Fortunately, for consumers, good looking, high performing laptops are becoming the rule rather than the exception these days. Stiff competition from Apple's MacBook and MacBook Air and the rise of the ultrabook means Dell's new XPS series has a lot to deal with if it hopes to make a positive mark.
Coming in at under just £1000 the XPS 14z we tested was an i7 2640M powered machine with a future proofed 8GB of RAM. Dell has interestingly placed this 14-inch model inside the chassis of a 13 inch sized laptop. It utilises an edge to edge display beneath its attractive aluminium shell and, which weighs in at just under 2kg.
There is certainly a vein of the Apple Mac running through the Dell, and its handsome clean lines and aluminium shell have a familiar and also well built appeal. There are little quirks that differentiate it from the Mac, such as the ridged hinge, latticed speakers and chrome accents. The XPS 14z isn't exactly unibody construction either and there is a segmented deck inside, breaking up the one piece outer body. It's quite an plain machine on the outside with just a Dell emblem raised above the lid.
Weighing just 1.98kg, it manages to undercut the 13 inch MacBook(2.04) in size terms. It's also a little slimmer than the Apple Machine. We'd place some of this slightness down to its lid, which is super slim - noticeably so. Fortunately, unlike many laptops which compromise build-quality for weight, the Dell remains strong, and we found no flex on the screen.
The Dell follows in the footsteps of most modern machines and comes with a set of isolated, indented keys - all of which are backlight for those late-night assignments. There's a nice amount of throw and spring from the keyboard and those who do a lot of typing will feel it's one of the best in its class in this area. There's no numerical pad, but as we've mentioned before it is a 13 inch chassis.
The track pad performs quite nicely also and build quality is consistent here too. The large track pad is multi touch, working well for most gestures. It's framed by chrome and two big, responsive buttons at the bottom all of which compliment the near bezel-free screen.
The WLED screen is impressively sized and produces bright images and good levels of contrast. At 1366x768p it's not Full HD, and Dell offer no such option, which may put some people off.
It's a glossy display, which does leave it susceptible to poor viewing angles, and you will find yourself moving the hinge to find that small point for comfortable viewing. This leaves it fine in most cases, but casts doubt over daytime viewing in bright light. Dark levels are quite good, thanks to the brightness of the panel, but we wish there were a matte option to aid viewing. The web cam produces quite nice images, and we were reasonably impressed by the speakers, which are perfect for some light listening, though not as good as those on its bigger brother the 15z, one of the differences in performance.
Packaged with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2640M processor, the Dell is hardly a slouch. Add to this 8GB of RAM, a Nvidia GeForce GT520M GPU with 1GB of video RAM and a 750GB HDD and you have a machine that holds its own.
The mix of the i7's internal graphics and the Nvidia chip means the computer alternates between the two as it seems fit. However, in our 3DMark06 tests the XPS 14z, showing a good ability to throw the polygons about and handle 3D images, scoring 5489 marks, this would suggest it would be suitable for some light gaming at lower settings.
We also ran our PerformanceTest 7 on the Dell, and it scored a quite commendable 1427, which is slightly above average for a machine of this price. Boot-up time from off was 59 seconds, which is a little sluggish and we'd expect partially down to bloatware. The fan on the device was reasonably and didn't noticeably whirr unless under significant stress. We also noted that connectivity is not fantastic, with 2 xUSBs (1x USB 3.0), Ethernet, HDMI, mini display port and a 7in1 SD card; all at the back of the laptop
To measure the battery prowess of the device, we performed our Battery Eater test on the machine and it did well with a time of 3:58. This test judges the battery's ability to last under extreme duress. In our normal test, the Dell lasted nearly 6:10mins and was just around average for this sort of a machine.
The Dell certainly offers a nice experience. It's a quite powerful, good looking laptop that many will find fulfils requirements in the work and play areas. It's elegant, portable, slim and quite light and competes with Lenovo IdeaPad z570.
It doesn't have the best screen available and there are laptops with more graphical prowess, though we liked it and for those looking for a portable multimedia machine it meets the bill.
35 x 353 x 247 mm cm
Intel Core i7 2640M
Nvidia GeForce GT520M