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Dell G5 (5500) review: Rainbows and sunshine?

(Pocket-lint) – The Dell G5 is the kind of laptop you might buy if you can’t, or don’t want to, afford an Alienware gaming machine. 

It still has some gamer design traits and stacks of power. But as build quality isn’t given the same attention, the Dell G5 seems quite an ordinary laptop to hands and eyes. 

Our review spec Gell G5 should offer great Full HD resolution performance for years to come. We do kind of wish Dell had kept more of the design motifs of the 2019 version, though. The 2020 Dell G5 wants more attention, but is less tasteful. 

Design

  • Dimensions: 365.5 x 254 x 24.5mm
  • 2.34kg (2.54kg by our scales)
  • Plastic body panels

Dell’s gaming laptops vacillate between looking quite gamery and sticking to a serious appearance that won’t make everyone assume you play competitive multiplayer games after work. The 2020 Dell G5 leans towards the flavourful side, although you won’t necessarily appreciate this at first glance. 

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Its lid looks like plain black from most angles, blooming out from the sides with light contouring, but it is inlaid with glitter sparkles that form a rainbow when they catch the light. The Dell G5 is Batman meets My Little Pony. 

A long bright LED strip sits below the Dell G5 keyboard too. You can choose any colour for it to use in the Alienware Command Center app, and alter its brightness. You can use 12 different colours if you like, as that’s how many LED zones there are in this light bar. But you may prefer to turn the LED strip off in dark rooms as it only goes so dim. 

We’re a little surprised by how different the 2020 Dell G5 is front the 2019 one, though. Last year we got a (relatively) plain LED-free casing with just the odd hint it wasn’t a gaming laptop, but it also had an aluminium keyboard surround/handrest. 

The 2020 Dell G5 is all-plastic, and the sheets used in the lid and keyboard surround feel quite cheap. You don’t get the better cable management of the 2019 Dell G5 either. Last year half of the connectors were arranged across the back, leaving only the essentials on the sides.

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All ports are on the left and right this time, leaving cables nowhere to hide when setup at home. These are not deal-breaker issues, but it’s disappointing to see Dell cut out design features that would make it seem closer to a top-end gaming laptop. 

The G5 has plenty of connectors for most needs. There’s only one USB-C but it’s a Thunderbolt 3 one. HDMI and DisplayPort handle the standard video outputs. Three USBs offer easy connection for your current peripherals (although two are slow USB 2.0s). There’s an RJ-45 and an SD card slot too.

Display

  • 15.6-inch 1080p screen
  • WVA panel
  • 300nits

We were not instant fans of the Dell G15 design. But you can’t expect a value-focused laptop like the G5 to do everything as well as the Alienware M15. It just needs to get enough of the essentials right. 

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The 15.6-inch screen handles this well. It’s a 1080p display, not a 4K one, but has a fast 144Hz refresh rate. Some of the power of this laptop would not be shown off properly by a standard 60Hz screen, because it can render some fairly demanding games at well above 60fps. 

With a 60Hz screen, the screen image does not update regularly enough to show all those rendered frames. And even if you turn on ray-tracing  and other “expensive” visual effects in a new title and end up at 40fps, a higher refresh rate can still make motion appear better by reducing the blurring caused by the display itself. 

It has the right resolution, the right refresh rate. And the rest? The G5 screen’s colour reproduction is fine, if nothing special. It is not obviously undersaturated, brightness is good enough for any kind of indoors use and contrast is solid. The screen has a matte finish, like just about every gaming laptop. 

It does lack the extras needed to provide any kind of wow factor, though. The G5’s display has a relatively cool colour temperature, which does its colour tone no favours to our eyes, no G-Sync, and it’s a non-HDR panel. 

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To be fair, it would be a bit of a joke if Dell did try to shoehorn high dynamic range in. To get good HDR you need a wide colour gamut screen, great contrast and very high brightness. The Dell G5 has solid contrast, but not a sniff of the other two. 

But in the context of a laptop made for performance per pound, the only thing we’d really like is a slightly more inviting, warm white balance. And guess what? Windows 10 actually lets you make such tweaks with its baked-in colour calibration. You don’t need a colorimeter either. You can tweak the RGB colour balance to suit your eyes with sliders. 

Keyboard and touchpad

  • White LED backlight
  • Plastic touchpad
  • Integrated pad buttons

There’s an extent to which the Dell G5 just needs to “do the job” in certain areas, rather than wow us in all of them. But the keyboard and touchpad won’t please everyone as – and bear with us – it’s a fast keyboard but a slow touchpad. 

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The Dell G5’s keys do not have a great deal of resistance. You can glide across them while typing, and their depth is no greater than you might see on some slim and light laptops. We weren’t fans for the first few days, but after a bunch of hours writing using the Dell G5, we’ve partly come around. This keyboard is a rather good fit for games that require a lot of quick keystrokes. And it’s not loud either. 

The touchpad seems leaden in comparison. You have to press it too hard to get a click to register, and the clicker feedback is that of a cheap laptop. There’s no finesse here. 

We’d rather it were the other way around: a fast touchpad and a nice meaty keyboard. However, it is for the best that the touchpad is the weaker of the two. Replacing a touchpad with a mouse while playing on a laptop screen is no biggie. Plugging in a keyboard and moving the display an extra 20cm from you isn’t ideal, is it?

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The touchpad is a basic slab of plastic, not glass, although it does have a surface that emualtes textured glass reasonably well. And the keyboard has a two-level backlight. There’s also a fingerprint scanner in the power button above the keys.

Performance

  • Intel Core i7-10750H CPU
  • 16GB DDR4-2933MHz RAM
  • 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD

The Dell G5 is a bit of a mixed laptop so far given the ropey touchpad and a design that seems a downgrade from the model it replaces.

But there are few complaints to make about the performance you get. Our Dell G5 has an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. And, the bit that matters most, an Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card. 

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If you want games to run well then having a card like this should probably be more important than the fancier touchpad you’d get from a high-end model. In Alienware M15 money you could only get a GTX 1650 Ti with a Core i5 and 8GB RAM at this price – which is nowhere near as good. 

The Dell G5 can run Wolfenstein: Youngblood at an average of 95fps in Ultra graphics. Or 90fps in the beyond-Ultra “Mein Leben!” mode. This is with ray-tracing switched on too. 

Ray-tracing is only going to get more common in the future, so hardware-level support – which the RTX 2060 has – is more-or-less essential in any respectable gaming rig. The Dell G5’s Wolfenstein results also already prove the value of its 144Hz screen 

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It plays Far Cry: New Dawn at an average of 77fps at Ultra, or 85fps at High. There’s headroom for the future, even if you want to max out graphics and demand 60fps.

We don’t recommend relying on the integrated speakers though. While their stereo image is perfectly fine and their clarity is OK, the basic drivers have zero bass. 

Still, we were glad to hear the fans don’t drown them out. The Dell G5 creates a familiar dual fan whir when under pressure, but there’s no annoying high pitch whine of a small diameter fan, which you might hear in a thinner gaming laptop. 

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The area above the keyboard gets quite warm during play, but not to an alarming extent. Dell’s airflow system seems fairly rudimentary. There are intake grilles on the bottom, exhausts out the back. And thankfully the G5 does not start warming up too quick should you do some basic work with the laptop sitting on your bed. This suggests there are some decent heatsinks inside too. 

Battery life

  • 86Wh battery
  • 240W charger
  • Cylindrical charge socket

We were also pleasantly surprised by the Dell G5’s battery life, although saying that we have used other long-lasting Dell gaming laptops in the past few years. 

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It lasted six hours 12 minutes when streaming video from YouTube. The battery drained at a similar rate when just writing documents with the odd bit of web research.

A Dell G5 won’t quite get you through a full day’s work, but this is a good result for a gaming laptop. Battery capacity pretty much explains why: it’s a 68Wh battery, which is rather large. To get this capacity you have to pay an additional £50 in the Alienware M15 line. 

The Dell G5’s power adapter is a massive slab, with 240W output. Bear that in mind if you are considering using the laptop as a semi-portable, perhaps for student work. This ain’t no ultraportable. 

Verdict

This Dell G5 review contains a handful of complaints. We don’t like the touchpad much, the all-plastic build, or that the laptop actually seems less classy and grown-up than the 2019 model.

However, the respectable-enough keyboard, 144Hz screen refresh rate, good battery life and GPU power, help turn the volume down on these concerns. Remember, we can’t compare the Dell G5 to an Alienware, a Razer Blade or MSI G66, or similar, as those devices cost hundreds more. 

In this sensible performance crowd you’re looking at laptops like the HP Omen 15 or MSI GL65. The Omen is its closest match, as another laptop with a realatively large battery. And the funny thing is, the 2020 Dell G5 looks more like a classic Omen laptop than the brand new Omen 15, which has a more sober Dell-like appearance. If you’re not here for the rainbow sparkles and 12-zone LED light bar, that model is worth consideration. 

Overall, despite some warranted grumbles, the Dell G5 delivers a lot of performance potential for not-a-lot of cash. That’s its saving grace.

Also consider

HP Omen 15

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The Omen 15 throws out the series’ staple design for something much sharper and plainer. It also has slimmer display borders and a more forgiving cooling system with intakes on the sides as well as the underside. At the time of review only a higher-spec RTX 2070 version is available, but keep an eye out for this one. 

Writing by Andrew Williams. Editing by Mike Lowe.

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