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Dell XPS 15 9500 overview: a superb stability for picture enhancing


Lori Grunin/CNET

Dell’s XPS 15 laptops continue to be crowd pleasers. With its eye-catching, slim new design and photo-editing-friendly performance, display and feature set, the latest model can hold its own as a less powerful — much cheaper — alternative to a MacBook Pro ($2,399 at Apple) 16. It’s well worth a look if that’s how you roll, though you might want to consider the new 17-inch XPS 17 instead for the bigger screen and it’s likely not worth the money if all you need is a pretty work clamshell.

LikeVery good control over color management for a consumer laptopNice displayTwo USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectionsGood performance and battery life, all things considered

Don’t LikeCan run hotOnly USB-C connectorsSoft, rubberized keyboard deck feels nice but scratches easily

The configuration we tested runs about $2,255; if you don’t need color accuracy, want better battery life and can live without the slightly-better-than 4K UHD resolution, you can save almost $300 by going for the slightly-better-than real HD option. The base configuration costs roughly $1,300 and comes with an Intel Core i5-10300H, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and the 1,900 x 1,200 display. 

Something in me cringes at the idea of paying $1,300 for a system with only 8GB RAM and integrated graphics, though, so if you’re leaning towards that I suggest you consider something like the Lenovo C740; the processor is a lot less powerful, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pair a powerful CPU with so little memory. You can get an otherwise similar configuration of the C740, which is also sleek and about the same weight, for well under $1,000.

Dell XPS 15 9500

Price as reviewed

$2,253.99

Display

3,840×2,400 15-inch touchscreen

CPU

2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H

Memory

16GB 3,733MHz LPDDR4x

Graphics

4GB GDDR6 GeForce GTX 1650 Ti

Storage

512GB SSD, SD card reader

Ports

3 x USB-C (2 x Thunderbolt 3), headphone

Networking

Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650s (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1

Operating system

Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909)

Weight

4.5 lbs/2.1kg

If you’re considering it for anything beyond casual photo editing, though, do yourself a favor and spring for 32GB RAM and an i7. My consistent experience is that if you need to multitask, operations like mass thumbnail generation, which takes advantage of high core counts, can become bottlenecked by memory (at least on Windows). And applications like Lightroom Classic will use all the cores you can throw at it for some operations.

Dell redesigned the XPS 15 (and introduced a 17-inch model) for 2020 to align more with the XPS 13. For one thing, that meant the XPS 15 ditched its 4K OLED option:  The XPS 13’s display has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which means both the XPS 15 and 17 do, too. OLED panels only come in standard 4K UHD 16:9 aspect, so the XPS switched to a nonstandard 4K “UHD Plus” (3,840×2,160 pixels) and a base “FHD Plus” (1,980×1,200 pixels).

I like the UHD Plus screen more than the OLED, though, especially for photo editing, which is arguably the creative work that this system is optimized for. It has better color consistency and tonal range in the shadows, and as tested covers 100% of Adobe RGB rather than P3, which is still a respectable 94%. (We test screens using using Portrait Displays’ Calman 5 Ultimate and an X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus.) 

The bigger touchpad is great, but I don’t like that the power button/fingerprint reader in the upper right corner is intentionally left a mystery. Plus, I like the soft, rubberized keyboard deck, but it seems prone to scratching (as you can see on the right speaker grille).

Lori Grunin/CNET

Oddly, Dell doesn’t promote accuracy as one of the virtues of the screen, and out of the box it wasn’t, despite the inclusion of PremierColor, Dell’s color management software. But with some easy tweaks to the brightness and gamma settings in PremierColor, I was able to get it to to standard target values of 2.2 gamma, delta E for grayscale and color less than or equal to 2 and white point of 6500K. It can’t hit the effectively zero nits black (and therefore infinite contrast, since that puts zero in the denominator of the contrast calculation) but its roughly 1560:1 contrast is good for IPS. 

It also supports HDR, though with a maximum brightness of roughly 465 nits it won’t really wow you. And playback of 4K HDR content really taxes the integrated graphics; I couldn’t successfully force it to use the GTX 1650 Ti all the time.

More notably, unlike many consumer calibrated displays, Dell’s factory calibrated profiles actually clip the gamut boundaries to the color space; in other words, for example, even though the display can produce colors well outside sRGB, it won’t if you’ve opted to use the sRGB color profile. That’s really helpful if you need to check out-of-gamut colors. You can create custom profiles with a calibrator using PremierColor as well, but only with the very popular X-Rite i1Display Pro; it doesn’t even support the Plus yet, so I couldn’t test it. (If you want to calibrate it using your own software and a different calibrator, remember to turn PremierColor off.)

PremierColor gives you the standard set of color profiles, including Rec 709 (HD) and Rec 601 (SD), as well as settings for specific color temperatures and relative scales for gamma, contrast and black level. It also lets you choose from different viewing conditions, such as daylight or incandescent light. 

A downside to the ever-shrinking screen bezels is you have to be careful when adjusting the display; for instance, while trying to find the perfect angle I accidentally touched the touchscreen and closed Chrome. (I think a touchscreen is unnecessary here, anyway. And I’d gladly trade a millimeter more of top bezel for a better webcam.

Other tradeoffs of the new, thinner design is swapping USB-A and HDMI connections for all-USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. The XPS 15 has two Thunderbolt 3 connections, which is nice. But losing a display connection on the discrete GPU bus means you sacrifice some flexibility. It does (thankfully) retain the SD card slot, though. Dell grew the touchpad and moved the speakers to either side of the keyboard, both welcome changes. I don’t like the unlabeled, unilluminated power button: It has a fingerprint reader built in, but in the dark it’s just a blank spot and seems to scream “why do you want to turn me off?”

The Dell XPS 15 9500 (top) has roughly the same footprint as the Razer Blade 15 but it’s thinner. Plus, the sloping profile makes it seem thinner than it is.

Lori Grunin/CNET

One thing Dell didn’t sacrifice is speed, sort of. It stuck with the Intel H series processor where a lot of slim competitors use the lower-power (and therefore slower) U series. But it also tops out with the GeForce GTX 1650 Ti; a 6GB 1660 Ti, like the Surface Book 3 has, might have given it extra 2GB memory needed to let it run some professional graphics applications or a little extra needed oomph for video editing. It does let Dell differentiate between the XPS 15 and XPS 17 for something other than size, though.

The battery life is solid relative to the rest of its class at a little over eight hours, at least for streaming video. It also held up pretty well under my more punishing real-like workload, lasting about five hours of active use (though no imaging apps). That’s a pretty long time for me, though it ran too hot to keep it on my lap for that long.

The new design for the XPS 15 acquits itself well, and Dell didn’t make any major mistakes with it (along the lines of the bottom-dwelling webcam). But as a general-purpose work laptop, it’s not super light, doesn’t have a super long battery life, isn’t super thin, super-fast or super cheap. It’s not a work laptop superhero, just a premium workhorse.

Geekbench 5 (multi-core)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (single core)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (Vulkan)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R20 CPU (multi-core)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (Streaming)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Note:
Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Apple macOS Catalina 10.15.1; 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK; 32GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Radeon Pro 5500M/1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630; 2TB SSD

Dell XPS 15 9500

Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,933MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti; 512GB SSD

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch)

Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 RAM 2,667MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q design; 512GB SSD

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 4,267MHz; Intel Iris Plus Graphics and 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q design; 512GB SSD

MSI Prestige 15

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (1909); 1.1Hz Intel Core i7-10710U; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q design; 1TB SSD

About the author: SubSellKaro

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