Rich Warren | Dell did well in laptop purchase – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

You can take it with you. Ever improving technology offers a variety of portable computing options from jumbo smartphones to tablets to a range of Windows and Mac laptops. Each fills a niche as our needs for communication and computing vary.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops litter my life, but I increasingly find that like dining utensils, each fills a specific need, and some are better Swiss Army knives than others.

I owned the first true laptop computer back in the mid-1980s, the Toshiba T-1100. The model number probably reflected its 11-pound weight.

Running MS-DOS, it incorporated a single 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and a monochrome display. I migrated through many improvements since then, trying every size, shape and type of DOS/Windows laptop over the past 35 years. In the past decade, I added an iPad and three different smartphones.

Different brands came and went until about a decade ago I chose the IBM ThinkPad, made by Lenovo. IBM ultimately sold the name to Lenovo.

I replaced the original with a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Because of high construction quality, a new ThinkPad X1 tempted me.

Upon investigation, Lenovo priced the ThinkPad out of the ballpark, and even at exorbitant prices, it lacked a few key features. Also, Lenovo failed to offer customization.

It came down to the HP Spectre versus the Dell XPS in their top-of-the-line configurations. Both offered everything I wanted at a significant but reasonable price. They weighed just under 3 pounds and received superb reviews by highly-respected computer magazines and websites.

In studying the fine details, HP would only sell my configuration of the Spectre with a 4K screen, which is a battery-draining waste in a 13-inch laptop.

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So I phoned Dell, reaching someone who proved very helpful. She offered to customize the XPS to my specifications at a price I wanted to pay, which was $1,500. Dell even includes the latest WiFi 6. I was impressed.

My custom Dell XPS arrived 10 days later. It’s a gorgeous machine, about half an inch thick in its matte silver metal case (it’’s available in a more exotic white, eye-catching finish for about $50 more). It rapidly booted flawlessly.

The Dolby Vision full HD 13.4-inch screen looks stunning. It included a minimum of Dell-added “crapware” of unwanted programs.

All was perfect, except for one little Windows 10 Pro quirk. The fast solid state 500 GB drive came encrypted for security purposes with Windows 10 Pro. This makes little difference to most users, but I prefer the drive unencrypted and could find no way to unencrypt it.

I phoned Dell tech support and waited barely two minutes for an agent. The American tech support specialist spent an unrushed half-hour with me investigating and checking with Dell engineers.

When we reached an impasse, he sent me a fresh download of Windows 10 Pro and suggested I reinstall it. This time-consuming process was a blessing in disguise as it removed any and all superfluous, unwanted software.

After reinstalling Windows, I found the unheralded setting in an obscure menu to unencrypt the drive. So all is well, and the XPS functions beautifully.

The tech support person emailed me three times to make sure I was happy and that the XPS performed to my expectations. I never expected such incredible service from a company like Dell.

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After loading my software, the XPS exceeds my expectations. While about 25 percent larger in length and depth (but no thicker) with its 13.5-inch screen than my 10-inch iPad, it does so much more.

While you can purchase keyboards for an iPad (which I did), the integral illuminated keyboard of the XPS works far better.

Windows now offers many iPad apps. If you want size, speed, quality and versatility in a Windows laptop, Dell nails it with the XPS.

A reader reminded me that I left out Premier Sound and Design at Prospect and Bradley among local dealers to patronize. It also was severely looted on May 31.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at


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