Hi There… this is probably not the type of review you were expecting to find for the just refreshed Dell XPS 15 2017 (I mean, the kind of review full of comparisons, benchmarks and measures); but if you’re wondering whether the new 9560/2017 model is a good choice for the photography business the honest and experiential feedback you’ll find in this ongoing review should help you make a decision. Before getting started let me tell you that I’ve never been an Apple guy as I never found the right motivation to switch to the dark side, so you won’t find a comparison between this new Dell laptop and the new 15″ Mac Book Pro 2016 here. That said, as photographer I feel that is really important to define a good workflow that allows you to save part of the time we spend in front of various screens to invest it in other activities that may help us improve our skills and develop our art. Also, I like to consider me as a power user, moving through high-resolution photos that literally eat space on HD and CPU power. Until today I worked with a Windows desktop computer and a small 13″ i5 Samsung laptop, that I was mainly using while traveling and at home. Having two different devices is not the best choice if you start traveling a lot or having your photographic stuff in many different locations (home + office in my case). Workflow has become more intricate as I wanted to access to my data wherever I was, and this was driving my crazy. So at the end of the past season I started looking around to find a device that could replace my two ones without lack of performances. When I saw that Intel was in the process to release a new generation of core (the 7th, code name Kaby-Lake) I leaned on the window waiting to see the next step from Dell, because I was pretty sure they should get this opportunity update their 15″ laptop (as just happened with the XPS13) as soon as the new hardware has been available. So when I saw:
less power consumption
10% more performance
I placed the order, and I waited to have this
not so small beast in my hands. I must say that I was truly undecided between XPS 13 (I was dying for the rose gold option!) and XPS 15. But knowing that I wanted to use it to replace my desktop, I went in the direction that could guarantee best performance at the cost of some more weight and centimeters. Below some specifications about the laptop currently under my hands:
- 7th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor
- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
- 16GB DDR4-2400MHz (up to 32 GB)
- 512GB PCIe Solid State Drive (up to 1TB)
- 15.6″ 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) Infinity Edge & minimum of 100% of the Adobe RGB color spectrum (currently the only laptop that currently do this)
- 97WHr Battery
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5 Video CardFull-size backlit keyboard
- Glass Precision Trackpad
- Ports/Slots: Full HDMI, (2) USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3/USB Type C, SD Card Reader, Kensington Lock Slot
Together with the laptop I bought the stuff you can see below. Also if at the first sight “the stuff” might seem a mere black box with a Dell logo, this thing will probably solve most of my workflow problems. I’m pleased to introduce you TB16 Dell Thunderbolt Dock; this is the second generation of this kind of docking station (as the first one – TB15- miserably failed due some big bugs and was quickly cut out from the market). The dock comes with an impressive series of ports allowing you to quickly connect a mobile workstation to your world through a single data and power source (USB Type-C Thunderbolt™ Cable). What’s really important for me it has the ability to connect up to two 4K displays, permitting me to use my two Dell U2713H monitors. Finger crossed before I switch on this beast! With a bit of luck we’ll see how this TB16 and the XPS15 9560 perform together.
Case & Build Quality
With the XPS series it seems that Dell learned a lot from Apple over the past few years. Quality is overwhelming and it’s really hard to find a weakness on this beauty. The external coating is CNC machined aluminum (that means it was cut from a single block of metal). Above, the 4K touch-screen is covered by edge-to-edge Corning®Gorilla® Glass; while below, a carbon fiber palm rest envelops a full-size back-lit keyboard. Carbon fiber is refined with soft touch paint that adds an unique look I really like. I suspect that this mat coating will get dirty easily and it might require frequent cleaning; but for now, it’s beautiful. In sum the whole product seems finely built and durable; I really love the way it looks like and I can’t wait to verify this first impression of durability at the end of the season.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I like the keyboard typing experience; both the typing noise and the key travel give you the right feeling while using it. Keys are made in a way that trigger precisely even when you only hit at the edges. I needed a bit to be used to the keyboard, as the one in my previous laptop was performing slightly different. The keyboard also has a two-stage illumination, that you can select through shortcuts. The light shines through the keys if you look at them from an angle , and it’s really helpful in dark environments.
All I can say about touchpad is that it’s awesome. Cursor movements are always precise and smooth; the force required for a click is well-adjusted and click results in a well-defined tactile feedback. It’s not hard to believe this touchpad has been defined as probably the best on the market in various reviews . In addition Microsoft introduced new touchpad gestures in Windows 10, including three-fingers gestures to access various features like the notification center, Cortana, or virtual desktops. Windows laptop may finally rival with Apple’s MacBook trackpad features (unfortunately with the exception of the new Force Touch Trackpad).
From what I saw until now this monitor is outstanding. Easily it’s the most impressive aspect of this notebook. It’s “infinity edge” build make you feel immersed in the screen, as the bezel is just 5,7mm thick. Compared with my old 13″ Samsung ultrabook this laptop seems less than a 14″ in terms of dimensions. Second really important aspect that makes this laptop truly unique on the market is that this display (just the 4K touch-screen, not the FHD option you can find on some configurations) provides a minimum of 100%Adobe RGB, that is great for photography. The level of accurancy is impressing also the firt time you switch on the XPS15, but once calibrated with the X-Rite i1 Display Pro it becomes really hard to see any difference form this monitor and the U2713 I normally use (that’s a 10bit panel with internal LUT for calibration). And if I must be honest the glare coating make everything looks more beautiful compared with the mat screen of the two U2713. Just a couple of things more about touch screen. I didn’t bet on this, but it’s really funny to use, and especially if you don’t have mouse with you it makes navigation easy and comfortable (once you get used to it). Secondly, it seems impossible to leave there your fingerprints. So also after one hour of use it looks bright and clean.
SDHC Reader performance:
A considerable amount of time I spend in front of PC is used to download memory cards after services. Let’s see what changes in term of SD card reading speed, moving from my current desktop (a the end of the post you can find a quick recap about the hardware config I’m currently using) to the XPS15. On my desktop I have an integrated USB3.0 card reader; to do the test I connected an USB3.0 2,5″ portable hard disk (WD Elements 1Tb) to one of the motherboard USB3.0 port . On the laptop I used an USB3 port on the TB16 dock, as it will probably be the most used setup over the next months.
As you can imagine most of the time i spent on my PC is importing, editing and exporting photos. So – to get an idea of the XPS’ performances – I took the 200 files above and did what I usually do when I import photos from disk: generating smart previews (if you don’t know what they are and why I use them ask me in the comments below the post) and standard previews.
Importing time ( 200 D810 raw files, smart previews + standard previews generation )
Dell XPS 15: 8′:25″ (+32%)
At first sight -32% performances might seem a bad result, but we must consider we are comparing two cores where the mobile one has a power consumption that’s close to 1/3 to the other. So I’m not disappointed with how things turned out and I think the time I’ll save having just one device will balance the time I loose generating preview (and I can do other stuff waiting, I must not say there looking the monitor).
Second test I want to do is to evaluate export time. When we finish editing a wedding our first desire is to deliver it, to forget about everything connected and to skip to next one. What separates editing phase from delivery is export time, let’s verify how much time I must wait more compared with my previous workstation. To do this I applied my preset to all the 200 files we used for the other tests and I exported it on desktop (SSD HD for both the PC). And here is a B E A U T I F U L surprise. Don’t ask me why, the new thing is more than 50% faster compared to my old (first time I writ “OLD”, noted?) desktop.
Export time ( 200 edited raw files, 5000px long side )
Desktop: 25′:40″ (+54%)
Dell XPS 15: 16′:37″
portability, Battery life, pros/cons and my personal conclusion
As I told you I don’t have the lastest Mac Book Pro 15 2016 with which to compare this brand new XPS15, but if you are in love with numbers below are the main specifications of the two 15″ laptops side by side (from US sites / prices @ February, 17th 2017)
My DESKTOP SPECS
- 4th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 4770 Haswell, 8 MB Cache, 3.40 GHz
- Windows 10 Professional 64-bit
- 16GB DDR3-1600MHz G.SKILL Trident X Series (2 x 8GB)
- SanDisk Extreme SSD 240 GB SATA 6.0 Gb/s (OS)
- SanDisk Extreme SSD 480 GB SATA 6.0 Gb/s (Lightroom catalogues + cache)
Before to leave you, I want to set in stone a HUGE thanks to the moon and back to Susanna, Leonardo e Celeste, the awesome guys of TAF (Trova-Allestisci-Fotografa, literally Find-Equip-Photograph) that permitted me to use their laboratory and the photos of all the sets they have ever built. Together we share the same co-working workspace, Impact Hub Florence, the most spectacular place I could ever desireto work from, full of cool people with which share time, space and projects.
Dell XPS 15 2017 Review / Photographer field test by Francesco Spighi