It's been a year since I started my journey switching to Windows, and that's involved trying a bunch of different laptop hardware in pursuit of something that could keep up with the MacBook Pro.
First, I tried the Razer Blade, then the Eve V and had a passing interest in the Surface Book 2 — but I ultimately ended up delighted by an unlikely laptop I hadn't really considered: Dell's XPS 15.
I've been using the XPS for about five months now, and liked it so much I had forgotten to share that I was happy with it. Here's a quick look at what makes it great, and how Dell has won me over so far.
Trust me — I was a skeptic, but after being asked repeatedly in the comments for my original piece about leaving Apple's hardware, I started looking into it.
Looks good, has guts
The key reason I shifted away from the MacBook, besides the bullshit port situation (more on that later), was performance.
Apple's refreshed MacBook line was barely on-par with my 2013 MacBook Pro, and I wanted 32 GB of RAM. The XPS I grabbed is the 9560 model, with Intel's quad-core i7 7700HQ processor, 32 GB of RAM and a Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics chip.
Dell delivered on this — and then some. It's hard to overstate how awesome it is to have a GTX 1050 onboard and 32 GB of RAM; I can do the heavy lifting I need to in PHPStorm, then shift gears and play some Overwatch without actually cleaning up.
I've found the i7 model to be one hell of a machine that is more than capable of doing everything I need to. It boots fast, never lags and can handle the majority of games you throw at it without sounding like it's a rocket ready for lift-off.
I'm not very kind to my machines and usually have windows of Chrome tabs, PHPStorm and a bunch of VMs lying around running for days before realizing. I hadn't realized when actually getting it, but the MacBook Pro is a couple of generations behind on Intel's quad-core chipsets (if you get the 15", that is), which explains why the XPS blew its socks off.
It's worth being clear that this comes at the price of thinness which Apple has perfected to a tee and it really shows when you put them side-by side; it's a real feat to put a computer in the form factor Apple has pulled off.
The XPS is significantly thicker and a tad heavier, but at least I can actually get work done now — and it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in return for the performance it delivers. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Unlike many Windows laptops, the XPS 15 is pretty nice looking — a large part of which can be attributed to that lovely 4K 4096 x 3048 ultra-thin bezel display.
If you like Retina displays, you'll have your pants blown off by the 4K Ultrasharp model of this thing; it's well beyond Retina quality and Dell's displays are killer at color reproduction.
I think Dell did a great job of keeping the machine relatively simple and clutter-free: it's just a simple silver and black slab of laptop. If you want something subtle with a killer display, this is for you.
To my surprise, I actually really enjoy the touch screen on this thing. I don't actively use it, but when you're on the couch or just need to quickly stab something closed, or open the notification center it's so natural that I struggle with laptops that don't have it now.
Much to Fem's frustration, I keep trying to touch her MacBook Pro's screen as a result. It feels backward to not have one now, but I doubt we'll ever really see touch hit the Mac at this point.
A port for everything
While I'm a fan of USB-C and thoroughly look forward to the future where a MacBook that only has USB-C ports makes sense, the experience on the latest generation is dongle central — to the point I started carrying a pencil case full of the damn things.
One of the delightful, and most impressive, points of the XPS 15 is that it has a place for everything. There's two old USB ports (USB A), a single USB-C port, a SD-card slot and a HDMI port, making it the perfect compromise between the future as well as the past.
What's perhaps my favorite subtlety here is that while Dell includes a proprietary charger in the box, you can just plug in any old USB-C charger too! There's a weird side effect to this: I just use my old 15" MacBook Pro's USB-C charger for everything now.
There's a bitter irony that with a Dell computer and my Pixel 2 XL I can charge my entire life with a single cable, while Apple insists USB-C is the future but still slaps the lightning port on the iPhone so you need a bunch of extra cables.
Dell's acceptance that people might use USB-C chargers alongside their proprietary one is just this happy medium that really lays bare Apple's customer hostile decision to drop Magsafe. I'm sure they could've worked it in, but hey, new stuff.
Actually using it
I've written a lot about the experience of Windows 10, coding on the WSL environment and other tidbits, which I plan to update, but I will say this: Windows 10 has gotten really good, particularly on laptops.
I was quite worried about the HiDPI scaling when I sprung for the XPS 15, but as of the Spring Creator's Update it's a non-issue. Every app I've tried works great, and Windows is now able to silently adapt those that don't.
The trackpad is always another area of concern, and while I'd remark that you'll never find a trackpad that makes you as happy as the one on the MacBook (sorry), it's pretty damn good— where it's usually a dealbreaker.
Honestly there's not much to say about it beyond that: it works great, and has a nice glass layer on top that makes your fingers glide just right, where others like Razer failed to do so and coated it in plastic.
As for the keyboard, it's pretty great. I actually struggled to switch back from the MacBook Pro's butterfly keys, but the XPS 15 has a good amount of travel and feels much more solid. I think just a little bit more would nail it, but I can't complain and don't get sore in my fingers like I have with other machines.
My previous MacBook loved spinning up the fans at random, even when watching something in VLC, but Dell seems to have done a good job of managing this; I've rarely heard them at all.
Battery life is more than adequate, with a solid 4-5 hours easily achievable if you're browsing the web or just watching Netflix using the native (!) app. I've not measured this to the minute, but I've been more than happy with it getting me through a solid afternoon in my local cafe.
I do have nitpicks, however.
First, Dell's choice of whatever it's using to coat the bottom of the laptop's interior is awful — it's a carbon-fibre like material that just picks up all that hand sweat over time. I've worked around this by cleaning the laptop regularly, but it can get grubby fast if you don't do so.
Second, in pursuit of battery efficiency Dell routed the HDMI port through the integrated graphics chipset using Nvidia's Optimus technology (I wrote about this here).
The reality is that this is probably usually OK, but it's a deal breaker if you plan to use VR because you won't be able to get as many pixels through your headset as the internal display — defeating the point of the full-on HDMI port with a 1050 in my mind. I believe this is fixed in the 2018 revision, but I've emailed Dell to see if I can get clarification.
Third, the webcam placement is just diabolical. I don't do video calls all that often, but I refuse to use the webcam on this thing — it's placed above the keyboard — because the chin angle is beyond bad.
I don't have a good solution for Dell, but there's got to be a better way: it's goddamn awful. I just use my tablet instead, but it's a frustrating compromise made to get those bezels so thin that might bother you every other month.
Look, this thing has it all: it looks great, has one of the best displays in any laptop on the market and the specifications to match. Dell hit a home run in so many areas that I actually can't believe it pulled it off — and I've been happy since switching.
If you're holding out for a new MacBook Pro, I think it's time to give up. Apple isn't going to back down on that keyboard, and it certainly isn't going to deliver anything usable for Pros soon. You might not be willing to accept that yet, but it's clear for many of us that it's time to move on.
While the Macbook's a beautiful machine, Dell's work on these laptops shows that you can make something look nice while being functional — instead of pursuing just thinner and thinner machines every year. I'm constantly impressed by the display on the XPS and just how far ahead it is of the competition, for example.
Microsoft's work to ship meaningful innovation on the desktop is paying off. Once you make the jump and accept that you might have to use Windows, you'll find that your workflow itself is perfectly fine over here — and that the hardware is even better.
Like with any laptop, the XPS is not perfect, but it's close enough that its mistakes are forgivable for the improvements it brings in connectivity, display and performance.
The webcam and interior coating are awful but I can overlook them because that's maybe a single percent of my day, however it is disappointing that it hasn't been addressed now that we're on the third iteration of hardware.
But here's the rub: the MacBook Pro that's currently out there is a beautiful, frustrating insult. Not only does it have a keyboard that borders on recall territory, it's just not good enough if you need a serious computer to get shit done. It's time to vote with your wallet and buy something else, and I'm tired of hearing the I can't not use a Mac excuse.
If you're a developer, writer or videographer, I think the XPS is a perfect laptop. Particularly because if you find Windows isn't a great fit for you after trying it, Linux is well supported on XPS hardware and works almost out of the box.
Now that the refreshed XPS 15" 9580 is on the market with a GTX 1050TI, it's a no-brainer in almost every way (and if you get it, make sure to get the model with the built-in fingerprint sensor!).
For more from the switching away from Mac series: