Dell’s XPS Z series heralds a return to elegance

It is somewhat funny thinking back over a decade when I worked for Forrester Research and remembering how they tried to get me to carry a Dell Latitude.

Now the Latitude back in the day was a pig of a notebook computer. I mean, it was homely, heavy and there was no way I was going to lug it around instead of the much lighter and relatively more attractive Toshiba I was carrying at the time. The irony was, as I learned later, that Dell had approached Toshiba to build their notebooks under contract and Toshiba said no.   

A decade later I find I am carrying a Dell XPS or Alienware notebook. I haven’t had a Toshiba in years, and I’ve discovered I don’t miss it. And today Dell launched their new z series which is a more elegant XPS. 

The old XPS is reminiscent of a hot Dodge Charger, fast but heavy and a bit raw in terms of design. More of a performance statement, the Z series is like a Jaguar in exterior design (thank god it isn’t like one inside – I say that with love having owned two), elegant with less raw muscle but boasting a near artistic beauty.
Return to Elegance
I think the new XPS showcases what is an ongoing trend in the PC business to move away from just hitting the lowest price for a given specification. This heralds somewhat of a paradigm shift to a design philosophy that exemplifies beauty and elegance. Think of it as the difference between the design approach by GM and Jaguar in the 1960s for performance cars: GM was about hitting price points for their Camaro and Corvette while Jaguar was about making art you could drive.   

So with the Dell XPS 15z – the first in what is expected to be a line of new more elegant Dell offerings – it is as much about what is outside the product as what is inside.  

I saw one in a preview last week, as well as in raw form at CES back in January. From the way it is boxed and initially presented to the way it sits on your desk it is, at least to my eye, beautiful and something to be very proud of. Really, a far cry from that butt-ugly Latitude I so hated over a decade ago, and while the outside is stunning, the inside isn’t bad either. 
Beauty More than Skin Deep
Much like a performance luxury car, you wouldn’t get one with a naturally aspirated four cylinder engine and this first XPS is, for its class, light and fast.  

It weighs in at around 5.5 lbs. which, while not ultra-light, isn’t all that unusual, as performance notebooks are known to be 7 lbs. or more, so it is actually comparatively svelte. It can be purchased with Intel’s newest Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors, and boasts a choice of two Nvidia graphics cards, along with an optional 300-nit display. This is about 50% brighter than most, with a significantly higher resolution (1920×1080). According to Dell, at .97 inches it is also the thinnest 15″ notebook in its class.

In addition, it is one of the first notebooks with HDMI 1.4, features MaxxAudio 3, and supports a 5.1 speaker system via the HDMI port. Battery life really isn’t bad with up to 8 hours (typically meaning you can bet on 5 hours), which isn’t shabby for a performance notebook. I’ve had performance notebooks loaded with massive batteries and you still ended up measuring battery life in minutes.  
Finally, the notebook boasts a built in HD camera with dual array microphones to help eliminate ambient noise while you are video conferencing with your significant other on Skype.  
Wrapping Up: Liking the New Elegance
While I still like my old XPS 17” it is looking a bit raw now that I’ve seen this new 15” stunner, and I’m afraid my eyes are wandering.

I love the new elegance that is drifting into PC products from a number of vendors but I’m particularly impressed with this new XPS. Had Dell made a product like this ten years ago I would have easily tossed aside my Toshiba for it. Sometimes change is a good thing, and this is clearly one of those times.