Buying Guide - Dell Vostro Laptop
Choosing a laptop
Trying to decide which laptop to buy is always a hard decision; do you go down to PC world where you can see and touch the machines or do you take a risk and buy online based on other peoples reviews?
For me it was an easy decision, I had a distinct set of requirements for my new laptop which retail shops just couldn't satisfy.
Step 1: Make a list of what you want
One of the first things to do when buying a laptop is first decide exactly what you want. For me this was easy as I've had many many laptops over the years and I also have a fair bit of experience with computers so I made up my list of requirements.
Must be a 14" display. (Personally I find 15" a little bit large to lug around)
Must have a display more than 1280x800 (1280x800 is just too cramped)
Must have a proper graphics card (IE nVidia or ATI)
Must have 2GB of RAM (or 1GB and a slot free).
Must have a Core2Duo with 4MB Cache
Must be less than £1000 before VAT
Step 2: Make a list of your available options
Because I had such an exact list of what I wanted narrowing down the choice of laptop was easy. The thing which narrowed it down the most was the screen size and resolution; I don't know if the average population has poor eyesight or if its some other reason but for some reason nearly all the laptops on the market in a 14" are 1280x800? After much searching my resulting list was a MacBook Pro, a Lenovo Thinkpad and a Dell Vostro 1400.
Now whilst I am extremely interested in experimenting with a Mac (especially as they now run Windows quite happily) the high cost and 'missing mouse button' finally did it for me. This high cost was compounded by the fact that I would also have to also buy a Windows license to accompany it. Overall I do feel its a shame to have dismissed the Mac though as I have a lot of respect for the MacBook Pro's build quality and battery life.
The Thinkpad suffered from similar problems to the Mac. The excellent build quality and long battery life couldn't make up for the fact it was nearly twice the price of the Dell.
Step 3: Place your order
This left me with only one real option, the Dell Vostro 1400. Not only did it have the best spec but also it had the best price by a considerable amount. It was a bit of a risk though as I could find very little information about this new range of laptops as very few people had actually got their hands on one. Its for that reason I wrote this review.
The spec of the laptop I ordered was as follows. This is pretty much the maximum spec you could get on a Vostro 1400 at the time of ordering (Except the rather expensive 4GB option) so I've also included below it for comparison a cheaper model:
Dell Vostro 1400
14.1" widescreen WXGA+ (1440x900) reflective TFT
Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz/800Mhz/4MB
2048MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM (2x1024MB Modules)
128MB nVidia GeForce 8400M GS
120GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive
2 megapixel integrated camera and microphone
Dell 1390 802.11b/g WiFi miniPCI card.
Dell 355 Bluetooth v2.0 Module (3Mbps)
DVD ± R/RW
6 in 1 card reader
Upgrade from 6 cell to 9 cell Lithium-Ion 85WHr battery
Internal 56k V92 modem
Windows Vista Business
Price £644 (Not inc VAT and Delivery)
Dell Vostro 1400
Core 2 Duo T7100 1.8GHz/800MHz/2MB
1280x800 14.1" TFT
2GB 667 DDR2
Intel X3100 Graphics Media Accelerator
Card reader, etc, etc
Price £399 (Not inc VAT and Delivery)
Step 4: Tell people what you think of your purchase
The first thing I noticed when pulling the Vostro out the box is its 'a bit boring'. Theres a trend at the moment to make laptops exciting; if exciting is what you want this probably isn't for you. However don't dismiss it because like the Latitude its many other attributes more than make up for it.
The colour scheme is consistent throughout with blue Fn functions on the keyboard and all blue LED's. Everything else is either chrome or satin black. The inside has a smooth and surprisingly fingerprint resistant surface whereas the outside is more on the mat side and hence unfortunately not so fingerprint resistant.
Overall it feels nice and solidly built. The screen and hinge are solid, nothing creaks and the only real letdown is the rather rattly battery. I'm sure this could be fixed with a bit of Velcro padding though if you were really bothered.
One thing I have constantly noticed over the last few days of using the laptop is how solid the keyboard feels. It is genuinely one of the best keyboards I have used on a laptop in a long while with full size (width/height) firm and responsive keys.
I specifically ordered the uber long life battery and as such it extends slightly beyond the normal dimensions of the laptop. However unlike some other machines I have used with extended batteries it sits nicely and unobtrusively under the hinge at the back rather than extending out the bottom or the front. When the screen is open you dont even notice it.
Because I ordered the higher resolution screen I automatically got the glass type TFT on my laptop. I can see why some people complain about the reflections but I have to say I've never found any laptop screen that works great in bright light (although I understand theres a new type of screen out recently that does). When comparing it next to the standard screen on my old Latitude however I'd I have to say I prefer the glossy. The advantages you get when working with photography and other rich graphical data outweigh the losses of reflection. I can see how this would be an individual choice though which is why its interesting that Dell offer both options.
The vertical viewing angle isn't great, in fact its quite poor but I guess its not really any worse than most laptops, the horizontal viewing angle is actually quite good however and makes up for it.
....oh and theres no dead pixels.
All the legacy stuff is obviously out the window. No loss there really, I think what you gain in cost saving more than makes up for the fact you may need to pop out and buy a USB to parallel converter. What you do get however is a SD/MMC/MS/MSPro card reader (which was nice), 4xUSB, Firewire, 1000BaseT, Modem, VGA (no DVI which isn't great), SVideo, mic, two headphones and an Express Card slot (which is the PCI-E version of the old PCMCIA).
The internal camera is much better than I ever expected. At 3200x2400 and with a great focal range its almost acceptable to use as an every day camera except its fixed solidly to the laptop. The supplied software seems good (although I've not used it a great deal) and it appears to be manufactured by Creative although everything is branded as Dell.
The one downfall is its integrated into the display frame meaning to move it you have to physically tilt the screen. Although due to its lens design I've never needed to do this and my face is always in shot perfectly even when I move about quite a bit.
The only thing which is irritating is it lights up a bright blue LED to let you know its on which obviously glares in your face as you use the laptop.
Maybe its just me but I feel some functions deserve a physical switch to turn them on and off and WiFi is one of them. The switch on the Dell is particularly useful because it has an on and off position plus a further slide and release position which tells the WiFi to rescan for access points... very useful indeed! You can also configure it to work with Bluetooth if you so desire.
Dell made a number of cutbacks to get this unit as cheap as it is, however its my personal opinion these are all good choices.
The Vostro has no lid catch. Does this bother me? - no not really. It makes it quicker and easier to open and due to the hinge design it naturally stays shut anyway. (I should point out it's possible this is an omission on my laptop because I had the camera but I'm not sure)
The Vostro has no expansion port. Again, does this bother me? - not really. These days you are often better off buying a generic USB expander anyway as you can use it on multiple devices, they are cheaper and even have VGA/DVI now as well. Sure I miss having everything plugged in including the power with a simple clunk but its not the end of the world.
On the Vostro 1400 Dell have omitted the mouse nipple and included just a track pad. I used to be a fan of the mouse nipple but it seems more and more the track pad is becoming the defacto standard and to be honest once you get used to it both are fine. Also recently I've had a lot of bad experiences with older laptops being rendered almost unusable by constant nipple drift, so to be honest maybe loosing it is for the best.
For those of you sticking with the pre-installed Windows Vista I found massive improvements in Dell's hardware support software. Items like the trackpad setup were much nicer to use and even the webcam software was pretty good.
There was still a fair amount of unwanted software installed, most of it starting with 'Google' but it was a quite an improvement on previous machines.
There wern't really any major gripes with this laptop but a couple of things caught my attention...
For some strange reason the trackpad is set slightly off to the left. I have no idea why they did this as I cant think of a genuine ergonomic reason, perhaps its for some technical reason? Its not too bad under normal use but sometimes if I just want to click quickly I find myself right clicking when I mean to left click. After a while of using the laptop I got used to it though so it wasn't a major issue.
Personally I'd like to see this disappear from laptops altogether but I guess some people still use them so there's a demand. What I will say though is; why is it nobody except Apple is implementing the nice slot design? Maybe its because they want to support strange shaped CD's, I'm not sure but it seems rather archaic to still have a huge drive popout when you need to insert a disk. ..and trust me, for some reason the drive on this Vostro seems particularly large and archaic.
Theres no DVI. This is annoying as I often connect my laptops to TFT screens and lets face it VGA isn't great, especially on large screens.
I don't really intend to go to much into depth with the performance of the Vostro 1400 as it will vary quite a lot depending on how you specify your laptop. However since its in front of me here is the Vista performance index of my laptop:
4.5 3D graphics
4.8 Disk Drive
I think the best way to answer the question of how good something is, is to ask - would I buy another one and would I recommend it to my best friend? The answer without even thinking about it is most definitely yes, its an awesome bit of kit for the money!
What would I do differently if I were to order it again? Well this probably wont apply to most people but for me personally, despite getting one of the highest resolution laptops I could find in a 14" I'm still finding the screen resolution to be a bit restrictive. At 1440x900 it just isnt enough pixels vertically. My old non widescreen Lattitude was 1400x1050 and I really miss those extra 150 pixels especially when VNC'ing into a 1280x1024 screen. However to get those extra pixels I'm know I would have to sacrifice the portableness of the 14" screen no matter which brand I buy so I still think I made a good decision.
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