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Innovation in Laptop Tech Isn't Dead - - - It was Just Sleeping

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Category: Hardware Published on Friday, 27 May 2016

In front of me sit two new laptops, which, at first blush, look just like any other toteable computer on the shelf. In fact, we probably wouldn't give them a second glance when strolling down the aisles at our local computer or electronics store. But, upon closer examination, both of these offerings from Dell and Vaio boast features that should put them on a pedestal high above the competition.

The Dell XPS 15 ($999 to $2,479.99) and Vaio Z ($1,799 to $2,399) have hit the market with speed, graphics and compatibility features that make them worth the higher price tags. Both also feature Intel's sixth generation Skylake processors, which allow them to deliver on promises of greater performance and longer battery life. On the downside, both continue the trend of not including an optical (CD/DVD) drive.

 

The XPS 15 we played with had an i7 Intel processor, a touch screen and the ability to handle 4K graphics (3840x2160). These features, alone, should justify the high price ($2,299.99), but they're only the tip of the iceberg. Of course everything can be tweaked (i3 processor, less RAM and non-touch display, etc.) to bring the cost down to the $999 base price.

Dell claims the XPS 15 can run for up to 17 hours without recharging the battery. The best we were able to get was about 15 hours of computing before needing to find the nearest electrical outlet.

The bezel surrounding the 15-inch touchscreen in one of the thinnest we've seen in a laptop and we were impressed by the look and feel of its machine aluminum case.

Of course the greatest reason for spending the extra bucks is raw processing power to handle graphics and other computing tasks. Truthfully, this is the first laptop we tested that can successfully compete with high-powered desktops. This is due to its ability to harness the power of the new Intel Skylake processor. This is welcome news for those of us that spend the day tweaking photos and playing games.

Other key features include:

  • A Thunderbolt 3 multi-use port that allows you to charge your battery while you're connected to two 4K displays. It also transfers data to external drives at up to eight times faster than USB 3.0 ports
  • An SD card reader
  • Two USB 3.0 ports with PowerShare
  • An HDMI port
  • A widescreen 720p webcam
  • Weighs 3.9 to 4.4 pounds depending on battery size and touch/non-touch display
  • Up to 32 GB of RAM
  • Up to a 1 TB SSD
  • A full-size, backlit keyboard
  • A seamless glass touchpad
  • WiFi and Bluetooth

We can't really compare the processing power of the Vaio Z to the XPS 15, because the Vaio didn't offer the graphics capabilities of the Dell laptop. But, that said, the Vaio offered a few unique features that make it stand out from the competition.

There are many laptops on the market that can double as tablets by disconnecting from their keyboards or folding back 360 degrees, resting on the back of the keyboards. The Vaio Z has upped the ante on both of these options.

One of the first things you notice on the Vaio Z is a button under the video display. A simple push unlocks the display, letting you fold it down over the keyboard without detaching it. Also, by covering the keyboard, it eliminates the possibility of you errantly hitting keys when its in tablet mode.

One of the major complaints we always hear about laptops is the sensitivity of the keyboard touchpads, especially when it comes to accidentally hitting it with the palms of our hands. The Vaio Z is able to distinguish the difference between a palm swipe and fingers, almost eliminating one of the main causes for errant typing.

Weighing in at 2.5 pounds, this is also one of the lightest laptops we've tested. According to the folks at Vaio, this is due to a combination of aluminum and carbon in its chassis.

Another feature we have yet to see in other laptops is built-in document scanning. The Vaio Z uses its 8 megapixel camera and CamScanner software to digitized documents.

When running day-to-day tasks, we found little difference between the XPS 15 and Vaio Z. Both offer the same i7 Skylake processing power. But we have to concede that the XPS15 is a better option for habitual gamers.

Other features include:

  • 16 gigabytes of RAM
  • A 512 gigabyte solid state drive
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (one can double as a charging port)
  • An HDMI port
  • A headphone and microphone port
  • Wireless LAN and Bluetooth
  • An SD card slot
  • Front (1 megapixel) and rear (8 megapixels) webcams
  • A backlit keyboard with smudge proof keys
  • Up to 11.5 hours of battery life

 

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