Dell Studio XPS 16 Review

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User Experience

Unlike Dell's Studio XPS 13, which we pretty much liked from top to bottom, the Studio XPS 16 gave us some pause. For starters, we loved the brightness and crispness of the Full HD display, but you should definitely take a look at what 1920x1080 pixels look like on a 16" panel before buying. If you have a tendency to squint, you won't enjoy the experience here. You'll need sharp peepers in order to enjoy the high-resolution display on a 16" screen, and for us, the screen felt a bit small for so many pixels. Also, the glossy panel was extremely glossy. Almost annoyingly so, really. Even in little to no light, you could easily make out reflections of your surroundings, and the screen is absolutely unusable outside due to the extreme glare present. And that's a shame considering how sharp this thing is.

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If you're looking for some positives, there are plenty of those. The keyboard was an absolute joy to type on, and it's definitely one of the best keyboards on any notebook we've ever used. The trackpad had a great texture to it, though we do wish it were centered with the display (and not the space bar, as it stands) and that it were larger. There's plenty of palm rest space to expand it, but for whatever reason, Dell choose to slide a relatively small trackpad onto a large machine. The trackpad buttons were fantastic, with the texture and travel being perfect in our eyes. Also of note, the backlighting in the trackpad buttons and underneath the keys was excellent; it was plenty bright to enable us to compute in complete darkness, yet it wasn't so bright as to cause us to be distracted. Definitely added a "wow" factor.

We did find ourselves wishing for an extra USB port or two, but overall, the port selection was satisfactory. Blu-ray playback was predictably good; after all, a 1080p movie looks best on a 1080p display, and given that Dell has equipped this rig with a 1080p screen and discreet GPU, it's a match made in heaven for film fanatics.

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As beautiful as this machine is, there were two glaring issues that we couldn't get over. First off, this machine gets as hot as any 16" machine we've ever seen. Even when handling just basic tasks (downloading games over Steam, running a few benchmarks and browsing the web), the Studio XPS 16 got extremely warm to the touch. And this was on a flat, open desk with plenty of air space for ventilation. If you dare place this thing on your lap, on a pillow or on a bed cover, watch out--you just might end up with third-degree burns. To be fair, the Studio XPS 13 got toasty as well, but the XPS 16 really pushes it up a notch. We'd recommend some sort of laptop cooler or riser for users of this machine, else you could end up in an uncomfortable situation shortly after bootup. Interestingly, fan noise was almost nonexistent. It's like Dell made this machine to be quiet, yet forgot that doing so would allow loads of heat to build up.

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Also curious was the choice of CPU here. We know that faster processors are offered on this machine as options if you feel like spending north of $1700, but the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo P8600 that was included in our configuration seemed to struggle at times. If you'll recall, the Studio XPS 13 that we tested a full four months ago had this same piece of silicon; we know four months isn't an enternity or anything, but it still feels like Dell could've included a bit more horsepower for a machine tailored for gamers. Bootup was shockingly sluggish also, though we're blaming that on the bloatware present as well as the fact that Vista was the OS and potentially the hard drive itself. We have all ideas that the machine will feel quicker with Windows 7 loaded (that's been the case with every machine we've tested so far), but given that Dell isn't shipping this machine--or any machine--with Win7 just yet, we have to base our evaluation on what the consumer would get should it buy this machine today.

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Don't get us wrong--the machine was pretty quick at multitasking and handling everyday tasks, but not $1750 quick. For that kind of dough, we expect quicker responses from pretty much every application, particularly simple ones such as Firefox. We honestly think it's somewhat unfortunate that this rig shipped just a few months prior to the introduction of Windows 7, as we suspect it would feel an awful lot snappier with Microsoft's forthcoming OS. As it stands, the chugged along when loading up Vista, and for $1750, we simply expected more performance. Oddly enough, the XPS 16 scored the exact same overall rating as the XPS 13, but things simply didn't "feel" as quick in real-world use. We find out why a bit later...

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