Slightly annoyingly, the USB ports have been put round the back of the machine, so quickly popping in a USB stick to transfer some files is more of a hassle than it should be. We would also liked to have seen more than two ports -- it's not as though there isn't room, it just feels stingey.
The 14-inch screen is bright, clear and does a decent job of showing colours. We loaded up some dramatic high-definition video and were pleased with the way the 14z handled it. It's got a native resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, which isn't fantastic, but it's not bad and resulted in small text on Web pages being fairly comfortable to read.
Thanks to a very slim bezel, the screen takes up nearly all of the available space, which makes it feel bigger than it actually is. All too often we're met with screens that seem shrunken by huge surrounding bezels, so we're pleased to see Dell not going down that route.
If you're wanting to sit back with a proper movie you'll still want to hook it up to a big TV using the HDMI port, but it will do just fine for enjoying a quick film or TV show on a long train journey -- just make sure you're using your headphones if you don't want someone throwing their coffee at you.
The XPS 14z packs a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor, paired up with 4GB RAM to gave pretty decent performance. We threw our PCMark05 benchmark test at it and were given a score of 8,077, which is a very impressive effort. It's not far from matching its 15z bigger brother, which managed 8,406 on the same test, and that thing is packing a Core i7 chip and 8GB of RAM.
It managed to rack up a score of 7,954 on the Geekbench -- again, an admirable effort. We found it to be a generally nippy performer with heavy multi-tasking handled without complaint. We booted up Propellerhead's latest audio creation tool Reason 6 and rarely found the 14z struggling with the intense work.
To see how it handled the polygons in the 3D gaming world, we chucked the 3DMark06 benchmark at it and were given a score of 4,473. That's really very average -- even for a machine without a dedicated graphics card -- so we weren't expecting much in the way of good gameplay. Nevertheless, we fired up Dirt 3 and sent our car zipping through the muddy dirt tracks of Finland. The frame rate stayed at around 14 frames per second, which for a fast-paced racing game was pretty much unplayable.
It dealt much better with the older title Half Life 2: Episode 2 though, achieving an average frame rate of around 55fps, which made action seem very smooth and enjoyable. If you're after a decent performing gaming machine, the 14z won't be for you. The graphics power it does have though will lend a helping hand with high-definition video and will let you play some older games titles without too much trouble.
As a slim and portable machine, you'd be right to hope that you can do some work on the move without living in fear of your battery conking out. We ran our battery test and the 14z was able to keep going for 1 hour 38 minutes before waving a little white flag.
The test runs the processor at a constant 100 per cent, so it's very brutal. You'll get much better times with more cautious use -- if you only do a spot of word processing on the go then you don't need to worry too much about power. If on the other hand you want to stream high-definition content at full brightness over a wireless connection, you would be wise to not stray too far from a plug.
In general, the XPS 14z offers pleasing performance for general computing tasks with a portable and sturdy body. If you're after a machine to tackle your work on the go, the 14z is definitely worth considering.