Jack Wallen takes a look at the DELL XPS Developer Edition and concludes this might be, with one exception, the finest laptop available.
Ah, the DELL XPS Developer Edition Laptop. It's a piece of hardware that you cannot possibly appreciate until you've actually used it. So when DELL reached out to me about the next iteration of the Ubuntu edition, I couldn't resist saying "yes." After a few short days, the package arrived, and I unboxed the laptop, assuming angels would sing a few bars of GF Handel as the hardware slipped free from its cardboard sleeve.
That didn't occur.
Worse things have happened with an unboxing.
With the laptop out of its packaging, I was actually surprised to be slightly disappointed in the design. I've grown accustomed to the all-metal body of the Chromebook Pixel and MacBook Pro. Although the XPS clearly has a metal top lid and base, there's something decidedly not metal looking between the lid and base. However, the second I opened the lid, all disappointment sloughed away. Between those two layers of metal exists a special kind of magic.
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Oh, the carbon fiber
The top of the case (wrist rests and keyboard edges) is made of a rubberized carbon fiber that is not only glorious to behold but incredible to use (Figure A).
And not only does the surface feel great to work with, but you also make zero fingerprints and smudges. For those who care about the look of their hardware, that addition to detail will raise a lot of eyebrows. In fact, I would say of all the laptops I've ever used, that rubbery, carbon fiber surface makes the XPS the most comfortable laptop I've ever worked with.
Once you get beyond the surface feel, the next feature to blow you away is the display. The 13.3'' FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display is gorgeous. The bezel on this thing is a slight 1/8th of an inch thick, so it practically disappears while using the device. And the colors are crisp and amazingly clear. Don't expect Retina Display levels of clarity, but the XPS is probably the closest you'll find to the Apple gold standard.
Dell nailed the keyboard, too. Plain and simple. With the disaster that has become the MacBook Pro butterfly keys and the demise of the Chromebook Pixel, the world has eagerly waited for a new de facto standard keyboard, and the XPS Developer Edition might be just that. Anyone that spends more than the average amount of time hammering away at the keyboard, will find the keys a delight. But the XPS keys aren't just about function, they feel solid —like they could last for years, all the while shrugging off dirt and debris and mocking the Apple Butterfly Keys.
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While the XPS Developer Edition trackpad is no MacBook Pro trackpad, it does a great job of retaining a slick feeling and being just the right size for the device. The trackpad is both tappable and clickable, so it should cover just about any type of user.
The XPS Developer Edition includes 52WHr battery that should serve anyone on the go. You'll get far more usage from a single charge than you do on a MacBook Pro but not nearly the amount of usage from a Chromebook. If you're working for longer than eight hours at a time, chances are you're not running on battery power anyway.
A laptop is only as good as the platform it runs on. The edition I was sent (as you might expect) was powered by Ubuntu 18.04 of, which I am a big fan. On the XPS Developer Edition, Ubuntu boots quickly and works like a champ. Apps open swiftly, and everything runs with a level of stability you won't find in the other offered platform. And considering you're probably developing with Linux or open source in mind, the Ubuntu version of the XPS is the ideal platform.
It's also one of the reasons why you might find yourself slightly frustrated. The Dell XPS Developer Edition perfectly illustrates one of the biggest problems Linux has in the laptop space. The trackpad. Out of the box, the trackpad works fine. But with a piece of hardware as outstanding as the XPS, the trackpad should work more than just fine, it should be brilliant. This level of hardware deserves gesture support out of the box, with a finely tuned experience that serves the user perfectly. Unfortunately, Linux isn't capable of delivering that level of experience out of the box.
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In fact, in order to use a trackpad that can compete with modern standards, one must turn to third-party (and often command-line only) solutions. One way to do that is by installing Fusuma. However, even that tool isn't ideal (nor is it a straightforward installation). This is one area that Linux developers should seriously consider giving more attention to. I've yet to experience a trackpad on the Linux platform that even remotely comes close to that of the MacBook Pro or the Chromebook. Modern users have grown accustomed to multitouch gestures and trackpads that are responsive and foolproof. Without such an experience, the platform loses a bit of its usability.
The saving grace here is that most developers tend to use a trackpad (or mouse) less than the average user, so having a less-than-stellar experience with this piece of the puzzle won't detract too much from the overall joy of using the XPS Developer Edition laptop.
The DELL XPS Developer Edition laptop provided one of the finest Linux laptop experiences I have ever had. Dell easily rivals System76 in creating a laptop that works beautifully with Linux (while offering hardware that easily exceeds anything System76 offers in the laptop realm). If the Linux community can perfect the trackpad (all the while not stepping over Apple multitouch gesture patents), this laptop would easily be my go-to for everyday usage.
If you are developer (especially one who works with Linux), you owe it to yourself to give the XPS Developer Edition a try. Once you lay your wrists on that rubberized carbon fiber surface (and touch fingertips to keys), you won't want to use any other laptop.
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