on August 14, 2012
I've owned a ton of Dells over the years with this being 5th Dell laptop and 4th in the XPS line of laptops. I used to own a Dell XPS 14 (the original 2010 model, not the 2012 model) which was one of the worst laptops I had ever owned. It was so bad that Dell eventually sent me a 15z (the bigger screen version of the 14z) as a replacement laptop after 7 repairs on the XPS 14. After nagging Dell for a couple of days, they sent me a 14z instead. I've owned the 14z for about two weeks now, and I have to say this is by far the best laptop I've ever owned.
For the amount of hardware you get, this thing is TINY. It's basically about the same size as a MacBook Pro, yet it packs a full 2.80 GHz i7 with discrete graphics that can be switched off to save battery power. You can also go up to a 750GB 7200 RPM HDD and 8GB of RAM. Mine came with a 500GB drive and 6GB of RAM, which is perfectly fine for me.
Screen: In terms of dimensions, this is simply the thinnest screen I've seen on a notebook. Its ridiculously thin. I would rate the color production and overall quality as above average though. Its definitely not the best display out there on laptops, but its not bad either. I use a external monitor for all my media stuff (gaming, movies, etc) so I don't frat much about screen quality. It's good enough.
Performance: Its kind of hard to tell peroformance specs between PCs but I would have to say that the 14z with a 2.8GHz i7 definitely "feels" faster than my previous laptops, which either had a Core i5 2410m (2.3GHz) or a Core i5 560M (2.67GHz). Everything loads up very quickly and never seems to lag. I haven't run any high end games yet but have played HD videos while running some old school games like Need For Speed Carbon and Most Wanted. In both cases, the i7 and GT520M held their own just fine. The hard drive performs as well as any 7200RPM drive and overall system boot-up is fairly quick.
Keyboard and Trackpad: This is one of the two categories that separates the good from the great laptops to me. Usually, Dell gets the keyboard right as I had experienced with my four previous Dell laptops. This one...not so much. The chicklet style keyboard is a nice upgrade to the XPS lineup but the keys are a bit hard when compared to something like a MacBook Pro keyboard. It is, however, something that you get used to after a few days of use. The trackpad, on the other hand, is nice. For a windows laptops that have notoriously small trackapds, this thing has a decent sized trackpad that squeezes out every inch it can from the 13.3 inch form factor. I will say that the trackpad is a bit over-sensitive at times and you may need to mess around with the settings to make it work the way you want. Overall, the keyboard and trackpad to me are both above average. Nothing special but more than good enough.
Battery Life: This is the other deciding factor in terms of how good a laptop is. Keep in mind that this laptop comes with an i7 and discrete graphics, so you can't really expect great battery life here. The question is whether or not its good enough for your needs. Overall, I'm seeing anywhere from 2.5 to about 4 hours of battery life depending on settings and usage, which is about expected. I would've liked to see 3.5 to 5 hours, but 4 hrs of usage with screen dimmed down a bit and a few power saving options enabled isn't bad for the hardware package I'm getting.
Noise and Heat: To me, this category has always been the downfall of the XPS line. I have yet to own a single XPS that doesn't get loud or hot. My XPS 14 got so hot that it started melting the paint off the palmrest. While the heat issues are far far less with this laptop, they are still there. My suggestion is buying a laptop cooling pad, which is something to consider buying with any expensive laptop. Spending 20 or 30 bucks to protect a three figure investment makes sense to me. Either way, noise (especially the back fan) and heat are definitely issues with this model and I would bet my money that its an issue with all of Dells high end notebooks. You should be fine if you don't mind providing the laptop with some extra cooling, but don't expect this notebook to be ultra-quiet or ultra cool.
Peripherals and sound: Dell used to use JBL speakers in the older XPS lineup, which had incredible sound for laptops. This one, unfortunately, doesn't use the same speaker technology. Still, the sound is good enough for a laptop. I imagine most people with laptops are carrying around a pair of headphones like me and only use their speakers for when trying to watch something with a group of people, and the speakers on this unit are perfect for tasks like that.
As far as the peripherals go, this unit is a bit short on USB ports and yes most of the ports are in the back. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask. My in-home setup includes a monitor, a USB dongle for a keyboard, a usb adapter for some external speakers, and a few other cables that are escaping my mind right now. Basically, I have no choice but to use a USB hub anyways, so I don't really mind having just 2 USB ports, neither do I mind having the ports in the back as it keeps my desk really clean. If you're the type that will switch USB in and out all the time, then I can see how having the ports in the back can get annoying though.
Overall, this is solid buy at the right price. If you're paying anything more than 900 bucks for it, its probably too much given Dell has already come up with its successor. At the right price, this is a great deal since fewer and fewer laptops nowadays offer small form factor notebooks with full performance specs like this laptop offers.