Dell is equally at ease creating the magnificent as it is creating the mundane. Its Inspiron range represents the "meh" end of the spectrum while its XPS series usually consists of more exciting offerings.
The latest addition to the XPS series is the XPS One -- a self-contained, all-in-one desktop PC, which to the untrained eye just looks like a computer screen. In other words, it's an alternative to the Apple iMac. But how does it stack up against this rival?
The main benefit of the XPS One is its small footprint. It takes up only as much space as an ordinary monitor, meaning there's no need to have a separate base unit clogging up your desk or lurking by your feet. It's also nearly cable-free -- there's nothing you need to wire up aside from the power cord.
Aesthetically, the XPS One is not quite as attractive as an Apple iMac -- but it's not far off. We love how the rear of the screen is slightly angular in design -- an element that carries over to the aluminium stand. Another cool touch is the tempered smoked glass base, which looks pretty sexy. Then there's the glossy black front bezel and contrasting blue LED lighting, which give it that "look at me" aesthetic. The only thing we don't like is the speakers on either side of the screen. These could have been implemented in a less obtrusive manner.
The buttons on the XPS Ones are probably our favourite features. They're pretty much invisible by default, but wave your hand in their general vicinity and a motion sensor causes them to glow. They're all capacitive, or touch-sensitive, and make a funky buzzing noise -- a la Star Trek -- to confirm key presses. Move your hand away and the proximity sensor causes the LED lights to disappear once again.
On a related note, Dell has installed a 'Go Dark' button, which switches off the screen backlight and button LEDs, and disables the proximity sensor. This is handy when using the XPS One as a media player since the lights never cause a distraction.
Alongside the main control buttons you'll find a blue LED arc, which shows up to let you know there's a disc inside the machine. The drive is of the slot-loading variety, so while it looks really cool, it will probably have difficulty reading discs of a non-standard size. The 8cm discs you find in Blu-ray camcorders, for example, may get jammed inside the XPS One, based by our past experience with similar systems.
We're very pleased to learn the XPS One comes with an integrated hybrid TV tuner. This displays both analogue and digital TV so if the Freeview signal isn't so hot in your area, you can always fall back on the ever-reliable analogue alternative -- until they phase it out of existence, at least. Flicking through channels is made easy, thanks to the accompanying infrared remote control, but you can also adopt full control of the PC from the comfort of your armchair with the wireless keyboard. This sports a built-in mouse track pad and is pre-paired at the Dell factory so you don't have to fiddle about with it.
Connectivity to the outside world is possible with its six USB ports -- four at the rear and two at the side. You also get an 8-in-1 memory card reader, six-pin FireWire, 2.1 audio out/in, and an S-Video output. There's also a Gigabit Ethernet adaptor, but most users may prefer to opt for the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi adaptor.
The base specification for the XPS One ships with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 CPU, 2GB RAM, a 320GB hard drive running at 7,200rpm, an Intel GMA 3100 graphics card and an 8x DVD rewriter drive. All-in-all, it's pretty humdrum specification given the £999 asking price -- which leads us to believe Dell is "doing an Apple" and demanding a premium for the design. There's further evidence to support this theory when you consider similarly equipped XPS Ones and iMacs sell for approximately the same price.
There's one area in which the XPS One and iMac can't be compared: customisation. In our experience, Dell offerings can usually be tweaked within an inch of their mechanical lives, but that's not the case with the One. Whereas Apple has a range of iMac all-in-ones that come with a variety of screen sizes, CPU speeds, memory and hard drive options, there's absolutely nothing you can do to customise this Dell.
Your only option if you want a slightly faster XPS One is to plump for the (PRODUCT) RED version. Not only does it have a -- you guessed it -- red backside, but it also ships with a faster 2.33GHz E6550 Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive, and a 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2400 graphics card -- of the sort you'd find in a mid-to-high-end laptop. For this you pay an extra £300, which is steep, but about £40 of the total transaction goes to the RED anti-aids fund. We're told that's equivalent to more than six months of anti-retroviral treatment for one person.
Both versions of the machine sport a 20-inch TFT panel with a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels. That's not quite enough pixels for 1080p video, but it's high enough to deliver 720p and higher video and is of a good enough standard for most tasks. Our only gripe is the fact it has Dell's glossy TrueLife Display technology, which makes it too reflective in direct sunlight. This is fine for the most part, but if you work opposite a south-facing window it might become annoying.
The XPS One will appeal mostly to those who value style over substance. If it's style you're after, you're probably better off getting an Apple iMac. Not only is it better looking, but it's also far more customisable.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday