The Dell XPS 17 Review: Sleek, Simple, And Powerful

For the last five years, the Dell XPS lineup has been extremely innovative and pushed the envelope in terms of design and features. The XPS systems are typically thoughtfully designed for excellent user experience as the XPS displays are crisp and colorful, and features and performance are top of the line. The latest addition to the XPS lineup, the XPS 17 9700, is no exception. The XPS 17 is Dell’s first crack at a 17″ XPS notebook, and I can see it giving other large laptops some competition, especially the MacBook Pro 16. 

The 17″ segment of the notebook market typically packs a lot of CPU and GPU performance into systems for gaming and content creation purposes. These systems are often large, thick, and bulky. I see the XPS 17 as a notebook aimed at similar use cases but in a slimmer, sleeker form factor with a better display. The only exception was the LG Gram 17, but it lacked the horsepower of top of the line CPUs and GPUs in favor of lower weight and battery life. Surprisingly the XPS 17 is smaller than more than 50% of 15″ notebooks. That gives users a compelling reason to upgrade to a system with better hardware and a larger display. Dell sent me a loaner XPS 17, and I have been using it as my primary device for the last two weeks, and I wanted to share my experience.

Dell XPS 17
 DELL

Build quality 

Out of the box, the XPS 17 feels incredibly slim and sleek, especially for a large notebook with a discrete GPU. It comes with an anodized platinum silver CNC aluminum exterior, and it looks simplistic and premium. The device weighs in at 5.5 pounds and has dimensions of 14.7 x 9.8 x 0.8 inches. It is slightly heavier than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which weighs 4.3 pounds and has dimensions of 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches. The display is larger and the XPS 17 has a much beefier cooling solution to deliver sustained performance when gaming, editing videos, or heavy multitasking. The XPS 17 feels remarkably like the XPS 15 and 13 but with a larger display and base. Upon opening the lid, I saw the carbon fiber keyboard, massive trackpad, dual upward-facing speakers, and beautiful 4K display. This premium feature set is what I have come to expect out of the XPS line. The display lid also snaps to the base of the system with a magnet, which is a nice touch.

The keyboard deck comes standard with black carbon fiber that stretches around the keys and trackpad. The keys have a great texture and 1.3mm of travel, which was excellent for writing emails and Forbes articles. Overall, the typing experience on this device was pleasurable, and I felt comfortable using the system throughout the day. I will also mention that the trackpad on this device was more significant than usual at 5.8 x 3.5 inches. I usually opt for an external mouse, but a large trackpad is an excellent option for use on the go. The power button is on the top right of the keyboard and doubles as a fingerprint reader. The system comes with quad speakers. On either side of the keyboard are two upward-facing speakers and two tweeters placed on the bottom of the device that provides a full audio experience. The audio is not obnoxious but is crisp and smooth, which is great for video streaming or collaborating with team members during video or audio conferencing. The microphone is also on top of the device. I found that the microphone audio quality was useable for video or audio conferencing. 

The display on the XPS 17 caught my eye immediately. It is stunning and one of the best panels I have seen on a notebook in a while. On top of that display is a small 720P webcam. The video performance of that webcam is not as precise as I have come to appreciate with many 1080P webcams, but there are always tradeoffs when implementing a bezel-less 4K display. Despite having a lower-quality webcam, the system is still Windows Hello compatible which I preferred over built-in the fingerprint reader.

Compared to its closest competitor, the MacBook Pro 16, the build quality is remarkably alike. Both systems sport similar dimensions, while the MacBook Pro is at least a pound lighter than the XPS 17. Both systems also have anodized aluminum as an outer covering. The XPS 17 looks similar in build quality to the MacBook Pro 16 until you open the lid and see the difference in displays.

Display 

The best feature of the XPS 17 is the 4K UHD InfinityEdge display with Eyesafe technology and durable Corning Gorilla Glass 6. For those unfamiliar with Eyesafe, the technology protects from high-energy blue light that can be harmful to a user’s eyes. It is built into the display like what we have seen in smartphones with blue light filters. The XPS 17 has an impressive 93.7% screen to body ratio with a 16:10 aspect ratio. That aspect ratio helps make the XPS 17s display one of the best available with a 3820 x 2400 resolution compared to traditional 4K at 3840 x 2160 resolution. It supports touch as well. I had plenty of screen real estate to run multiple browser instances split across the screen without switching or expanding either of them. The display is also very bright at 505 nits, which easily outshines the category average of around 350 nits. I was able to use this display inside or outside with ease apart from a little glare. The panel also covers 100% of Adobe RGB and 94% of P3 colors. It’s also worth noting that users can adjust color temperature, gamut, and brightness within Dell Premier Color.

Using the touch screen on this device was a good experience. The display was responsive to touch when I occasionally needed to scroll through documents and webpages. I could use any part of the screen for pausing and playing video and scrolling through webpage and documents. The entirety of the display felt responsive throughout. I typically use the touch screen function a lot more on smaller devices and 2-in-1 notebooks, but it never hurts to have the capability.

I review and use many notebooks throughout the year with a wide range of display options, and I will say this is one of the best displays I have ever seen in a notebook. I enjoyed watching videos on YouTube and Netflix on this device in 4K splendor. It was an excellent experience video conferencing and collaborating on documents at the same time. I have tried this on smaller notebooks in the past and it is not a great experience. The crisp display was a massive productivity advantage for me while completing my daily tasks. The large panel, stunning brightness, and beautiful colors provide an excellent experience for creating content, gaming, and staying productive.

Performance 

The XPS 17s entry-level price point is very affordable at $1,449 and comes equipped with a Core i5-10300H processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics GPU and a 1920 x 1200 non-touch display. 

My loaner system is beefier and pricier at $3,049 and comes equipped with an i7-10875H, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 Max-Q, 32GB of RAM, and 1 TB SSD. A similarly configured MacBook Pro 16 cost $3,499 and comes with a smaller and lower resolution 16 inch display a similar i9 processor (similar), lower-performing Radeon 5500M 4GB GGDR6, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. My XPS 17 connectivity solutions were also top of the line with support for WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5. The MacBook Pro 16 supports Bluetooth 5 but doesn’t come standard with support for WiFi 6 connectivity. 

I admit that my typical use case of building presentations, manipulating data, writing articles, video conferencing, and running many applications didn’t stress the XPS 17 to its limits. The system ran through all my typical workloads with ease. I opted to run a few games and export some 4K videos in Adobe Premiere Pro to stress the hardware. 

I ran some popular games like Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone. I experienced some very playable frame rates while playing these titles. Most of the time, the games stayed above 60+ FPS at 1920 x 1080 resolution. 60 FPS continues to be the playable standard for most gaming systems. There is the ability to increase the resolution 3840 x 2400, but FPS scores drop substantially and become unplayable. It’s worth noting that 4K gaming is still very much in its infancy, while 1080P continues to be the resolution of choice for most mobile gamers. The XPS 17 seems to be a viable option for those wanting to game on a notebook. 

As far as content creation goes, this system is going to fare well in most workloads. It may not outperform some 17″ notebooks with Nvidia 2070 GPUs, but my system with an i7-10875H and 2060 Max-Q performed well. I used Adobe Premiere Pro to render 15 minutes’ worth of 4K footage, and the system blazed through the footage. I was able to encode the entire video in 4 minutes and 46 seconds. A ran a 15″ notebook with an i7-6600U and Intel HD Graphics 520 through the same 4K footage on Adobe Premiere Pro, and it completed the encode in 18 minutes and 19 seconds, respectively. It’s not the best point of comparison, but it goes to show how much hardware has improved in just a few years within a similarly sized system.

The high-performance hardware in this system also establishes the need for premium cooling solutions. Dell designed a unique thermal system for this XPS with a vapor chamber, dual opposite output fans, Gore thermal insulation, and several vents. While I used the XPS 17 for creating content and gaming, the system remained cool, and the fans stayed quiet.

Whether you pick up the XPS 17 for productivity, gaming, content creation, or all three, this system can do it all. When you wrap up that performance in a sleek, thin form factor, it is a compelling 17″ notebook.

Dell XPS 17
 DELL

Ports and I/O

The XPS 17 comes standard with 4 USB-C ports with one of those dedicated to charging. All four of the USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 3, and the system also has an audio jack, wedge lock slot, and an SD card reader. The XPS 17 lacks any USB-A legacy ports, which could pose some problems for users. We are not entirely out of luck. The XPS 17 comes with a USB-C dongle that has an HDMI and USB-A port within. It would have been nice to see a USB-A port and HDMI standard with the system, but the sleekness of the XPS 17 may make up for the inconvenience.

Battery life

The battery life on this device was in line with what I would expect from a device in this category, display quality. At a 75% brightness level and in my typical use case of using 10+ browser tabs, running multiple office applications, and using many Google applications simultaneously, I consistently got 8-9 hours of continuous use battery life out of this system. Keep in mind, this system is 4K and touch, and held brightness at 75% so this makes a lot of sense to me. Also, I am constantly connected to GSuite, OneDrive and Google Sync which I am sure is taking a toll. I would typically use a 17″ system at home or remotely to power a couple of external monitors while leaving the device plugged in. The battery life is not the best, is expected in its configuration, but my configuration was about maximum performance.

Wrapping up

There may be other notebooks that provide more gaming performance in the 17″ category, but the XPS 17 seems to take the cake for the best user experience. The slim form factor, smooth keys, crisp audio, and gorgeous 4K display are just a few reasons to consider the XPS 17 as a compelling option for users looking for serious productivity. With the XPS 17 remaining smaller than most 15″ systems, it makes sense why users would opt for a 17″ variant within the XPS lineup. Compared to other large notebooks like the MacBook Pro 16, the Dell XPS 17 doesn’t leave any room for comparison. The XPS has a brighter, higher resolution and larger display, better graphics, and in my opinion, a much better user experience. At similar price points and specs, I don’t see many reasons to choose a MacBook Pro 16 over the Dell XPS 17, unless you are locked into macOS. Even though the system comes with a hefty price tag in the high-end configuration, the overall experience of using an XPS 17 9700 for productivity, content creation, or gaming will be hard to beat. Excellent work, Dell.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.