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A Real World Look at the Dell XPS 9500

It's finally here, the Dell XPS 15 9500! I'm not going to lie, this wasn't an easy review. I've been using Dell products for few years now and have always been really happy with them. As a full time photographer, I generally travel a fair bit. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to use previous iterations of the both the XPS 15 and the  XPS 15 2-in-1. Between their specs and reliability it they became an irreplaceable tool in my kit. 

Over time all gear changes in one way or another. Camera technology changes, processing techniques evolve, CPU's and video cards become more powerful and so on. I've always loved sharing insight in to the gear I use and my process of using it.

As we all know, this year has been a bit different. With the vast majority of my travels on hold (pretty much everything beyond careful local travel), it's given me time to develop a new approach to the digital darkroom. 
If you've been following along, you may have seen my first outing with my new Dell XPS 15 9500 at Trona Pinnacles and while chasing Comet NEOWISESo, while I was first worried that I wouldn't have all my normal on the go experiences to talk about, I think how I have been using it has proven to be even more valuable.

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New Year, New Look

Infinity Edge Updates

The 2020 version of the Dell XPS 15 (designated with the 9500 series number) has received some important updates to not just it's components, but has also the chassis. 
One of the most notable changes that I'm excited about came to the already impressive screen and bezel. The XPS line features what Dell calls an infinity edge display. Essentially, it's a very thin rim around the area of the screen. In previous builds, the bottom of the screen had a slightly larger area and was home to the webcam. The previous webcam placement wasn't ideal, but I was more than okay with the trade-off to keep the upper portion of the bezel thin.

The webcam is now placed on the top of the screen without compromising the size of the bezel. This also allows for the area at the bottom of the display, just above the keyboard, to be thinner as well. 

This update brings the usable area to a 16x10 ratio instead of the previous 16x9. This means more vertical space and resolution. We'll talk a little bit more about the quality of the display below, but aesthetically speaking it doesn't get better than this. 

Touchpad & Keyboard Updates

Upon opening the laptop, one of the first things you're likely to notice is the new size of the touchpad. It is considerably larger than previous years. I've become so accustom to doing all sorts of video and photo edits on a laptop that this was a very welcome change.

Even during my use at a desk, I've found myself opting out of using a mouse and being totally okay with using just the touchpad. The updated keyboard is backlit and feels great. The keys are responsive and allow for typing without any real adjustments from a full size keyboard. The power button doubles as a finger print reader and has been both quick and accurate throughout my usage.

A change that I noticed was the sizing of the arrow keys. The left and right arrow now occupy the space that the Page Up and Page Down buttons previously existed. Pg Up/Pg Down are secondary functions on the Up and Down arrow keys. I doubt this will be a negative for anyone coming from a previous generation XPS or from an entirely different line.

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Speakers On Top

The space next to the keyboard is now filled by two speakers that have been moved from the bottom of the laptop. The placement certainly improves the sound quality and is very welcome. I've heard some people complain about sound quality at higher volumes, but I haven't run in to this at all. I don't play music, watch movies or play games at a high volume and have always deferred to a good pair of headphones if I was worried about my listening experience. - Just a quick update here. As I was writing this, my headphones have died. So, I'm listening to music through the speakers and am quiet happy with how it sounds. That said, if anyone has any headphone recommendations, please send them over!              

Comet NEOWISE edits done my Dell XPS 15 9500

Creating with the Creators Edition

Looking at computer build outs can either be really fun or really frustrating and confusing. I love diving in to the tech side of things, but I totally get that's not for everyone.

One really cool thing Dell did this year was introduction of the Creator Editions. Depending on the software you're using and the type of work you're doing, different components are utilized. Sometimes an application can be more processor intensive, or it can rely heavily on RAM or your video card. It's a lot to keep track of even if that's your thing.

So, if you're browsing the site and not super well versed in tech specs or just don't have the time to dive in to those details, that's where the Creators Edition comes in. If you're looking for something that can handle the heavy lifting of the Adobe products, and alike, with ease, think of that badge as a "this can handle it" indicator. It's worth mention that there is no physical indicator on the machine, which in my opinion would certainly take away from the beautiful design.

Let's take a look at how mine is built out:

64GB DDR4-2933MHz RAM

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6

1 TB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive

10 Gen Intel i7-10875H Processor

15.6" 4K 3840x2400

16:10 Infinity Edge Display

This is a very capable laptop that rivals many desktop builds. Despite having a workstation in my office, I've actually found myself doing most of my editing on the new  XPS 15 and it has handled it all impressively well. The two photos above show a MASSIVE panoramic that I was stitching together in Adobe Photoshop. I opened 40 full resolution 42 megapixel files at the same time. I would not have been at all surprised if this crashed Photoshop, but it handled it quite well! Just a small example of the type of power this laptop is pushing.
I mentioned it earlier, but I was able to edit and entire video from start to finish on a single battery charge. That's a whole lot of processing to get done. You can check out the video and read about the behind-the-scenes of my Trona Pinnacles adventure here.

Noteworthy Specs

There are a TON of really cool features that continue to evolve in the XPS line. I'll highlight some of my favorites and ones that I feel like have an impact on my day to day. 

Full Size SD Reader - YES! Thank you to Dell for listening to all the feedback on this one. I never really minded having an adapter, but I also really like not having one : ) The full size SD card reader has returned to make imports quick and easy.

Thunderbolt 3 Ports - With multiple Thunderbolt 3 ports you can pretty much hook up whatever you need without sacrificing speed. (I realized that was very close to rhyming as I was typing it and honestly couldn't decide if I should lean in to it or try to add a few more words in). External monitors, storage, you name it, all possible through the TB3 ports.

Instant On - There's a built-in sensor that helps start things up as soon as the lid is opened up. Sometimes it's the small things that are appreciated and this is definitely one of them. 

USB C Charging - This isn't new to this mode, BUT, it's 100% worth bringing up. You can actually power your laptop by plugging in on either side. So, if you change locations and the power outlet is on the opposite side, simply plug the cable in to whichever side of your laptop is most convenient. Absolutely love this feature!

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Size and Dimensions

This stuff is all good to know, but I don't really have a whole ton to add here. These specs are right from the Dell site.

1. Height: 0.71" (18 mm) | 2. Width: 13.57" (344.72 mm) | 3. Depth: 9.06" (230.14 mm) | 4. Starting Weight*: 4 lbs. (1.83 kg) for non-touch with 56Whr battery; 4.5 lbs. (2.05 kg) for touch with 86Whr battery

"If you value your work and your results, this will be a top priority to you."

A Display for Photographers and Creatives 

While visually stunning, the Infinity Edge display brings much more than just good looks to the table. It is also incredibly accurate when it comes to reproducing colors. This can so commonly overlooked when it comes to content creators. Endless amount of time is spent on shooting and editing work so that it looks a very specific way. Files are exported and have what's called a color profile embedded in them. This lets the viewers browser or app know how it should be displayed. So, all that work spent dialing in the colors of the aurora or the Milky Way, actually look how you want.

The UHD display of the 9500 will produce 100% Adobe RGB and 94% DCI-P3 color gamut. Without the ability to display these color ranges, you're limiting your work and giving up control of the results. If you value your work and your results, this will be a top priority to you. It's as simple as that.


Battery Life in the Wild

Powerful specs and higher resolution display generally mean higher battery usage. Dell lists the battery at 13 hours of productivity apps or around 8 hours of Netflix. I don't ever expect the type of work that I do on a laptop to hit those types of hours. Photo and video editing is all pretty hardware intensive and tends to draw more power from the battery. That said, my experience with the battery has been pretty impressive so far. I have an entire post dedicated to what I was able to do on a single battery charge while on an overnight at Trona Pinnacles.

In short, I was able to edit and import over 100 gigabytes of photos and video. Edit

If not for my short overnight trip to video and photograph at Trona Pinnacles, I may not have much to add in terms of battery. I've been typically bouncing around between working at my desk where I'm plugged in or for shorter periods somewhere else in the house. 

Mobile Connect

While this isn't new or exclusive to the new XPS 15, it's something I really want to mention. Mobile Connect is a piece of software from Dell that I truly believe anyone with a Dell laptop should be using. Especially now with so many more people working from home, it is an absolute need.

I don't think there's a single person that can claim, "I'm not distracted by my phone"

We're all aware of it and we just deal with it. It's one thing to answer a message, it's another to just aimlessly spend time scrolling, tapping, and just wasting countless minutes. It's even worse when you have a screen time feature enabled. No one wants to see that number!

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So, you simply sync your photo with Mobile Connect and it gathers all your messages & notifications. Well, it doesn't just gather them, it also lets you reply to them. If you're like me and you've unfortunately enabled some of the Google Chrome notifications, you might initially be nervous. I promise you this is so much better and so much more. 

You can mirror your phone screen, sync your photos and files (yes, even if you have an iPhone)

I love being able to leave my phone plugged in somewhere else, but still get messages when I need them.  But what about phone calls? You can make and answer those through the app as well. Seriously, if you have or if you will be getting a Dell, try out Mobile Connect.

Noteworthy Notes and Considerations

More XPS 15 9500 Config Options

From the time that I started working with my Dell XPS 15 9500, there have been a few additional configuration options and even the release of the long awaited XPS 17.

For the XPS 15 line, the 10th gen i9 processor is now available. With any component upgrade, there is an increased cost, but there should be about a 20% increase in CPU performance. 

XPS 17 9700

The XPS 17 line brings a whole other list of considerations. In addition to the larger screen, you'll have unlock more powerful configuration options. So, if you're doing some heavy editing or hope to do a bit of gaming, this might be a good option to consider. 

I don't have any first hand experience with either of the above mentioned, but am sure they would be worthy choices.

Final Thoughts

These types of reviews are pretty easy to do when there's so much awesome stuff to talk about. Well, maybe they're not super easy. I probably took the most time trying to decide which features and functions I wanted to make sure I highlighted.

It's been a few years since I switched to Dell from using a Mac and I don't see that ever changing back. The XPS line has been crushing it in terms of design and quality and this latest edition is continuing that trend. I've hearing from so many people after they've decided to pick up an XPS of their own and how excited and happy they are with their decision.

I'm looking forward to all sorts of edits and behind the scenes from my new XPS. Be sure to follow along over on Instagram and Facebook!                             

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