If you are after a new laptop and have a thousand pounds burning a hole in your pocket then I direct your attention to the new nex XPS14 Ultrabook from Dell. Now admittedly Dell doesn’t have a reputation for superbly made, sleek and stylish machines that will give the best Apple make a run for their money but the XPS range is changing that and the XPS14 is the pick of the bunch when it comes to combining power, convenience, value and desirability.
For your bag of sand - well, £1049 to be exact - you get the latest Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, 8GB of RAM and discreet graphics all squeezed into an aluminium and magnesium unibody that looks and feels rather fantastic.
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Dell’s designers have been looking at the MacBook Pro because the 20.7mm thick XPS14 shares the latest MacBook’s austere and featureless exterior. That said if you set out to build a thin and minimalist laptop this is what you are going to end up with no matter if your name is Apple, Dell or Samsung.
Unlike some Ultrabook designs Dell hasn’t gone too far with the design in the name of style. The keyboard deck and trackpad are covered in a black rubberised paint which is a lot more pleasant to the touch than the glass or aluminium some manufacturers favour.
The underside of the XPS14 also has a silicone coating. This has two benefits - it makes the machine easier to carry about without risk of it slipping out of your sweaty paws and also makes it less likely to slide of a desk or table. This is thoughtful design and deserves to be recognized.
The rounded isolation keys may not be the last word in style but they are very nice to type on and that’s what is important in a keyboard. They are also backlit, invaluable if you need to type in the dark.
The screen is a rather impressive 1,600 x 900 backlit LED affair. OK, that’s not full 1080p HD but it's a display resolution I can most certainly live with on a screen this size and so I suspect can most other laptop users . The display itself is bright, bold and colourful and is made from Corning’s Gorilla Glass for durability. It looks the part too thanks to a glass that stretches from edge to edge so there is no unsightly bezel surrounding it.
Like all Dell machines the XPS14 can be bought in a variety of configurations. The entry-level model I have here comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor clocked at 1.7GHz (it will ramp up to a maximum speed of 2.6GHz if circumstances demand) and 8GB of RAM. You also get a 500GB hard disk drive which should provide more than enough storage space and a 32GB solid-state drive for system use so it boots up in the blink of an eye.
Graphics are handled by a 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M which means the XPS14 can be pressed into service as a pretty effective gaming machine. It's based on Nvidia's new Kepler GPU architecture which is both efficient and powerful and well worth seeking out if you are after a new laptop.
Being an Ultrabook there is no optical drive but you do get two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and mini Displayport sockets and a Gigabit Ethernet port - the latter is something that inexplicably and annoyingly many of Apple’s new notebooks dispense with.
The XP14’s specification strikes a good balance between performance and battery life. Dell reckon the built-in 69WHr 8-cell battery is good for eleven hours. I’d say between 8 and 9 is a more reasonable expectation but that’s still pretty decent.
MyDadRocks Verdict: If you want a laptop as sleek and desirable as a MacBook but baulk at the price and want Windows as your OS then Dell’s new XPS14 is well worth a look. It’s an attractive, well thought-out design the balances performance, battery life and convenience very successfully. Like all Ultrabooks you have a forgo an optical drive but otherwise there’s little in the way of compromise.
MyDadRocks Rating: 8/10
CPU: Intel Core i5-3317U processor (1.7GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz)
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Screen: 1600 x 900 LCD
Storage: 500GB HDD, 32GB SSD
Connectivity: USB 3.0 x 2, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio, mini DisplayPort, 3-1 Memory Card Reader, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 336 x 233 x 20.7mm / 2.1Kg
Review by Brian Keyes