Dell XPS 14z Notebook Review

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Design and Build Quality

Taking a critical look at the XPS 14z's design and build quality is an interesting task. On one hand, it's easy to point out that this is one of the most sleek, beautiful and rigid ultraportables that we've come across in quite some time. But on the other, there isn't much to say here that wasn't already said in our review of the larger XPS 15z. But we'll try.

At under an inch think, you'll be hard-pressed to get much thinner without rolling into Ultrabook territory, and once there, you'll certainly not find the kind of oomph under the hood that you'll find in the XPS 14z. The overall shape and design is pretty much spot-on compared to the 15z. This machine is built on metal chassis with a backlit, chiclet-style keyboard, an oversized trackpad and an LCD hinge that's slightly recessed into the back of the body. All told, it's about as sleek as a PC notebook gets and competes with Apple design quality and style. The LCD hinge design won't allow the screen to lay completely flat, but it'll recline far enough to be visible from an upright viewing angle.

It should also be made clear that yes, this notebook looks a bit like a couple of other notebooks, namely, the MacBook / MacBook Pro line, and HP's Envy 14. All three are primarily metallic and minimalistic in their design cues. None of them have battery bulges. And all three have trackpads that are actually comfortable to use. But Dell does a decent job of taking a that design and making it their own. The speaker grills that flank the left and right sides of the keyboard are both unique and eye-pleasing, and the backlit keyboard is actually more beautiful we feel, than Apple's counterpart. Typing on these keys is a total joy; there's no noticeable keyboard flex, no texture on the curved keys and a perfect amount of key travel. We had to make no adjustments whatsoever typing on this keyboard coming from that of a 15" mainstream notebook.

The trackpad deserves a section of its own. At 2" x 4", it's huge in comparison to trackpads found on most 15" machines, let alone 13" and 14" machines. The segmented left / right click buttons posses a good amount of travel, with a soft, recessed "thud" after each key press. Those brittle, hard, impossible-to-love keys on Asus machines? These are the polar opposites. Better still, the trackpad surface area is multi-gesture capable, so two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom is enabled by default. We will say, however, that using these to more easily move about documents and Web pages didn't quite live up to Apple's MacBook implementation. We've still yet to find a PC trackpad that matches or beats Apple's line of trackpads, but this one comes close.

LG's Shuriken display definitely brings the bezel one step closer to complete obsolescence, but it's not quite good enough. There's still too much excess space below and above the top and bottom rows of pixels. 

We'd also be remiss of our duties if we didn't point out that the battery is non-removable. It's an 8-cell whopper, yes, but unlike the XPS 15z, you can't buy a spare here. This is becoming the norm in mobile computing; we aren't entirely sure we're onboard with the trend, but the general response is that the sealed battery can be made larger and provide longer life. So, if that's the case here, we'll let it slide. What we can't let slide, however, are the completely obnoxious trio of palm rest stickers. Dell clearly spent a great deal of effort polishing this machine, but when you open the lid, you're rudely greeted by a Windows 7 sticker, a Core i5 plaque (yes, it's large enough to deserve that label) and an Energy Star sticker.

Let's think about this for a minute. It's a Dell. Of course it's running Windows. Do we really need a sticker to remind us of that? So, there's a Core i5 within. I'm guessing you would've known that given that you ordered it from Dell with such a CPU within. Again, why remind the user? And seriously, Energy Star? Is this some sort of sick joke? Why don't we throw in an RoHS certification sticker and a participation prize from third-grade gym class while we're at it? We're being harsh on the stickers, but it's for good reason. No PC company will ever rival Apple completely until they muster the courage to tell Microsoft, Intel and Energy Star (among other entities) that they aren't going to mar an otherwise solid chassis with hurl-worthy stickers. Perhaps that's a bit overboard.  You certainly can remove the stickers and clean things up for yourself but one of these days the maybe our gripe won't fall on deaf ears.

Beyond that, we also think Dell took things a step too far with the chrome accents. You'll find slightly gaudy chrome trim adorning the trackpad and borders. The matte metal is beautiful; no need to chintz things up with strips of chrome. We will say, however, that we greatly appreciate the thought that went into port arrangement. Far too few notebooks place ports on the rear, but for anyone using a notebook as a desktop replacement, they know that having 'em there makes it easier to hide the cables, as they run from the rear and presumably behind the desk that you're working on.

Dell throws in a slot-loading DVD writer (nice touch), while the left side sports an SD card slot, headphone jack, 3.5mm audio input port, and a heat exhaust vent. The rest of the ports? Those are around back. There's an Ethernet jack, HDMI port, mini-DisplayPort, two USB ports (one USB 2.0; one USB 3.0), an AC input port and a Kensington lock slot. Overall, the XPS 14z's frame is rigid and well-polished, and the 4.36lbs. honestly felt much lighter carrying it around.

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