Dell XPS 13 (2015 Skylake) User Review

I have been using my Dell XPS 13 for a few months now.  This laptop features the new Skylake processor and a USB-C port.  I use this laptop for all the usual things plus I travel a lot, write some code and often present on external displays.

Overall this is a great device, it’s plenty powerful enough thanks to the Skylake chip and copious memory and it is easy to slip into a shoulder bag.

The entry level model starts at £849 in the UK, however the model discussed here features a i7-6500U processor, 16Gb memory and a 512GB Solid State Drive at £1399.  The XPS 13 can be bought online here:

Amazon (USA): Dell XPS 13 on Amazon USA

Amazon (UK): Dell XPS 13 on Amazon UK

dabs.com (UK): Dell XPS 13 on dabs.com

ebuyer (UK): Dell XPS 13 on Ebuyer

Portability

This is key with this type of laptop and the Dell really excels here. The 13 inch display has been crammed into a case more similar in size to an 11 inch MacBook Air. The shell is sturdy enough to deal with the inevitable knocks and bashes that will occur when travelling.  It’s also super light so you don’t get laptop shoulder ache.

One of the quirks of the unique size of this laptop is that it makes it rather hard to find a well fitting sleeve. It’s too small for normal 13 inch laptop sleeves but a tiny bit too big for the 11 inch MacBook Air sleeves…. And the Dell one is simply ugly. In the end I bought this one custom made from Etsy and it is fantastic quality:

Dell XPS 13 custom laptop sleeve

Performance

The model I have  features a dual core i7-6500U processor with 16GB memory. This is more than capable, I even run complex data analytics software on it which it handles with ease.

Geekbench gives a single core rating of 3115 and a multi-core rating of 6596.  What’s impressive here is the performance per CPU core, which is very good.

Connectivity

All the usual suspects are here from a wireless perspective: fast wifi and Bluetooth. No problems here. It does get more interesting when you get to physical ports; the XPS 13 is ahead of its time and features a USB-C port, which is great. However there is no mini display or hdmi port. This means that to connect up to an external display you will need a usb-c to vga or hdmi adapter, which there are not many of at the moment.. And those that are available are rather pricey:

VGA: Apple USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter

HDMI: Google USB-C to HDMI adapter

Alongside the USB-C you have the power adapter, a couple of USB 3 ports, an SD card reader and a headphone socket.

Dell are also releasing a USB-C docking station which had all the display, charging, network and use ports you’d expect.  It is, however, not available at the time of writing.

Display

Quite honestly, the display is lovely. The screen is a QHD+  Which has a resolution of 3200 x 1800, and it produces a fantastically vibrant and crisp image.  This really is the highlight of this laptop.  It is also a touchscreen which I don’t find I use that often, but is occasionally handy for lazy web browsing.

Windows 10

This is finally the good Windows. This isn’t a review about Windows 10, but it is worth mentioning as the OS is much easier to use than Windows 8.1 and looks brilliant on the XPS’ display.

Overall this is not just a great laptop on paper, but is also great to use on a daily basis.

I would highly recommend checking it out.


Spotify Subscription Options

Spotify was launched in 2008 and is now the leading provider of streaming music.  Gone are the days of buying CDs or even downloading music via stores such as iTunes.  Spotify has a massively comprehensive library of content that is played instantly – assuming that you are online you wouldn’t even know that you don’t own the music.  Here are just a few reasons to use Spotify:

  • The world’s music instantly available
  • Play on almost any device: Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, iPad, Windows Phone and more
  • Play in your car with Car Play enabled stereos, over Bluetooth or by plugging into the aux connector from your phone
  • Play offline (with no web connection) with a premium subscription
  • Create playlists to organise your favorite music
  • Find new music with Spotify radio which creates your own radio station based on music you already like
  • Share music with friends and get recommendations

Spotify comes with three subscription types:

  1.  Free.  With this subscription there is no monthly fee, it is completely free. However your listening will be interrupted every now and again for ads to be played, and there are some restriction on how much/often you can listen to music.
  2. Premium.  This is the main subscription which gives ad free, high quality listening. You can save music to your device for offline listening so that you can listen to your music without a wifi or mobile data connection. This monthly fee varies by region, but is $9.99 in the USA and £9.99 in the UK.
  3. Family.  This offers discounts (up to 50%) for families. Each person gets to keep their own playlists and music separately, however there is one discounted monthly bill.

Spotify makes a big deal of bundling Spotify subscriptions via 3rd parties and these can often be very lucrative deals.  Check in your country for offers available to you, however as a example in the UK the following are available:

  1. Sunday Times.  The Sunday Times offers an online subscription which gives you access to The Sunday Times on the web and via their iPad application and also gives 1 year of free Spotify premium access.  This deal is actually cheaper than buying a premium subscription directly from spotify.
  2. Vodafone.  Subscribers to certain Vodafone pay monthly contracts get a free subscription to Spotify Premium as part of their mobile contract.

In the USA there are various offers, but owners of a Google Chromecast can access free Spotify Premium.

You can download Spotify for your iPhone at the following link:

Download the Spotify app for iPhone


Demystifying internet connections; fibre, cable, 4G and ADSL!

Today we’re more dependent upon our internet connections than ever before – from simple communications such as Facebook, Whatsapp to video chat with Skype all the way through to bandwidth heavy media services such as Netflix and Amazon Video.

Getting the right kind of Internet connection is critical, but what is out there?  This short guide is intended to give you an idea of what’s available to you.


We’ll list below from the fastest to the slowest:

  1. Fibre to the Home – Fibre is all the rage at the moment. By far the best, future proof connection is to lay a dedicated fibre optic cable into your house or office. At present there is quite minimal coverage across the UK (although jurisdictions such as Jersey are much further ahead with this roll-out). BT offer fibre to the home branded as BT Infinity 4, and other providers such as Hyperoptic offer growing coverage. Speeds of up to 1gb (1000mb) are available.  Whilst this is best option it is also the most expensive. Click here to see if BT can provide you with Fibre to the Home.
  2. Cable – Providers such as Virgin Media lay a dedicated copper cable (not as fast as fibre, but more than capable even for high demand media streaming) into your property. You may see this advertised as fibre optic, what this means is that fibre is laid to the street cabinet as part of their infrastructure and then the dedicated copper is used to deliver the connection to your property with a technology called DOCSIS 3. Speeds of up to 200mb are available, which quite frankly is stonkingly fast.  Whilst the technology doesn’t require a phone line, the packages available often require you have one.
  3. Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). Again, advertised as a fibre service this technology has a fibre optic cable to the BT cabinet in your street, with the final connection to your house made down your phone line (using a technology called VDSL).  Depending upon the distance from your property to the street cabinet you can achieve speeds of up to 80mb.  Again, this is massively fast and suitable for anything that can be thrown at it today.  In the UK you can buy this service from many providers including <BT, Sky, EE, TalkTalk, Plusnet and more.  BT has the benefit that, when you subscribe to their service, you also access their nationwide wifi network so you can access broadband away from home for free. Check out BT’s broadband here and Plusnet’s broadband here.
  4. 4G.  Whilst 4G has taken off in the mobile world, it has had limited success beyond niche use cases for home or office broadband.  This was untill Relish Broadband came along.  The speeds can be comparable to Cable and FTTC if you have good coverage and you do not need any complicated installation.  The coverage is limited to major urban areas though.
  5. ADSL2/2+.  This technology is widely available and makes use of your standard phone line.  Outside of major urban areas this is the most common web connection and is very competitively priced.  Connections speed up to 24mb can be achieved, although in reality you may see lower speeds depending on your distance from the telephone exchange.  You will be able to stream media such as Netflix over this connection, but you may be limited to bandwidth hungry activity at a time.
  6. ADSL.  This is now a rather data technology, but unfortunately may be the only option in remote areas.  Connection speeds up to 8mb are available, but again the quality of the phone line and distance from the exchange will impact performance.  You’re likely going to find streaming media a challenge with this type of connection, although browsing the web, social networks and emailing will work just fine.



What’s our recommendation here?  We would checkout either a Cable connection such as Virgin Media or a Fibre to the Cabinet connection such as BT Infinity.  These give you good, stable and fast connections that will be able to handle anything you need to do with today’s internet products and services.