Tracking the progression of Dell’s XPS brand through the years reveals an interesting trend. Initially a set of all-singing, all-dancing gaming desktops and laptops, the range is now far more interesting, as the handsome, consumer-focused XPS 14z demonstrates. The styling is heavily influenced by Apple’s MacBook Pro range. The 14z’s design isn’t quite unibody, with the top slice of plastic around the keyboard a separate component, but the almost all-in-one construction looks good and feels well made. It might not be terribly original, but it’s hard to deny the machine’s visual appeal.
The screen is covered by edge-to-edge glass, which looks extremely smart. For one thing, it makes the bezel look thinner – at the side it’s 1cm thick but, with the glass covering most of that and melding seamlessly into the panel, it looks thinner. The only drawback is that the glass is fairly reflective. Those working under bright fluorescent lights will need to find a decent angle that doesn’t reflect too much of the background. The 1366 x 768 resolution is par for the course on a 14in laptop, but there’s adequate space for working, and the panel is very bright.
Aside from the screen, the rest of the machine follows its larger sibling, the Dell XPS 15z. The chiclet keyboard has keys with rounded edges and indents, and it’s backlit to aid typing in the dark. The action of the keys is a little shallow, but touch-typists will be up to speed in no time.
As with many laptops we’ve seen recently, the trackpad is multitouch. And, as with many of those laptops, gestures such as pinch-to-zoom don’t work terribly well. Others, such as a four-fingered flick to the right, which produces the Alt-Tab screen, work reasonably.
You can choose from a wide range of core specs, with the cheapest XPS 14z costing $1199 and coming with a 2.4GHz Core i5-2430M processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk. Our $1299 system had a 2.4GHz Core i5-2430M and 8GB of RAM, powering the 14z to a respectable overall score of 0.67 in our benchmarks. There’s even enough power for a bit of gaming, thanks to the Nvidia GeForce GT 520M GPU. Running at 740MHz, it has 1GB of video RAM onboard.
The battery is sealed in and has a row of five LEDs on the right-hand edge, giving you an at-a-glance overview of the remaining charge. Practically speaking, it’s possible to get the battery out, but it’s fiddly, with eight screws and a series of rather stern plastic catches between you and the unit.
Given the amount of space available on the body, Dell hasn’t exactly seized the moment in terms of ports. That means the edges of the machine look nice and clean; the drawback is that the back has only two USB ports, one of which is USB 3. That could end up being rather limiting if you want to use the 14z as a portable laptop that connects to a monitor and a desktop keyboard and mouse when it’s at home. The back of the machine is also home to a wired Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI output and a mini-DisplayPort socket, but aside from an SD card slot, that’s all there is.
Our review unit came with a 500GB hard disk spinning at 7200rpm, with optical discs handled by a slot-loading DVD writer. The lack of a Blu-ray option is worth noting, but since the screen can display only 720p, it isn’t a critical omission.
Overall, this is a good-looking, solid system, with plenty of appeal for those who need a capable machine that will travel well. The price is reasonable, too. It doesn’t quite have the all-round strength and desirability of the Dell XPS 15z, but this handsome, frugal machine should nonetheless be high on your shortlist.