The first thing you will say about this laptop is that it is not a 14″ laptop. Indeed the frame more resembles a 13″ and only upon closer look, and likely comparing with other 13″ laptops, will you realize where the magic (illusion) is coming from – the Shrinuken display. It reminds me of the new generation of Samsung LED TV monitors that are about an inch thick and close-to-the-end display panels.
The Dell XPS 14z ships standard with Core i5 but you can also order a Core i7 equipped laptop with a base memory of 4GB that you can upgrade to 8G. The test unit handed to me came with a Nvidia GeForce GT 525M graphics card for gaming and multimedia apps. I was pleasantly surprised that the XPS 14z stayed cool while editing a video or watching a DVD.
At a suggested retail price in Hong Kong of HK$9,999 (you can get it for HK$8,580 with 8GB DDR3 RAM in the States – don’t ask me why), this is one of the sleekest laptops I’ve seen in the market (except for the slew of super skinny ultrabooks coming in 2012). It comes in brushed aluminum frame that feels cool to the touch. Another feature that drew a bit of curiosity on my part and for which I had to adjust my typing sense a little bit is the keyboard. Dell termed it isolation-style keyboard, what is odd is the curved design of the keys – giving it a futuristic look and feel. The keyboard is flanked on both sides by speakers, making this an ideal multimedia and gaming platform. Most laptops have their speaker hidden on the side or underneath the chassis forcing you to strain your ears to listen to the sound. Not so with the XPS 14z.
Dell must must have learned something from the Thinkpad series as it claims this unit has a spill-resistant keyboard in addition to being backlit. I was reluctant to try it in the demo unit (I didn’t want the agency to get into trouble for this nor was I willing to pay for a demo unit at sticker price).
The XPS 14z comes with the standard features of a Core i laptop: 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 3.0. There is also a 7-in-1 memory card reader. I thought it disappointing to only have a 1.3MP webcam despite the label of 720p. Thankfully it comes with a HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections for hooking up a television, monitor or projector.
One of them best features of the XPS 14z is its build quality from the use of a super thin aluminum lid to a stylish isolation-style keyboard.
You may think I am being cynical (or picky) but I do love a large trackpad especially when you are dealing with a device that supports multi-touch. The XPS 14z comes with a very large touchpad reminiscent of the Macbook Pros and MacAir. although Dell added two dedicated buttons at the base of the trackpad – definitely better than the Mac design from this end. The pad itself supports multi-touch gestures.
To keep laptops slim most manufacturers skip the DVD drive. Its nice of Dell to give the XPS 14z a slot-loading optical drive despite its almost slim form factor. What I find weird about the XPS 14z is the fact that is the fact that it has a thickness of 22.86mm on paper but everytime I look at it, I swear its thicker than the 13″ Macbook Pro’s 24.13mm.
While we are comparing the MBP to the XPS 14z, I am happy that Dell chose to use a 7200 rpm HDD compared to Apple’s default choice of 5400 rpm drives. I also have to remind myself that the XPS 14z comes in at 1.98kg which is lighter than the 13″ MacBook Pro 2.04kg.
Most LCD screens suffer from a limited viewing angle and the XPS 14z is no exception. In fact I found the 45 degree vertical viewing angle to be quite narrowing and disappointing for a machine as solidly built as the XPS 14z. Dell didn’t design this machine for use on your lap.
Despite efforts to keep the packaging of the 14z as slim as possible (in fact a 14″ laptop in a 13″ body), I still found the XPS 14z to be quite heavy at 1.98 kg. This makes holding this laptop with one hand not advisable.
One of the things I found surprising and disappointing was Dell’s choice of handicapping the XPS 14z with just two USB ports, one of them being a USB 3.0.
There is little not to like about the Dell XPS 14z. Its interesting how Dell managed to increase the screen size to 14 with its choice of Shrinuken display technology (giving it the cool edge-to-edge glass of the display is a classy touch).
Would I buy this laptop? Not really sure. I like the power of this unit but my decision is being weighed down by the perception that this is heavier, thicker, bigger than it should be. Plus there is Dell’s reputation for having laptops with inferior battery life. Reviewers give the XPS 14z at least four-hour battery life. If Dell were to give this XPS 14z 6 hours I would definitely consider it seriously. Afterall, who can say no to a slick brushed metal design?

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