Dell XPS 15 (9500) review: A near-perfect relaunch of the iconic powerhouse laptop

The all-new XPS 15 for 2020 brings many changes, while also remaining the same. But will one flaw ruin it all?

Dell Xps 15 9500 Review Hero
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Windows Central Recommended Award

I have a special connection to the XPS 15, as it was my first serious laptop purchase. I bought it in late 2013 right before my flight to Abu Dhabi to cover one of the last Nokia World events.

It was too big to use on the flight.

That problem is mostly gone away now with the new XPS 15 (9500), which is effectively the size of a 14-inch laptop now due to the incredibly thin display bezels. It is also dense due to it being packed to the gills with battery. It replaces last year's XPS 15 (7590), although that model is still available at discounted prices.

Despite some early quality control issues, Dell is continuing its winning streak with premium laptops. The company understands where the consumer market is going and delivering all the right improvements. They just need to be careful with that trackpad.

Since its release in June, the XPS 15 pricing has held steady with pricing dipping by $50 to $1,200 for the entry-level model. The current model with 10th Gen Intel is not being updated anytime soon as there are no newer processors or NVIDIA GPUs for it making the XPS 15 (7590) a safe bet for the next year. There could be some significant savings through Amazon Prime Day for all configurations. There are many models of this laptop, so make sure to pay attention to the choice of processor, display, and graphics to meet your needs.

all new, but similar

Dell XPS 15 (9500) design and specs

Dell Xps 15 9500 Review Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The XPS 15 (9500) is a premium, workstation laptop with a powerful 45-watt Intel 10th Gen processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650Ti (Max-Q) for graphics. While those sounds like gaming laptop specs make no mistake, this is aimed at creatives, video and photo editors, multimedia whizzes, and engineers who need serious discrete localized processing.

For this review we're using a model configured with a Core i7-10875H (eight-cores), NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650Ti, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and 512GB of storage, which is $2,254 (opens in new tab).

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CategoryDell XPS 15
Operating systemWidows 10 Home
Windows 10 Pro
Display15.6-inch 4K UHD+ (3840 x 2400) touch
15.6-inch FHD+ (1920 x 1200)
Processor10th Gen Intel Core i5-10300H
10th Gen Intel Core i7-10750H
10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H
10th Gen Intel Core i9-10885H
GraphicsIntel UHD graphics
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
Memory8GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
16GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
32GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
64GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
StorageUp to 2TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
Ports2x Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery & DisplayPort
1x USB-C 3.1 with power delivery & DisplayPort
1 Full size SD card reader v6.0
3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack
Wedge-shaped lock slot
AudioQuad-speaker design
Dual microphone array
WirelessKiller Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2)
Bluetooth 5
Camera720p with Windows Hello
DimensionsHeight: 18mm (0.71") x Width: 344.72mm (13.57") x Depth: 230.14mm (9.06")
Weight4 lbs. (1.83 kg) for non-touch with 56Whr battery
4.5 lbs. (2.05 kg) for touch with 86Whr battery
AvailableNow (Core i9 later this summer)
PriceStarting at $1,200 (opens in new tab)

What makes this XPS 15 (9500) interesting is it is the first complete redesign in five years. Dell takes its time figuring out an overall chassis and adds minor iterations for years. That strategy has worked well as the XPS line is widely considered one of the best for Windows PCs.

This year's changes mostly focus on the display, which is now 16:10 instead of 16:9, along with those razor-thin Infinity Edge bezels, on all four sides. This display choice mirrors the recently revamped XPS 13 2-in-1 (7390) and XPS 13 (9300), both of which won critical rave reviews from us.

Build quality is excellent. While the new XPS 15 is not any more substantial than last year's model, which had a larger footprint, it weighs nearly the same at 4.5 lbs. (2.05 kg). That's not light, and the first time you grab the XPS 15 (9500), you'll be surprised at how dense it is compared to its size.

But Dell also did many smaller changes, all of which are improvements over last year's model, including:

  • 8 percent thinner
  • Keyboard keycaps that are 9.7 percent larger
  • The trackpad is 62 percent larger
  • Quad speakers: two top-firing, two underneath
  • The soft-touch finish is more resistant to fingerprints
  • New fingerprint reader
  • Shift from 4K OLED (Samsung) to 4K Sharp IGZO

All these features, at least on paper, add up to dramatically change the overall experience. But Dell is also stressing that this XPS 15 will feel familiar, which it does. Between the CNC machined aluminum chassis with carbon fiber inlays, this does not feel like a whole new laptop, which is a good thing for fans of the XPS line.

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Dell has finally dropped the Type-A and full HDMI ports from last year's model, a letdown for some, but rewards others with thinner chassis design. There are now three Type-C ports, with two supporting Thunderbolt 3 (4x) and the other 3.1 with Power Delivery. To make up for the missing ports, Dell tosses in a nice Type-C dongle with both a full HDMI and Type-A connector. Dell is also keeping the full SD card reader, which is popular for video and photo editors.

Simply the best

Dell XPS 15 (9500) display

Dell Xps 15 9500 Review Screen

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The XPS 15 (9500) display is configurable with either a 15.6-inch UHD+ (3840 x 2400) touch anti-reflective or FHD+ (1920 x 1200) non-touch anti-glare. Both are rated for 500 nits of brightness, which is above average, and both are Sharp IGZO (instead of OLED used last year for the 4K model). They are also VESA certified DisplayHDR 400 (better contrast), making it ideal for watching movies.

Dell claims a 100 percent Adobe RGB and 94 percent DCI P3 color gamut on the UHD+ variant for color accuracy. However, in my tests using Datacolor's SpyderX Pro, my review unit fell short of that with 80 percent Adobe RGB and 76 percent DCI-P3.

However, Dell's claim of brightness is validated with a peak of 513 nits when setting to 100 percent. Dropping the display to zero percent results in a dim 37 nits letting people work in very dark rooms without casting too much residual light.

XPS 15 (9500) is very likely the best 15-inch non-convertible laptop of 2020 for most creatives.

There is no pen support with the XPS 15's touch display, which makes sense on this PC style.

Dell also deserves continued praise for making its traditionally glossy UHD+ displays 0.65 percent anti-reflective (AR). AR-treated products are standard in high-end watches and even eyeglasses as they significantly reduce light reflection without negatively affecting color, contrast, or brightness. That makes staring at the screen for hours much more comfortable, something only augmented by "Eyesafe," which helps reduce blue light exposure. (AR should not be confused with anti-glare or matte, which is the option available as the full HD model.)

Another small but noticeable improvement is with the "twin-coil press-fit hinge," which allows you to open the display with one hand. That trick is difficult when you have a thicker and heavier touch display, but Dell pulled it off.

But what makes the XPS 15's display so amazing is the overall experience. The super-thin bezels are now even more pleasing due to the afforded symmetry on all sides (vs. the previous version's disproportional chin). Those bezels result in a record-setting 92.9 percent screen-to-body-ratio. Compared to the original XPS 15 with a 16:9 display aspect, the new 9500 provides a 5 percent larger screen, but a 5.6 percent smaller footprint.

Just one concern

Dell XPS 15 (9500) keyboard, camera, and trackpad

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The XPS 15's old keyboard was OK, but never my favorite. But it's clear Dell is refocusing on the matter with the new 9500, which is a complete revamp. While it looks very familiar (a common theme with the 9500), it is significantly better than previous models.

The keycaps are now 9.7 percent larger, which makes a massive difference in typing. Key travel is still particularly good at around 1.3mm. Dell uses its traditional keyboard technology here and not the more controversial gen 2 Maglev keyboard.

There is little flex with the keyboard deck, and there is ample two-stage backlighting that has excellent contrast with the dark keys.

Typically, web cameras on laptops are not a significant focus, but in 2020 there has been a renewed focus and priority for video conferencing. The good news is Dell still has its camera on the top bezel (flanked by dual infrared cameras for face recognition), so the image looks normal. Windows Hello is extremely fast on this machine, making logins a breeze (you can also use the excellent fingerprint reader built into the power button).

The bad news is that those radically thin bezels force a web camera of the micro variety resulting in not-so-great image quality. It gets the job done, and for most people, it'll be OK, but it's miles behind what Microsoft offers on the Surface line.

The big controversy with the new XPS 15 is the trackpad – it's 62 percent bigger than last year's model. It's massive and by far the largest on any Windows PC. But unlike Apple's smart Force Touch trackpad, which has no moving parts, Dell's is a more traditional mechanical trackpad that clicks.