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Dell XPS 15 9500 review: The photo editor's new friend

The new design for 2020 improves on its predecessor and strikes a good balance for photo editing, as long as you don't care about losing some connections.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read
Lori Grunin/CNET

Dell's XPS 15 laptops continue to be crowd-pleasers. With its eye-catching, slim new design and photo-editing-friendly performance, display and feature set, the latest 15-inch model can hold its own as a less powerful -- much cheaper -- alternative to a 16-inch MacBook Pro . It's well worth a look if that's how you roll, though you might want to consider the new 17-inch XPS 17 instead for the bigger screen. Both are still premium-priced, and likely not worth the money if all you need is a pretty work clamshell, not a serious workhorse. 


Dell XPS 15 9500


  • Impressive control over color management for a consumer laptop
  • Two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections
  • Good performance and battery life, all things considered

Don't like

  • Can run hot
  • Only USB-C connectors
  • Soft, rubberized keyboard deck feels fine but scratches easily

The configuration we tested runs about $2,255. If you don't need color accuracy, want better battery life and can live without the slightly-better-than 4K UHD resolution, you can save almost $300 by going for the lower-resolution option. The base configuration costs about $1,300 and comes with an Intel Core i5-10300H, 8GB RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and the 1,900x1,200-pixel display. That's a pretty big range for a single laptop model. 

Something in me cringes at the idea of paying $1,300 for a system with only 8GB RAM and integrated graphics, though, so if you're leaning towards that I suggest you consider something like the Lenovo C740. The processor is much less powerful, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to pair a powerful CPU with so little memory. You can get an otherwise similar configuration of the C740, which is also sleek and about the same weight, for well under $1,000.

Dell XPS 15 9500

Price as reviewed $2,254
Display 3,840x2,400-pixel 15-inch touchscreen
CPU 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H
Memory 16GB 3,733MHz LPDDR4x
Graphics 4GB GDDR6 GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
Storage 512GB SSD, SD card reader
Ports 3x USB-C (2x Thunderbolt 3), headphone
Networking Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650s (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909)
Weight 4.5 pounds (2.1 kg)

If you're considering it for anything beyond casual photo editing, though, do yourself a favor and spring for 32GB RAM and an i7 CPU. My consistent experience is that if you need to multitask, then operations like mass thumbnail generation, which takes advantage of high core counts, can become bottlenecked by memory (at least on Windows). And applications like Adobe's Lightroom Classic will use all the cores you can throw at it for some operations.

Dell redesigned the XPS 15 (and introduced a new 17-inch model) for 2020 to align more with the XPS 13, mostly. For one thing, that means the XPS 15 ditched its 4K OLED option. It gets a little complicated after that. The XPS 13's display has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which means both the XPS 15 and 17 follow suit. The problem is that standard OLED panels only come in standard 4K UHD 16:9 aspect, so the XPS switched to a nonstandard 4K "UHD Plus" (3,840x2,160 pixels) and a base "FHD Plus" (1,980x1,200 pixels).

I like the UHD Plus screen more than the OLED, though, especially for photo editing, which is arguably the creative work that this system is optimized for. It has better color consistency and tonal range in the shadows, and as tested it covers 100% of Adobe RGB rather than P3, which is still a respectable 94%. (We test screens using using Portrait Displays' Calman 5 Ultimate and an X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus.) If you don't know what all this color gamut talk is about, this may not be the laptop for you. 

Enlarge Image

The bigger touchpad is great, but I don't like that the power button/fingerprint reader in the upper right corner is intentionally left a mystery. Plus, I like the soft, rubberized keyboard deck, but it seems prone to scratching (as you can see on the right speaker grille).

Lori Grunin/CNET

A wealth of pro photo-editing options

Oddly, Dell doesn't promote accuracy as one of the virtues of the screen, and out of the box it wasn't, despite the inclusion of PremierColor, Dell's color management software. But with some easy tweaks to the brightness and gamma settings in PremierColor, I was able to get it to to standard target values of 2.2 gamma, delta E for grayscale and color less than or equal to 2 and white point of 6,500K. It can't hit the effectively zero nits black (and therefore infinite contrast, since that puts zero in the denominator of the contrast calculation) but its roughly 1,560:1 contrast is good for an IPS (non-OLED) screen. 

It also supports HDR, though with a maximum brightness of roughly 465 nits it won't really wow you. And playback of 4K HDR content really taxes the integrated graphics; I couldn't successfully force it to use the GTX 1650 Ti all the time.

More notably, unlike many consumer calibrated displays, Dell's factory calibrated profiles actually clip the gamut boundaries to the color space; in other words, even though the display can produce colors well outside sRGB, it won't if you've opted to use the sRGB color profile. That's really helpful if you need to check out-of-gamut colors. You can create custom profiles with a calibrator using PremierColor as well, but only with the popular X-Rite i1Display Pro; it doesn't even support the Plus yet, so I couldn't test it. (If you want to calibrate it using your own software and a different calibrator, remember to turn PremierColor off.) 

Dell XPS 15 9500 shows its slimmer side for 2020

See all photos

PremierColor gives you the standard set of color profiles, including Rec 709 (HD) and Rec 601 (SD), as well as settings for specific color temperatures and relative scales for gamma, contrast and black level. It also lets you choose from different viewing conditions, such as daylight or incandescent light. 

A downside to the ever-shrinking screen bezels is you have to be careful when adjusting the display. For instance, while trying to find the perfect angle I accidentally touched the touchscreen and closed Chrome . I think a touchscreen is unnecessary here, anyway. And I'd gladly trade a millimeter more of top bezel for a better webcam.

Another trade-off of the new, thinner design is swapping USB-A and HDMI connections for all-USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. The XPS 15 has two Thunderbolt 3 connections, which is handy. But losing a display connection on the discrete GPU bus means you sacrifice some flexibility. It does (thankfully) retain the SD card slot, though. Dell grew the touchpad and moved the speakers to either side of the keyboard, both welcome changes. I don't like the unlabeled, unilluminated power button: It has a fingerprint reader built in, but in the dark it's just a blank spot and seems to scream, "Why do you want to turn me off?"


The Dell XPS 15 9500 (top) has roughly the same footprint as the Razer Blade 15, but it's thinner. Plus, the sloping profile makes it seem thinner than it is.

Lori Grunin/CNET

One thing Dell didn't sacrifice is speed, sort of. It stuck with the Intel H series processor where a lot of slim competitors use the lower-power (and therefore slower) U series. But it also tops out with the GeForce GTX 1650 Ti; bumping it up to a 6GB 1660 Ti GPU, like the Surface Book 3 has, might have given it the extra 2GB memory needed to let it better run some professional graphics applications or a little extra needed oomph for video editing. It does let Dell differentiate between the XPS 15 and the larger XPS 17 for something other than size, though.

The battery life is solid relative to the rest of its class at a little over eight hours, at least for streaming video. It also held up pretty well under my more punishing real-life workload, lasting about five hours of active use (though no imaging apps). That's a pretty long time for me, though it ran too hot to keep it on my lap for that long.

The new design for the XPS 15 acquits itself well, and Dell didn't make any major mistakes with it (along the lines of the now-retired XPS 13 bottom-dwelling webcam). But as a general-purpose work laptop, it's not super light, doesn't have a super long battery life, isn't super thin, super fast or super cheap. It's not a work laptop superhero, just a premium workhorse.

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 4071MSI Prestige 15 4128Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 5408Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) 7449Dell XPS 15 9500 7489
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (single core)

MSI Prestige 15 1052Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 1184Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) 1212Dell XPS 15 9500 1309Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 1317
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (Vulkan)

Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 29077Dell XPS 15 7950 (OLED) 30941MSI Prestige 15 32651Dell XPS 15 9500 33775Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 41482
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R20 CPU (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 1445MSI Prestige 15 1482Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 2512Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) 3162Dell XPS 15 9500 3560
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (streaming)

MSI Prestige 15 477Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) 482Dell XPS 15 9500 494Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 584Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 641
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

MSI Prestige 15 1618Dell XPS 15 (7950, OLED) 1819Dell XPS 15 9500 2124Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) 2673Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) 3472
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) Apple MacOS Catalina 10.15.1; 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK; 32GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Radeon Pro 5500M/1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630; 2TB SSD
Dell XPS 15 9500 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,933MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti; 512GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga C940 (15-inch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 RAM 2,667MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q design; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 4,267MHz; Intel Iris Plus Graphics and 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q design; 512GB SSD
MSI Prestige 15 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (1909); 1.1Hz Intel Core i7-10710U; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q design; 1TB SSD

Dell XPS 15 9500

Score Breakdown

Design 8.5Features 8Performance 8.5Battery 8