. If you're after a Macbook Pro but just can't bring yourself to empty your life savings account, the XPS 15z is an excellent alternative.
Edited by Jennifer Whitehead