Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Dell XPS 14z Review

Dell’s new XPS ‘z’ series brings the mighty performance of the traditional XPS legacy, but does it with flair. This is for those who’ve eyed the new XPS series, but wanted something sleeker and portable without compromising on the build quality and aesthetics. We already saw the XPS 15z in action, last year and now it’s time to take a look at their newest offering, the XPS 14z. 

Design and Build 
The XPS 14z is a spitting image of its elder brother and other than some re-arranged ports, it borrows the same DNA; only this time, it looks more striking. The notebook is quite slim and compact for a 14-incher. Dell has fitted the XPS 14z with an edge-to-edge display, which means there’s barely any bezel. They’ve managed to fit all the components in roughly the same form factor as a 13-inch notebook. Made from anodised aluminium, the notebook is full of sweeping curves and chrome accents that give it a stunning look, no matter from which angle you look at it.
Brilliant compact design
Brilliant compact design

The left side houses the microphone and headphone jacks and memory card reader, while on the right we have the slot-loading DVD drive and battery charge indicator. This is quite a handy feature, since the battery in not removable. The rest of the ports are placed at the back, which include the power port, DisplayPort, HDMI, two USB ports and a LAN jack. Sadly, there’s no USB 3.0, which is a downer. The bottom portion is not easily removable by the user, while he tries to swap out the RAM and hard drive.
Doesn't overheat
Doesn't overheat

The power light blends into one of the ribs on the ribbed hinge, same as the XPS 15z. The backlit chiclet keyboard is comfortable to use, but we wished Dell would have thrown in an ambient light sensor to automatically activate the backlight, instead of you having to do it manually. The trackpad for a change works well and we didn't face any issues, whatsoever. Dell has once again succeeded with a solid design, good compact form factor and excellent build quality. 

The XPS 14z lives up to its heritage with powerful components that makes for a very productive notebook. Powering it is an Intel Core i7-2640M, a dual-core multi-threaded CPU running at 2.8GHZ and with Turbo up to 3.5GHz. Other components include 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 750GB hard drive and an Nvidia GT 520M with 1GB dedicated graphics. The 14-inch screen has a semi-gloss finish with a resolution of 1366 x 768, which is good enough for a 14-inch screen. The LED backlight ensures even lighting and the panel produces accurate colours with a decent viewing angle. Also, at 2kg, it’s not too heavy, so you can easily carry it around. 
Slender looking
Slender looking

My main gripe here is that Dell doesn’t give you the liberty to customize the notebook. You have just two pre-set configurations and at the most, you can customize the software package and accessories, but not the core components. You’ll notice you get lot more freedom with the regular XPS line-up and it’s a damned cheaper as well, so in essence, Dell is charging you a premium for the design.  Performance 
Despite this being a dual-core CPU, single threaded apps really benefit from the high default clock speed. This is particularly evident from PCMark Vantage where the XPS 14z even managed to beat the Asus G74SX, which scored 8452 points. The graphics card is the only weak link here, as it just about manages to deliver playable framerates in games. The GT 520M is an entry-level GPU, so we weren’t expecting miracles, anyways. Perhaps, Dell could have thrown in a slightly beefier card to complement the CPU. In video encoding though, the quad-core offerings have a clear advantage over the Dell as they feature twice the number of cores and threads.
Very good CPU performance however the GPU could do better
Very good CPU performance however the GPU could do better

The XPS 14z is very comfortable to use on a daily basis. The keyboard is comfortable even for extended typing sessions and even though the intake vents are placed underneath, the notebook never overheated over the course of the review. The speakers feature Waves MaxxAudio preset, which helps boost the sound. The quality is pretty good and since the speakers are on the either sides of the keyboard are quite loud for watching a movie or listening to music. 

Battery Life 
The XPS 14z comes with an 8-cell battery, but since it’s internal, there’s no telling the watt hour, as Dell doesn’t mention those details on the site as well. In any case, Dell claim up to 6hrs of battery life, but we guess that’s for the lower-end configuration, since our top-end model managed just 1hr 30min in Battery Eater Pro, which roughly translates to about 3.5hrs of battery life and maybe a bit more with careful usage. 

At Rs.78,900, the Dell XPS 14z is quite an expensive 14-inch notebook, but then it does justify that price, to an extent. The price jump seems to be related to the 3-year warranty that comes as standard. Also, the notebook packs an impeccable build and finish and the attention to detail is pretty darn good. More importantly, it feels like a premium product and it also has the goods to back it up. If portability and style is your criteria, then the XPS 14z is a good buy. However, just keep in mind that you’ll have to compromise on the lack of USB 3.0, a non –removable battery and the fact that you’re pretty much stuck to the two configurations that Dell have whipped up.
Sculpted keys are very comfortable
Would sell well if Dell slashed the price and bundled a better GPU

If you can do with a little less flair and won’t be lugging around the notebook too often, then the standard XPS 15 gives you amazing value for money. We configured an XPS 15 for about Rs.73,000, which includes a Core i7 quad-core CPU, Full HD screen, 8GB RAM, 750GB HDD, Blu-ray combo drive and an Nvidia GT 540M. If only Dell would give you an option to opt for the one-year warranty (which adds about Rs.12,000 to the price), bump up the graphics and drop the price, the XPS 14z would be an instant hit.

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