Dell XPS 15 OLED 2021
RRP $ 2,400.00
"The Dell XPS 15 is everything you could want in a powerful 15-inch laptop."
Superior build quality
Excellent creative and productive performance
Good keyboard and touchpad
Beautiful OLED display
What are you doing to make the best 15 inch laptop even better? Well, you don't change what is outwardly. It already has a killer design and an excellent OLED screen.
Instead, you change what's inside instead. That is exactly what Dell did with the update of the XPS 15 in 2021, the CPUs of the 11th generation.
I tested the XPS 15 with a Core i7-11800H CPU and the RTX 3050 Ti, which costs a cool $ 2,400. This is not a cheap laptop. But as we'll see, with the XPS 15, you get what you pay for – a laptop that does what it has to do to hang on the crown.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
My wife, who rarely comments on the laptops I have tested, called the XPS 15 “beautiful”. That is kudos, and it is well deserved for this remarkably designed laptop. It's hard to point out simplicity, but that's exactly what Dell did. The XPS 15 does not have the extravagant gemstone-cut aesthetics of the HP Specter x360 15, for example with contrasting colors and large bevelled and angled edges.
Instead, the XPS 15 has sparkling clean lines, a silver aluminum lid and case base with a black soft-touch carbon fiber or white fiberglass keyboard deck, and double anodized chrome edges that resist scratches and pull the design together. The tiny display bezels offer a true screen-to-body ratio of 92.9% (no big chin tucked under the back of the keyboard deck), which makes the larger 16:10 screen seem to float in mid-air. In short, the XPS 15 has a uniform look that is unmatched among 15-inch laptops.
And the XPS 15 doesn't just look good. It's also rock-solid without bending, bending, or twisting in the lid, keyboard deck, or case. The machined aluminum combined with the carbon or fiberglass gives the XPS 15 a feeling of durability that you won't find in many other laptops. The Specter x360 15 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 are just as stiff, but I can't think of any other 15-inch laptop that feels this solid. Even the hinge on the XPS 15 works better than most, making the laptop easy to open with one hand and still keeping the display firmly in place. These are all traits shared with other XPS laptops like the XPS 13 and XPS 17, and it is evident that Dell has paid a lot of attention to making laptops that exude quality.
If the XPS 15 has one weakness in design, it's connectivity.
The XPS 15 is also a remarkably small laptop for such a powerful device that is narrower than the Specter x360 15 and ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3. Thanks to the larger 16:10 display, it's a little deeper than the Specter and it always is even thinner than the ThinkPad, even if you take into account the traditional 16: 9 panel of this laptop. The XPS 15 is 0.71 inches thick compared to the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 at 0.72 inches and the Specter x360 15 at 0.79 inches.
Finally, the XPS 15 with the OLED display and 86 watt-hour battery weighs 4.31 pounds, compared to the Specter at 4.23 pounds and the ThinkPad at 3.75 pounds. Overall, that makes the XPS 15 a smaller laptop that is a bit heavier and feels tighter in the hand, which isn't a bad thing with these weights – none of these laptops are particularly heavy for larger machines.
If the XPS 15 has one weakness in design, it's connectivity. You'll only find three USB-C ports, two with Thunderbolt 4 support, a full-size SD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Dell includes a USB-C to HDMI and USB-A adapter, which is a plus, but it's unfortunate to need dongles at all. However, the SD card reader will be welcome to developers compared to the microSD card readers you typically find on modern laptops. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 provide wireless connectivity through the Killer AX1650 chipset.
You can configure the XPS 15 with a range of Intel 11th Generation H-Series processors, from the Core i5-11400H to the Core i9-11900H. My test device was equipped with the Core i7-11800H, a fast 8-core CPU with 16 threads that has proven itself well in other devices, along with 16 GB of RAM (up to a whopping 64 GB can be configured) and a 512- GB PCIe solid state drive (SSD and up to 4 TB can be ordered). Two SSD slots mean you can install two 4TB SSDs for a total of 8TB of storage.
You'll also find a discrete Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU inside, which lives on the lower end of the RTX line but still beats the integrated graphics many times over. You would expect this combination to work well for demanding tasks like video editing and others that appeal to both developers and productive users.
The XPS 15 performed admirably in our benchmarks. We didn't do all of the testing with the 2020 XPS 15, but where we overlap, the new model is faster. That is to be expected. The new XPS 15 does not dominate our comparison group, but it is right at the front. It does particularly well against the XPS 17, which benefits from a larger case and even better thermal than the very well constructed XPS 15.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
If you look at the CPU-intensive benchmarks, our handbrake test, which encodes a 420 MB video in H.265 and Cinebench R23, the XPS 15 competes strongly with the XPS 17 and the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro with AMD Ryzen 7 5800H. The Ryzen chips are fast on CPU-intensive tasks, and so the XPS 15's score here is impressive. When you get to the Core i9 model, you will likely outperform the Ryzen 7. The XPS 15 also scores well in the PCMark 10 Complete Benchmark, scores in the upper range of the laptops we tested and scores particularly well in the content creation part of the test.
In the Pugetbench test, where Adobe Premiere Pro is used for several brutal tasks, the XPS 15 got a score of 507. Dell equipped the XPS 15 with its power supply to optimize the CPU for less heat and fan noise while the performance limited or running at full speed in performance mode. In all of our other tests, the utility made no difference in performance, but in Pugetbench, the performance mode raised the score to 590. That's well below the 692 on the XPS 17 (with the faster RTX 3060) but closer to the 622 on the Legion 5 Pro makes the XPS 15, which benefits from both a fast CPU and a discrete GPU that can speed up some tasks in Adobe apps, a strong performer for Adobe developers – if not the most powerful we've ever seen.
Overall, the update to the XPS 15 has increased its performance enough to be worth the effort, and it's one of the faster 15-inch laptops you'll find – especially for such a thin and light device. Of course, it flies through productivity tasks and won't slow down no matter what you throw at it. As mentioned earlier, it works for both mobile developers and productive users.
|Laptop||3DMark time spy||Cinebench R23||Underdog bench 5||Handbrake
|PCMark 10||Fourteen days
|Civilization VI (1080p Ultra)|
|Dell XPS 15 OLED 2021 (Core i7-11800H)||4540||1513/9979||1544/8299||101||6024||50 fps||73 fps|
|Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-10875H)||3860||n / A||1314/7549||122||n / A||60 fps||53 fps|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-11800H)||7039||1525/10145||1568/8801||n / A||6209||78 fps||104 fps|
|LG gram 16 (Core i7-1165G7)||1390||1394/4137||1573/5454||213||4827||13 fps||n / A|
|Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (Ryzen7 5800H)||9175||1430/11195||1460/7227||99||n / A||101 fps||114 fps|
The RTX 3050 Ti installed by Dell in the XPS 15 is limited to 45 watts, although it is technically designed for 80 watts. Hence, it's not the fastest iteration of the chip you'll find. In theory, this limits performance, especially when gaming. In our tests, however, the XPS 15 did well and achieved 4540 points in the 3DMark Time Spy test. That's a solid result for laptops with the RTX 3050 Ti.
It managed 73 frames per second (fps) in Civilization VI at 1080p and ultra graphics, beating the Acer Swift X with the same GPU and a Ryzen 7 5800U at 66 fps and the 2020 XPS 15 at 53 fps. Eventually, the XPS 15 managed 50 fps at 1200p and epic graphics in Fortnite, oddly behind the 2020 XPS 15 but within a few fps of other RTX 3050 Ti laptops. Despite the slower clocked GPU, the XPS 15 is a good entry-level gaming laptop.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Dell offers several 15.6-inch 16:10 displays for the XPS 15. You can choose between a Full HD + (1,920 x 1,200) non-touch display, a 3.5K (3,456 x 2,160) OLED touch display and a UHD + (3,840 x 2,400.) IPS touch display. The latter two support Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR) for excellent Netflix binging (though, read on). My test device was equipped with the 3.5K OLED display and it is stunning. Colors pop, black is ink, and it's bright enough to be used outside (though maybe not in direct southern California sunlight). I'm not sure why Dell went for the 3.5K resolution versus true 4K as the latter would be great for watching 4K HDR media, but the display is sharp enough for everything else you do want to use it. Subjectively, this is a great ad.
This is an excellent display that, with the performance of the XPS 15, does well for creators.
My colorimeter agreed. The colors were extensive with 99% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB and also spectacularly accurate with a DeltaE of 0.49 (1.0 or less is considered excellent). At 381, the brightness wasn't as high as some OLED displays, but that's nothing to complain about. The contrast was a gaudy 381.130: 1, which is what makes the inky black colors. Compare that to the AMOLED display on the HP Specter x360 15 and you'll find similarly wide colors and high contrast, though the Specter was a bit brighter at 405 nits and not as accurate at 1.29.
The 2020 XPS 15's 4K IPS display was just as colorful and almost as accurate at 0.65 and much brighter at 442 nits. The contrast was 1480: 1, high for an IPS display, but not as unearthly as the OLED panel on the XPS 15.
Subjectively or objectively, this is an excellent display that goes well with the performance of the XPS 15 for developers. It's also a nice display for the productivity worker who appreciates the rich colors and black text that contrasts against white backgrounds.
The sound of the XPS 15 is also impressive. Four speakers – two facing up flanking the keyboard and two facing down and to the sides – pump tons of volume without distortion. There's more bass than usual, and the mids and highs are clear and comfortable. This is the best set of Windows 10 laptop speakers I've personally tested, with only the MacBook Pro's speakers doing better. You don't have to worry about carrying headphones around unless you want your privacy – this audio system will be more than enough for your Netflix Bing and music listening needs.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard of the XPS 15 is spacious with large keycaps and light gray lettering. There's a lot of travel and a light touch that's consistent across the keyboard, though I found the punch-through action less snappy than I remembered it on the last XPS laptop I used, the XPS 13. There's a reason for this – the XPS 13 keyboard has less travel, so Dell tuned the mechanism in no time.
The XPS 15 has a comfortable feel that helps long typing sessions without fatigue, but I missed the XPS 13's precise responsiveness, but it's also faster and offers more feedback for each key press. Lots of people will love the XPS 15's keyboard, so I won't fault it, but it's not my personal favorite.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
The XPS 15's touchpad is huge by Windows 10 standards, thanks to the plentiful palm rest of the larger display and Dell's decision to fill most of it with touchable surface. It's fun to use, with soft-click buttons and a smooth glass surface that feels incredibly large. Of course, the touchpad supports Microsoft's Precision drivers, so Windows 10's multi-touch gestures are reliable and responsive. It's the best touchpad you'll find on a Windows 10 laptop (alongside the XPS 17). Additionally, the OLED display is touch sensitive, and I appreciated that as I tapped the on-screen buttons with my thumb and scrolled long web pages.
Passwordless login under Windows 10 Hello is provided by a fingerprint reader integrated into the power button and an infrared camera for facial recognition. Both worked perfectly, logging me in the minute I hit the power button if I walked that route or as soon as I woke up the laptop if I turned on face recognition.
Dell does not offer a webcam privacy option. That's a shame because the feature has become standard on premium laptops.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Dell has reduced the maximum battery capacity on the new XPS 15 design from 97 watt hours to 86 watt hours, but the usable battery life has even improved in some areas. In our web browser test, the XPS 15 lasted over nine hours, while the 2020 XPS 15 only lasted seven hours in this test and was equipped with a 4K IPS display. With its 4K OLED display and 82 watt-hour battery, the Specter x360 15 only manages six hours. Yes, the display on the XPS 15 isn't quite 4K, but it's close enough that we shouldn't expect 50% more battery life. In the video test, which repeats a local Full HD Avengers trailer, the XPS 15 reached 11.15 hours. Many laptops exceed 14 hours on this test, but they don't have energy-hungry high-resolution OLED displays. And the 2020 XPS 15 managed just seven hours in the test, which means that the results of the new version are significantly better in comparison.
I also tested the PCMark 10 Applications Battery Benchmark, the best test for typical productivity battery life. The XPS 15 only survived this test for eight hours, less than what I expected given the results when surfing the Internet. We didn't test the 2020 XPS 15 with the benchmark and the Specter x360 15 got 6.5 hours. We don't have many other relevant comparisons, so 15-inch laptops with H-series CPUs and OLED displays, but to get an idea of what's possible, the LG Gram 16 with a Core i7-1165G7 and WQXGA (2560 x 1,600) IPS display lasted a spectacular 17.8 hours in the test. In the PCMark 10 gaming battery test, which drives the CPU and GPU, the XPS 15 managed around 1.5 hours. This is typical of the more powerful laptops that we tested and showed that the XPS 15 kept up speed on battery power.
Overall, these results are pretty good for a machine the size of the XPS 15. It is quite possible to last a whole working day on a single charge, which I did not expect. Obviously, you'll need to have your charger handy whenever you're doing something intense, but for general productivity work, the XPS 15 is a surprisingly durable laptop.
The Dell XPS 15 is the best 15-inch notebook you can buy. In addition, it is one of the best laptops available today. It's beautiful, has a sense of quality the moment you touch it, and works extremely well. You will probably love the keyboard, you will definitely love the touchpad, and the 3.5K OLED display is great.
You could complain about the price, but that would be silly. Yes, the XPS 15 is expensive, but Dell obviously put a lot of engineering into making this luxurious, high-performance laptop – and it's well worth the money.
Are there alternatives?
In all fairness, there aren't many 15-inch laptops that I would recommend as serious alternatives. The HP Specter x360 15 performs well and has its own gorgeous OLED display if you want the flexibility of a 2-in-1 convertible, and it's less expensive. So there is a possibility.
You could step up to the XPS 17 and get even better performance, the same build quality, and a display that – while not an OLED – offers great colors, brightness, and contrast. It's expensive too, so keep that in mind when choosing.
If you really want to save money, you can also get the HP Envy 15. It is also fast and offers an even faster GPU and an AMOLED display that is just as good as the OLED version from Dell.
How long it will take?
Forever. No, seriously, the XPS 15 will last you for as long as you want to use it, with a build that can withstand abuse and a configuration that will keep Windows 10 buzzing for years. If the configured 16 GB in our test device is not enough for you, you can upgrade the RAM to 64 GB and add a second SSD to expand the memory.
The one-year warranty is disappointing for such an expensive notebook, but it still offers on-site service.
Should you buy it?
Yes sir. If you're looking for a 15-inch laptop that's as beautiful as it is powerful, you've come to the right place.