Dell XPS 14z Notebook Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: December 12, 2011
Product Name: XPS 14z
Part Number: 14z
Warranty: 1 Year (Upgrades Available)
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As the traditional personal computer space begins to constrict, the mobile market has become the new de facto battleground for the likes of Dell, Apple, ASUS and many others. But with an increasing number of companies vying for your hard earned dollar it has become increasingly challenging for certain products to stand out from the competition. To a large subset of end users, Apple seems to have their marketing and creative mojo working in sync which has driven an increasingly large number of consumers away from Windows-based machines and into OSX’s waiting arms. As a result quite a few of the largest PC makers have been struggling to keep up but as time goes on, they have begun to adapt their designs to reflect the new realities.

Dell –once deemed the Bastion of Beige- is at forefront of the battle against people’s perception that Windows-based notebooks are a thing of the past. In a short amount of time, they’ve effectively moved their whole lineup away from boring designs and have instead focused upon bringing a wide variety of choices to their customers. From ultra thin mobile powerhouses to entry level notebooks, they have it all and the new XPS 14z seems to encompass everything someone could possibly want in a package that’s infinitely portable.

Dell bills the XPS 14z as one of the thinnest fully featured laptops on the planet and these specifications coupled with a svelte 0.9” height sure lend some truth to this claim. Our sample came with one of the lower end configurations but it still included an Intel Sandy Bridge i5 2430 processor (a decent upgrade from the processors available in many competing models) and 6GB of DDR3 memory and it is possible to choose certain 14z models that come with 8GB.

Speaking of upgrades, Dell has gone against their usual grain and instead of offering incremental component upgrades upon a basic configuration, lump sum packages are the new norm. Want a 256GB SSD? You’ll need to pony up for the $1600 configuration along with an i7 2640M processor and 8GB of system memory. The NVIDIA GT 520M is only available in a package that costs $1100 since it also upgrades the memory to an 8GB configuration and the HDD to 750GB (which is actually a great looking combination for the price). Basically the only “upgrades” available to a given 14z are software-oriented and we’re sure that won’t sit well for anyone who remembers the highly customizable Dells of yesteryear.

With such a wide array of standard items, a weight of only 4.36 lbs and a long list of possible upgrades, you’d think Dell’s XPS 14z would sport a high end price but that isn’t the case. At a starting price of only $899 it offers (at least on paper) some surprising value in a market segment cluttered with expensive competitors. However, upgrades can push the 14z’s price past the $1600 mark.

Normally we don’t even touch upon the packaging notebooks come in since it usually consists of a simple beige or black box. Yet Dell went down a different route by playing up on the 14z’s extraordinary design and housing it in a suitably padded, well-heeled box.

You’d be forgiven if the first words out of your mouth were “Wow! It looks like a Macbook.” because that’s exactly the essence Dell seems to be going for here. With an anodized aluminum top cover in a colour aptly named Elemental Silver and a formed solid aluminum base, the 14z certainly has what it takes to compete from a fit and finish perspective. Throughout almost a month of intense testing, it stayed remarkably scratch free and fingerprints remained largely invisible. For those interested, the 14z is also being offered in a less Apple-esque black.

Opening the 14z up gives us a view into Dell’s design world and things start to look a lot less like a Macbook. Instead of the exterior finish continuing to the inner confines, the palm rest and keyboard frame are done in a slightly darker grey. Meanwhile, the screen bezel uses a matte black colour in order to better blend in with the screen itself and give a the illusion of an edge to edge perspective.

The opening mechanism on this notebook allows the screen to rotate within the main chassis, locking it firmly in place. Unfortunately, this does limit its radius and the odd spring-like design Dell uses to hide it can only be described as ugly. Especially on such a clean looking notebook.

Dell has instituted an interesting connector layout on the XPS 14z and for those of you who tend to plug and unplug peripherals a lot, prepare for a ton of annoyance. The right edge houses the slot loaded DVD drive along with a battery wear meter while the left side only has mic / headphone jacks and a covered multi card reader.

In order to conserve as much space as possible, Dell has grouped the ports behind the notebook which leads to a fair amount groping before you find the right connector. Here there are ports for USB 3.0, USB 2.0, DisplayPort and HDMI along with a Kensington lock and a LAN jack. Unfortunately, there is no VGA output. This could cause an issue for professional users who live and die by their notebook’s ability to connect to older VGA-equipped conference room projectors.

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