December 2011

The first thing you will say about this laptop is that it is not a 14″ laptop. Indeed the frame more resembles a 13″ and only upon closer look, and likely comparing with other 13″ laptops, will you realize where the magic (illusion) is coming from – the Shrinuken display. It reminds me of the new generation of Samsung LED TV monitors that are about an inch thick and close-to-the-end display panels.
The Dell XPS 14z ships standard with Core i5 but you can also order a Core i7 equipped laptop with a base memory of 4GB that you can upgrade to 8G. The test unit handed to me came with a Nvidia GeForce GT 525M graphics card for gaming and multimedia apps. I was pleasantly surprised that the XPS 14z stayed cool while editing a video or watching a DVD.
At a suggested retail price in Hong Kong of HK$9,999 (you can get it for HK$8,580 with 8GB DDR3 RAM in the States – don’t ask me why), this is one of the sleekest laptops I’ve seen in the market (except for the slew of super skinny ultrabooks coming in 2012). It comes in brushed aluminum frame that feels cool to the touch. Another feature that drew a bit of curiosity on my part and for which I had to adjust my typing sense a little bit is the keyboard. Dell termed it isolation-style keyboard, what is odd is the curved design of the keys – giving it a futuristic look and feel. The keyboard is flanked on both sides by speakers, making this an ideal multimedia and gaming platform. Most laptops have their speaker hidden on the side or underneath the chassis forcing you to strain your ears to listen to the sound. Not so with the XPS 14z.
Dell must must have learned something from the Thinkpad series as it claims this unit has a spill-resistant keyboard in addition to being backlit. I was reluctant to try it in the demo unit (I didn’t want the agency to get into trouble for this nor was I willing to pay for a demo unit at sticker price).
The XPS 14z comes with the standard features of a Core i laptop: 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 3.0. There is also a 7-in-1 memory card reader. I thought it disappointing to only have a 1.3MP webcam despite the label of 720p. Thankfully it comes with a HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections for hooking up a television, monitor or projector.
One of them best features of the XPS 14z is its build quality from the use of a super thin aluminum lid to a stylish isolation-style keyboard.
You may think I am being cynical (or picky) but I do love a large trackpad especially when you are dealing with a device that supports multi-touch. The XPS 14z comes with a very large touchpad reminiscent of the Macbook Pros and MacAir. although Dell added two dedicated buttons at the base of the trackpad – definitely better than the Mac design from this end. The pad itself supports multi-touch gestures.
To keep laptops slim most manufacturers skip the DVD drive. Its nice of Dell to give the XPS 14z a slot-loading optical drive despite its almost slim form factor. What I find weird about the XPS 14z is the fact that is the fact that it has a thickness of 22.86mm on paper but everytime I look at it, I swear its thicker than the 13″ Macbook Pro’s 24.13mm.
While we are comparing the MBP to the XPS 14z, I am happy that Dell chose to use a 7200 rpm HDD compared to Apple’s default choice of 5400 rpm drives. I also have to remind myself that the XPS 14z comes in at 1.98kg which is lighter than the 13″ MacBook Pro 2.04kg.
Most LCD screens suffer from a limited viewing angle and the XPS 14z is no exception. In fact I found the 45 degree vertical viewing angle to be quite narrowing and disappointing for a machine as solidly built as the XPS 14z. Dell didn’t design this machine for use on your lap.
Despite efforts to keep the packaging of the 14z as slim as possible (in fact a 14″ laptop in a 13″ body), I still found the XPS 14z to be quite heavy at 1.98 kg. This makes holding this laptop with one hand not advisable.
One of the things I found surprising and disappointing was Dell’s choice of handicapping the XPS 14z with just two USB ports, one of them being a USB 3.0.
There is little not to like about the Dell XPS 14z. Its interesting how Dell managed to increase the screen size to 14 with its choice of Shrinuken display technology (giving it the cool edge-to-edge glass of the display is a classy touch).
Would I buy this laptop? Not really sure. I like the power of this unit but my decision is being weighed down by the perception that this is heavier, thicker, bigger than it should be. Plus there is Dell’s reputation for having laptops with inferior battery life. Reviewers give the XPS 14z at least four-hour battery life. If Dell were to give this XPS 14z 6 hours I would definitely consider it seriously. Afterall, who can say no to a slick brushed metal design?
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I will be the first to admit that Research In Motion is having problems… from reliability of service, to aging technology, and a loyal customer base that is starting to question the extent of its loyalty. But this is not what I’m here to talk about.
My first encounter with the BlackBerry Bold was with the 9700. Back then I was unimpressed. I found the 9700 to be too big in my palm and too heavy in my pocket. I also found it clunky when it came to Web surfing but then again all BlackBerry devices including my favorite, the BlackBerry 9800 Torch, appeared to be designed with zero intention to surf the Web. Its saving grace is the same as with all BlackBerry devices, including the Bold and Torch, its single-minded focus on messaging.
So it is that this time around I am reviewing the new BlackBerry 9900. The spec says its not much small than the original 9700 but for my money it is a slick, solid device that feels good in the palm of my hand.
The 9900 is taller than the original 9700 but not as wide making it a better fit for small hands like mine. I like the stainless steel band that wraps around the 9900. The carbon-fiber-lace back cover reminds me of one of the newer Montblanc pens. This phone exudes quality and a solid high-end product.
There are five metal buttons – one on the top and four on the right side. The slightly recessed top button is the lock/unlock button. The mute button (middle) is flanked by a volume up button (top) and volume down button (lower). The buttom-most key is the camera shutter button.
On the right side there’s a volume up button up top, a mute key in the middle and a volume down button — all made out of metal, I might add. Below that you’ll find the camera shutter key.
The micro-USB charging/sync port is just below the 3.5mm headset jack on the left side of the phone.
I did a little research and apparently RIM has a charging dock for its BlackBerry phones and the two charging contacts at the bottom of the phone are just for that purpose. I’ve never seen the charging dock though.
The 9900 comes with a 2 MP, 1600×1200 pixels rear-facing camera with a tiny LED flash. Like its predecessor, the 9900 doesn’t have a front-facing camera so forget about video conferencing service on this device.
The 9900 comes with a 1.2GHz processor, 768MB of RAM, 8GB internal memory, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. This is my first review of a BB device running on OS7. To be honest I am not overly amazed at the new GUI but, admittedly, the enhancements are everywhere.
I don’t know how RIM managed to shave off 4mm from the previous model. It made it easier to grip the device. RIM chose to stay close to its heritage of great typing experience with the 9900. It feels very comfortable thumb typing on this device – with one hand or two.
Speaking of typing, the 9900 follows the design and layout of its predecessors, including sculpted keys making for easy text entry and chrome bars that divide the rows of buttons. The addition of a capacitative touchscreen makes for significant improvement in navigator to specific parts of the screen especially if you are typing a long email message and want to do some touch ups.
With a screen resolution of 640 x 480 pixels on a 2.8-inch display you get a pixel density of 285ppi. I remain an admirer of the the Bold series despite the small screen. The screen is bright with very respectable viewing angles, and I didn’t squint whilst typing a message outdoors.
One of the biggest enhancements that came as part of OS7 is the universal search which starts working the minute you start typing.
I am not sure what RIM chose not to have an autofocus function for its camera so forget about taking portrait shots with this phone. But then again, this is not really a camera so the photos are decent if you need to take a quick snap of something but not meant for quality archiving.
More serious problem is the touch-trackpad combo. You can use the touch function for instant navigation around the visible area of the screen and the trackpad to screen to areas not immediately visible. At times I often mistakenly try and use both and it gets annoying sometimes.
One of my favorites about early BBs is the battery life. Somehow you don’t get as much out of the BB9900 as you do with earlier versions. I am guessing it may have to do with the faster (and usually more power hungry) processor. I also suppose its all the added software features that come with the OS 7.0.
Its odd to put the mute button between the volume up and down button. The tendency, especially when you are not looking or in a hurry, is to either increase or decrease the volume, accidentally of course.
The back plate hides the antenna for NFC-based (near field communications) applications. I’venot had a chance to use this feature so I won’t say more than this.
RIM continues to refine the first and foremost strength of all BB devices: messaging workflow. The menu system remains very intuitive with a laser-like focus on text or/and email messaging.

The best BlackBerry Bold ever? Perhaps it is. The core features of BlackBerry are still compelling, the keyboard will let you skip over keys rattling out messages, with a rock of the thumb here and a glancing prod there, in ways that only BlackBerry users understand.

The addition of a touchscreen does make a difference, but the overall experience isn’t a huge evolution from BB6. Whilst BB7 is familiar, there isn’t much here that really drives things forward into the competitive arena. The camera results are behind the rivals, the app offering still has holes in it and sometimes the touch response slopes off. It isn’t a multimedia timewaster in the way that the latest phone from Samsung or HTC is, it’s core offering is communication, in which it mostly excels, but it’s in the extras where it doesn’t make huge progress.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a device that will appeal greatly to die hard BlackBerry fans, returning the Bold to a premium look and a size that makes a little more sense than the 9700 models. Business users will find themselves with a more interactive device and a better browsing experience, but outside of keyboard and email experience, consumers may find they get a lot more smartphone for their money elsewhere.

The experience you get with the BB9900 follows the tradition handed down from the very first BB so long ago. RIM continues to refine the performance of the OS and thus enhances the experience you get using this device. Make no mistake, this remains a BlackBerry and therefore it would be unfair to compare it to the new generation of Android, IOS or Windows smartphones. The BB remains a category all it’s own. If you ever own an IPhone or Android or Windows 6.5 device, you won’t like the BlackBerry unless all you really do, apart from making calls, is sending messages either through SMS or email. If you are doing a lot of emails, the BB9900 is the device you got to have. All these touch phones have typing accuracy close to that of a drunk.
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