Dell laptops closely mimic the Thinkpad series from Lenovo – they tend to be monochromic from an industrial design perspective. This is particularly true if you look at Dell’s laptops by family (Inspiron, Latitude, XPS and Vostro). Occasionally Dell will venture outside of conventional norm and come up with something that takes it out of its comfort zone (sort of).

The XPS Adamo is one good example. This review, though, is not about the Adamo. Rather it is about the Vostro V130. Dell targets the small business with this series. Small business people tend to want to buy devices that are less on feature and more on style (I think). And while I would think that budgets can be tight, the lack of good, depth of IT knowledge often means that purchases are driven by perception and/or first impressions.

Just before Chinese New Year I was offered to test drive the Dell Vostro V130. My first impression when the laptop was delivered to my office was that this isn’t the Dell laptop that I’ve come to know. I’ve used Dell laptops (Inspiron and Latitude) over eight years and during that period associate the brand with no frills, unimpressive computers.
OBSERVATIONS
The Vostro V130 is not the first Dell laptop to sport a brushed metal alloy (Alloy is a combination of aluminium, zinc and magnesium). The Dell Vostro V130 has a stylish and distinguished look. At 330mm x 16.5-19.7mm x 23mm, this is one of the slimmer of models that has come out of Dell in recent years. The result is a laptop that will turn heads not only with its looks but certainly when viewing 720P quality videos.

I am made to understand that the V130 is one of a new breed of hybrid laptops that stand between conventional laptops (big and heavy) and netbooks (small and under powered). By taking the best of both worlds, hybrids meet the needs of people who travel around constantly for a computing device that will run almost all of their business and entertainment applications without breaking their backs carrying a computer.

One area where Dell chose to deviate from the norm is with the Vostro V130 keyboard. Most other brands and models use the chicklet keyboard favored by Apple. The V130 uses what I can only quess are conventional keys. Touch typists, or just about anyone who types for long periods at a time will appreciate the tactile feedback that the V130 keyboard delivers.


WHAT I LIKE

While I don’t condone the purchase of laptops because they look cool, Apple has certainly made it ‘almost’ a required practice among laptop manufacturers to bring in industrial design talent to design and build laptops that not only perform well but also look good. Executives who have used laptops, Dell’s in particular, will likely give the Vostro V130 a second look particularly if they see the Dell logo.

I had this running on battery and then on AC adapter for a good day and noticed that it stayed relatively cool, even against the Thinkpad X201s that I use at work. I understand that Dell used Intel’s Hyperbaric cooling technology to keep this laptop cool (the chassis is designed to draw in air fro outside to keep the system cool and quiet). It draws in air from the left side and shoots warmer air from the right side.

I do a lot of video editing work and for my money, I found the Vostro V130 sufficiently capable of helping me crunch video interview footage into stories I push online. Certainly, I find very little difference editing videos on the V130 versus the Thinkpad X201s that I use daily. And at nearly half the price, I certainly find the V130 a real bargain (vendor online pricing: X201 is HK$12,288 (after discount); V130 is HK$6,999 (before discount).
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
This is not a light laptop to carry around. The 1.59kg number is certainly deceiving. After a day of moving this laptop around the house and at work, I found it heavy altough it would be unfair to compare it to my work laptop which is a 12″ laptop.

The deal breaker for me with the V130 is the internal six-cell battery which delivers a mere 1.5 hours at full brightness and WiFi operational. At half-brightness, you get 2.5 hours. If the V130 is truly classed as an ultraportable, then it fails miserably in this one aspect – battery life. Whereas most laptops, even the horrendously expensive Apple Macbook Pros, offer battery life starting at 4.5 hours with some even boasting 8 hours. At 1.5 hours, one cannot but wonder what Dell was thinking when they designed this laptop. Is it possible that Dell used an inferior battery supplier or its designers failed to remember the one reason why people buy laptops, to be able to work away from a power source for long periods at a time.

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The first time I unboxed the HP ProBook 4321s, I immediately noticed how ‘boxy’ the form factor of this particular laptop. At 2.2 kg (2.7 kg with charger), this is not a travel friendly laptop. I can see myself hauling this on one of those executive laptop bags on wheels designed primarily for those preferring to carry a 15” or 17” laptop.

The HP ProBook uses a 13.3” LED screen with backlight with a resolution of 1366×768 pixels. The screen brightness and energy efficiency is very good. HP was right to avoid using glossy glass panel that essentially produces more glare making it very difficult to use outdoors.

As a business laptop, the 4321s comes standard with stereo speakers, built-in mic, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, GigE port, Bluetooth. 2MP web camera, 56k modem, three USB ports and a combo e-SATA/USB port, HDMI and standard VGA outputs, an ExpressCard slot, and a media card reader. Almost everything you’d want from a business laptop.

HP picked up a few things from the competition (which is a good thing – why reinvent the wheel?). The keyboard follows the growing popularity of Chiclet-like keyboards (Sony and Apple resurrected what was once upon a time the most loathed keyboard design). HP also made the keyboard spill resistant.

WHAT I LIKE

The use of brushed metal chassis may be in line with giving this series a business feel but I’d recommend wearing gloves when handling the case as it’s a fingerprint magnet. HP included a bevy of software to help maximize the use of this laptop, including a three different security options: customized security code, fingerprint and face recognition.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

One of the few things I disliked about the Lenovo Thinkpad X200 is the lack of a trackpad. The successor, the X201s may have included a trackpad but the size makes it utterly useless to comfortably work with. HP provided a slightly more generous ClickPad with gestures support but I found the overall experience so difficult that I put out my trusty Logitech mouse to use throughout the duration of the review. If you have a chance, try it out first before making your decision to buy. Navigation is an important aspect of the overall experience so if the ClickPad doesn’t work for you, you might want to look at another model. I was surprised that my daughter shared her dislike for the ProBook 4321s’ clickpad.

The left-half of the base of the laptop can get really hot. So be wary about setting this on your laptop for longer than a few minutes. It can get really uncomfortable very quickly.

The ProBook comes with a 90-watt charger. This is a big chucky brick that dwarfs the 65W adapter that came with my Lenovo Thinkpad X201s. Both heat very quickly when plugged in so I can’t, for the life of me, understand why HP would want to throw in a brick for the charger. For the record, the ProBook I am reviewing uses a Core i3 processor whereas the Thinkpad X201 comes with a Core i7 processor. So tell me why the ProBook requires a 90-watt charger while the more powerful Thinkpad only needs a 65-watt charger to power it?

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You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all! This used to be my perception of computers – be they servers, desktops, laptops and netbooks. Eight years ago I had the opportunity to visit Nomura Research Institute‘s (NRI) data center in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. What amazed me with this visit was the fact that NRI’s data center showcased servers from every major hardware vendor – IBM, HP, Dell and Hitachi servers were spread out in neat rows. What was even more amazing to me was that unless you looked close enough you will find it difficult to distinguish one brand from the other.

Apple’s success following the return to power of Steve Jobs can be attributable to his choice of designer – Jonathan Paul Ive, an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc. You won’t appreciate Ive’s contribution until you equate his name to the iMac, PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone and iPad. But this review is not about Ive or Apple. It is about Dell’s recent efforts to get over the perception that the company knows only how to make non-descript computers that resemble other brands’ products. The kind that says “me too”.

Earlier I reviewed the Dell Adamo XPS, which in my view does showcase Dell’s ability to produce coolness at the level of Apple (maybe even better in some cases). In this review, I share my experience with the Dell Adamo Pearl. The Pearl was first introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show.

And like the XPS, we’ve not seen this series in Asia. I visit the Dell showroom in Wanchai whenever I pass by the Wanchai Computer Mall and all the computers there on display are of the conventional black and black design. It’s no wonder Apple products turn people’s heads.

This should change with the Adamo Pearl. Made of brushed aluminum, the 16.4mm thickness coupled with the rather unique design of the bezel makes for an attractive talking piece. There is no latch to lock the screen but the hinge does hold the screen to the rest of the laptop very securely. Opening the computer reveals a 13.4″ WLED HD widescreen display (1366 x 768 resolution) with edge-to-edge glass (reminiscent of the MacBook Pro). Whereas MacBook Pros are molded from a single aluminum block, the Adamo is housed in an etched anodized aluminum chassis.

The surface around the keyboard is clean of any Microsoft or Intel stickers. But if you turn the Pearl on its bottom, you will find the Microsoft and Intel logos etched into a panel. The backlit keyboard reminds me of the now fasionable chicklet keys you will find on the MacBook and Sony Vaio laptops with one exception – each key is slightly scalloped rather than flat. The metal finish offers a luxury feel. Backlighting means you can type in dim light or total darkness.

The model I tested came pre-installed with Microsoft Vista Home Premium – meaning I couldn’t test the multi-touch trackpad capability (really a shame). But I managed to test drive it in other ways, including watching videos, and, of course, doing some work.

The Pearl uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 ultra low voltage (ULV) processor with 3MB Level 2 Cache on board. I was a little disappointed to discover this baby still uses DDR2 memory chips. My experience with ULV equipped laptops hasn’t been very promising but this baby came installed with a fast 128GB Samsung SSD thin uSATA drive. Combined this explains why bootup was still reasonably fast despite the machine using the dreaded Windows VISTA operating system. At least it was the 64-bit version so the OS can take advantage of the 4GB of RAM on board (32-bit OS versions can only handle up to 3GB RAM).

Most laptops have ports on either side of the chassis. With the exception of a single headphone jack, the sides of the Pearl are clean of any such ports. Two USB 2 ports, a eSATA/USB port, a DisplayPort, a power socket, and an Ethernet port can be found at the back of the Pearl. (more…)

Up until four years ago, the best value-for-money laptops carried the Dell logo. Mind you, back then Dell laptops were not the cheapest in the market. Not a long shot. The cheap title would go to most Taiwan and China-branded laptops (some would call this white label). But the warning I gave to most would-be buyers of these low-priced laptops was to pay attention to post-sales support. I know this first hand because I worked for a Taiwan laptop manufacturer earlier on in my career and I had to tell customers that any technical problem had to be looked into by the team at home base – in my case, that meant sending the faulty unit back to Taipei for at least 2-3 months of repair and testing.

What Dell did was build a customer service support hotline and also an online database for querying the more common problems customers faced while using a Dell product. This, combined with their direct, build-to-order business model, made it possible for Dell to compete with the much larger and much more ‘deeply-rooted into society’ competitors.

I’ve been a user of Dell laptops for a better part of nine years. I can say with unbiased opinion that the Dell Latitude is the preferred Dell series for business users) laptops are mostly reliable. They are not the fastest, lightest, and the batteries do not last according to spec. Leading edge is not something I’d associate Dell laptops with although this may be changing with some new models coming this year. I’m sure some of these changes are attributable to better industrial design talent entering Dell’s design team.

Back in late 2009, Intel announced that it was coming out with a next iteration of its popular ‘Core’ processors for desktops and laptops. The first batch of personal computers bearing those new processors started to enter the market until the label ‘Intel Core i3’, ‘Intel Core i5’, ‘Intel Core i7’ and ‘Intel Core i7 extreme edition’ series. Essentially,  the new ‘Core i’ use smaller dies to house two to six processors, have larger cache memory, and support faster memory.

I’ve been meaning to get a new computer to replace our 8-year old iMac and now seemed a good time to consider moving ahead with this. But deciding on what to buy is not going to be easy given that there are so many models and brands to choose from.

So when the opportunity came for me to review one of the new series of Dell laptops I didn’t hesitate. The unit I tested (and from which this report card is written on is the Dell Studio 1747 with an Intel Core i7 quad core processor each CPU clocked at 1.6GHz (4 Cores/8 Threads, turbo up to 2.8 GHz, 6MB Cache). It also came with 6GB DDR3 RAM, 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk, a dual layer slot loading CD/DVD +/- reader/writer, an ExpressCard/34 slot and a 8-in-1 media card reader. Graphics processor was an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 with 1GB RAM. For connectivity it came with a Realtek PCIe GBE Ethernet port, 1397 WLAN mini-card, and Bluetooth. The display is 17.3” High Definition 1600×900 widescreen glossy display (WLED Display with TrueLife). The Studio 17 came with a 2.0 MP camera flanked by a pair of microphones. This is one of the few laptops that still carried an IEEE 1394a Firewire connector, in addition to 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0/e-SATA combo port, HDMI connector, DisplayPort connector and a VGA video connector. Also included is the antenna jack that connects to an internal TV-tuner. Keyboard is a backlit full size with 4 column numeric keypad. It came pre-installed with Windows 7 Home 64-bit edition.

All Dell Studio laptops have a soft cover that comes in one of five colors (chainlink black, spring green, flamingo pink, ruby red, midnight blue, plum purple). The rubbery texture gives the soft feel and allows for a firmer grip. The wedge-shaped side profile creates the illusion that it is smaller than it is. The sloped design makes it easier to carry around the house although at 3.2 kg, this unit is not meant for lugging around town. (more…)