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Tech Review: Dude, I Ordered a Dell XPS 13” – Unboxing, Setup, and Using


Dell XPS 13″ 7390 – refurbished Intel Core i7, 1.1 GHz 16 GB RAM 512 GB SSD Windows 10 Home


Dude! (Okay, I will stop saying that…) I haven’t used a Dell since selling my workhorse XPS tower maybe 10 years ago. Despite having desired the simplicity and reliability of a Mac, the tower was a lot cheaper, had some decent hardware, and seemed like a reliable choice for recording and mixing demo songs with Pro Tools. The setup worked great for a while, until the recording software was upgraded a few years later. That’s when the XPS tower started to buckle under the pressure. Fair enough – there always comes a point when the hardware can no longer keep up with the software.

Once again, I was recently in a situation of weighing computer options. Again, my focus started on Apple products. This time, the main use is to control live streaming and as an interface with a video switcher for live streaming church services. As well, the money isn’t mine, so I was nudged to “check out the Dell refurbished store.” If that’s what they want, no biggie, considering a refurbished Mac with very similar specs would cost at least a few hundred dollars more. This Dell was just over $1,000 USD.

The laptop has arrived…


A cardboard delivery box for a Dell XPS 7390 refurbished laptop is shown.

Delivery box for a Dell XPS 7390 refurbished laptop

Contents of a refurbished Dell XPS laptop box are shown: AC power cable and USB-C to USB 3 adapter.

Refurbished Dell XPS laptop contents: AC power cable, USB-C to USB 3 adapter, computer

A refurbished Dell XPS 13" laptop is shown wrapped in plastic, right out of the delivery box.

The 13″ laptop in plastic, right out of the delivery box

The computer looks nice. It’s sleek and very lightweight. The screen bezel is minimal. I must have glossed over the fact that the built-in SD port is microSD. It’s hard to imagine anyone using that port often, aside from GoPro and consumer/prosumer drone videographers.

Some photos, then back to the review…

A refurbished Dell XPS 7390 13" laptop is shown being held by a pair of hands.

Refurbished Dell XPS 7390 13″ laptop shown being held by a pair of hands

side angle of a Dell XPS laptop up close - photo by KilmerMedia

Left side ports USB-C ports and battery indicator

The right side microSD port, USB Type-C display port, and headphone/microphone jack are shown on a refurbished Dell XPS 13" laptop computer.

Right side microSD port, USB Type-C display port, headphone/microphone jack

Upon firing up the machine, wow! …and not a good wow. Setting up a new PC has gotten really obnoxious and frustrating. Gone are the days where you hit the power button, accept Microsoft’s Windows OS terms, create a user account, then wait for the desktop to display. It’s not like that at all anymore. Setup has me wanting to chuck this thing out the window.


On this particular system, the machine first asked to verify the region and language. That’s fine. Next was a prompt to add a wifi connection (this computer has no ethernet port). That’s fine, as well. Then…. I HAD to enter a Microsoft Outlook email address, create a new Outlook address, or put in a phone number. Again, this is the church’s computer – not mine – so I’m not registering using any of my personal info. If I put in a phone number, and there’s a phone verification, no one is in the office right now to answer. The only option then is to set up a new Outlook email address. Nothing related to the unique church name is available, and the church’s Office Manager has no idea who would have registered any of those options tried. It takes 7 combinations to finally find an available email address.

Great, finally got the new Outlook address out of the way that no one will use… and as it turns out, later on in the setup, I still HAVE to enter a phone number. There’s no verification for that step, but this has all gotten incredibly annoying.

Once I finally see the desktop, the computer seems speedy. The very first thing I do is figure out how to turn off “natural scrolling.” When did down become up and up become down? We aren’t flying a freakin’ airplane, so cut out making that the default.

When I bought my Dell tower long ago, the XPS series was top-of-the-line. The products were put on a pedestal, hailed as powerful and reliable business machines. Purchasing from this line got you priority and extended “white glove” tech support. These days, Dell allows this series to come pre-installed with bloatware junk like “Candy Crush” and “Disney Magic Kingdoms: Build Your Own Magical Park.”

As for the primary reason for this purchase, I’m not quite there yet. The video switcher software has been downloaded, and I had to change the screen resolution from 1920×1080 to 1280×720 in order to see all of the controls in the software. That’s probably due to choices made by the software developers.

This laptop seems promising, but time will tell how it holds up. It seems speedy, especially when my basis for comparison laptop is a decade-old MacBook Pro used mostly for word processing and emails.

A couple other notes that bug me so far, mostly relating to Windows… Why doesn’t the computer boot to the username/password screen?

Windows 10 Home login screen, which doesn't show any user accounts - photo by KilmerMedia

What’s the point of this boot screen, rather than going directly to the login page?

There have been so many system updates already that I can’t quite tell you how quickly boot-up is or might be. It’s like setup is a never-ending process. So many things beg for your attention – “register your device,” there are animated tiles in the “Start” menu, set up “SupportAssist for Your PC” keep coming from the “notifications” area. When will it all end? Also, I am also not used to the trackpad and, while scrolling, keep clicking things accidentally. The wide font printed on the keyboard keys messes with my brain, too. It seems like an odd choice.

Mostly due to the setup, my first impression of this Dell XPS laptop hasn’t been great. I’m guessing, though, the church will be happy with the system since, by the time I hand it over to them, it’ll be ready for immediate use, without bloatware and constant auto-updates.

Heck, depending how it all goes, I can’t completely write off buying one of these. That 2009 MacBook Pro mentioned earlier is sluggish enough that it keeps my writing on track, with minimal distractions. Simultaneously, it’s not that useful to have to lug around the power brick to keep the thing on, as well as having to use a mouse, since the trackpad is about out of service.

I will circle back around with an update for this post in a few months or so…


 

UPDATE TIME! It's March, 2022. The Dell laptop has been around for something like a year-and-a-half now.... and we're no longer using it. A couple months ago, while using the computer for live streaming to Facebook, we encountered the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death). Fortunately, the video switcher unit kept the live stream active, but there wasn't any way to get back to the Facebook page that would allow us to end the broadcast. Thus, at the end of the service, we had to kill the feed via the video switcher. That's not preferred, because Facebook doesn't know if you lost connectivity or if you're done streaming. That means a message shows for a while, saying "video interrupted." Eventually, the connection times out, people watching from home won't know if we are officially done when that message comes up.


Hoping the BSOD and reboot were a fluke, we used the Dell again and had the same result in the middle of live streaming. We are now using a much older Lenovo laptop to control the video feed and, knock on wood, it hasn't given us any problems.


I used Windows systems for years and years, and happily at times. But between all the registration hoops, bloatware on the Dell, and unreliability, I'm going to have to put my foot down the next time someone insists on buying a PC for tech work. It's just not worth it.


 

Tech Review: Dude, I Ordered a Dell XPS 13” – Unboxing, Setup, and Using

Written by Justin Kilmer (2021)


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