It was about Dell keeping strong with an ultraportable laptop computer that has the features you need while offering value for money. This model uses a 16:10 aspect-ratio screen and two Thunderbolt 4 ports, following on from the approach they had about having the “right mix” of features to get the job done. Infact the use of two Thunderbolt 3 ports in recent iterations of this model which also equate to USB-C with DisplayPort alt and Power Delivery functionality allowed for a slim chassis but can he connected to Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C peripherals and docks including those that can supply power to the computer.
But Dell just lately launched the XPS 13 9305 which has a 16:9 aspect-ratio screen with Full HD resolution (for Australasian users). This would have a larger bezel under the screen with the Dell brand on it. It also gains an extra USB-C port with Power Delivery and DisplayPort alt functionality. It also comes through as a more lightweight version of the XPS 13 laptop. The use of a 16:9 aspect-ratio screen for this model of laptop allows Dell to use cheaper commonly-available display panels rather than a custom design for the screen, thus lowering the computer’s cost.
The goal with this model is to offer a “foot-in-the-door” model to what the XPS 13 “portable-typewriter-sized” ultraportable laptop is all about. Of course, you still had the same Intel Tiger Lake silicon including the Xe integrated graphics along with the Thunderbolt 4 ports. Here, Dell is keeping an a feature combination that I see ideal for mainstream laptop computers i.e. up-to-date Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports.
It would mean that you can consider the use of an external graphics module if you want more out of the graphics performance, but a significant number of popular games can be played to an acceptable standard using that silicon and the Full HD screen.
What is happening is that Dell is offering a range of 13” ultraportable computers under the XPS 13 banner and with the right mix of features in the basic design but providing different types for different price points. It also shows that Dell with still keep investing in the traditional “regular” computer which was its bedrock, enforcing value for money for their products.
Of late, the personal-IT press have identified a 13” ultraportable laptop computer that has set a benchmark when it comes to consumer-focused computers of that class. This computer is the Dell XPS 13 family of Ultrabooks which are a regular laptop computer family that runs Windows and is designed for portability.
What makes these computers special?
A key factor about the way Dell had worked on the XPS 13 family of Ultrabooks was to make sure the ultraportable laptops had the important functions necessary for this class of computer. They also factored in the durability aspect because if you are paying a pretty penny for a computer, you want to be sure it lasts.
As well, it was all part of assuring that the end-user got value for money when it came to purchasing an ultraportable laptop computer.
In a previous article that I wrote about the Dell XPS 13, I compared it to the National Panasonic mid-market VHS videocassette recorders offered since the mid 1980s to the PAL/SECAM (Europe, Australasia, Asia) market; and the Sony mid-market MiniDisc decks offered through the mid-late 1990s. Both these product ranges were worked with the focus on offering the features and performance that count for most users at a price that offers value for money and is “easy to stomach”.
Through the generations, Dell introduced the very narrow bezel for the screen but this required the typical camera module to be mounted under the screen. That earnt some criticism in the computing press due to it “looking up at the user’s nose”. For the latest generation, Dell developed a very small camera module that can exist at the top of the screen but maintain the XPS 13’s very narrow bezel.
The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook variant
The Dell XPS 13 is able to be specified with the three different Intel Core CPU grades (i3, i5 and i7) and users could specify it to be equipped with a 4K UHD display option. The ultraportable laptop will have Intel integrated graphics infrastructure but the past two generations of the Dell XPS 13 are equipped with two Thunderbolt 3 ports so you can use it with an external graphics module if you want improved graphics performance.
There was some doubt about Dell introducing a 2-in-1 convertible variant of the XPS 13 due to it being perceived as a gimmick rather than something that is of utility. But they introduced the convertible variant of this Ultrabook as part of the 2017 Kaby Lake generation. It placed Dell in a highly-competitive field of ultraportable convertible computers and could easily place a focus towards “value-focused” 2-in-1 ultraportables.
What will this mean for Dell and the personal computer industry?
Thin Webcam circuitry atop display rectifies the problem associated with videocalls made on the Dell XPS 13
The question that will come about is how far can Dell go towards improving this computer. At the moment, it could be about keeping each generation of the XPS 13 Ultrabook in step with the latest mobile-focused silicon and mobile-computing technologies. They could also be ending up with a 14” clamshell variant of this computer for those of us wanting a larger screen size for something that comfortably fits on the economy-class airline tray table.
For the 2-in-1 variant, Dell could even bring the XPS 13 to a point where it is simply about value for money compared to other 13” travel-friendly convertible ultraportables. Here, they would underscore the features that every user of that class of computer needs, especially when it comes to “on-the-road” use, along with preserving a durable design.
Other computer manufacturers will also be looking at the Dell XPS 13 as the computer to match, if not beat, when it comes to offering value for money in their 13” travel-friendly clamshell ultraportable range. This can include companies heavily present in particular market niches like enterprise computing who will use what Dell is offering and shoehorn it to their particular niche.
Best value configuration suggestions
Most users could get by with a Dell XPS 13 that uses an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM and at least 256Gb solid-state storage. You may want to pay more for an i7 CPU and/or 16Gb RAM if you are chasing more performance or to spend more on a higher storage capacity if you are storing more data while away.
If there is an expectation to use your XPS 13 on the road, it would be wise to avoid the 4K UHD screen option due to the fact that this resolution could make your Ultrabook more thirstier to run on its own battery.
The 2-in-1 convertible variant is worth considering if you are after this value-priced ultraportable in a “Yoga-style” convertible form.
What I have found through my experience with the Dell XPS 13 computers along with the computer-press write-ups about them is that Dell has effectively defined a benchmark when it comes to an Intel-powered travel-friendly ultraportable laptop computer.
I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 15E laptop computer which is Sony’s latest take of the VAIO E series of mainstream laptop computers. This is where these computers come with the 15” screen and extra secondary storage, in some cases an optical drive of some sort.
Sony offers a variant with an Intel i7 processor and 8Gb of RAM as the deluxe option but that is all that they offer to make it worthwhile whereas I would like to see a few more features like a higher-resolution display offered as a more convincing upsell for most people.
USB 3.0 x 2 (1 with Sleep and Charge), USB 2.0 x 2
eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
3.5mm stereo output jack, 3.5mm stereo input jack, digital audio output via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration
Windows Experience Index – this configuration
The computer itself
Aesthetics and Build Quality
The VAIO Fit 15e series comes as a regular clamshell laptop computer but has a touchscreen like the previously-reviewed HP Envy4 Touchsmart Ultrabook. The action associated with this computer is very durable.
As I opened with, this laptop is equipped with a DVD burner which raises mainstream laptop credentials while satisfying realities with software, especially games, that are still delivered on optical disc.
There is a reduced chance of heat build-up with the computer having ventilation slots on the underneath as well as the sides. This makes the laptop more comfortable to use on your lap as well as less likelihood of the performance suffering due to heat stress.
This model is available in black, pink or white with the white variant, which I am reviewing, appeals to those of us who want to personalise it more.
The Sony VAIO Fit 15e’s keyboard is a chiclet-style keyboard but is commensurate to touch-typing thus making it comfortable to use for a laptop keyboard. This along with the numeric keypad ticks the boxes when it comes to a highly practical keyboard surface for a mainstream laptop.
The trackpad sometimes acts in a jumpy manner when you are typing but could benefit from a hardware switch to turn off trackpad.
Equipped with an optical drive for burning or playing CDs and DVDs
There is an NFC reader on the palm rest and it worked properly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android mobile phone. But its implementation in the laptop would take off if there were some quality Windows 8 applications or Android / Windows 8 app ecosystems that took advantage of it.
The touchscreen also comes across as being very accurate and responsive, making it suitable for coarse navigation.
Audio and Video
The VAIO Fit 15e’s graphics system is based around a NVIDIA discrete chipset and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. NVIDIA even implements the Optimus function which switches over between these graphics subsystems when the goal is battery economy or graphics performance.
There is the glossy screen which bedevils most consumer-grade laptop computers and requires them to be very bright when used outdoors. This can frustrate users when it comes to battery runtime.
Right-hand-side view with optical drive and two USB 2.0 connectors
Sony have implemented a 2.1 speaker arrangement which has a separate bass driver that provides some “kick” in the sound. This can be a bonus when you can only use the integrated speakers for portability but headphones or external equipment for better sound.
Connectivity, Storage and Expansion
This laptop has 4 of the USB connectors with two being a USB 3.0 type for external storage. As for video display connectivity, you only have an HDMI socket which rules out older and cheaper data projectors for a larger screen. There are separate audio input and audio output jacks on the left for connecting headphones or a microphone.
Left-hand-side view – Ethernet societ, HDMI output socket, 2 USB 3.0 sockets and 3.5mm stereo audio input and output jacks
Network connectivity comes in the form of a Gigabit Ethernet socket for wired network segments as well as support for 802.11g/n 2.4GHz wireless network segments. As well, there is Bluetooth connectivity up to the 4.0 Smart Ready standard which supports low-power use.
Across the VAIO Fit 15e platform, the secondary-storage options are the same with 750Gb on the hard disk and a DVD burner which still is relevant in this day and age. This is relevant for activities like cost-effective data sharing or if your comfort zone for music, video and PC games is still the “bricks-and-mortar” shop. As well, the SD card slot is located on the front of the laptop at the centre.
The VAIO Fit 15e’s battery performed properly for day-to-day regular use. This was augmented by a properly-implemented sleep functionality allowing me to use the laptop over two days without needing to charge it.
For playing a DVD, the VAIO could make it through the feature movie and end up with 10% of remaining battery runtime. This is something I would expect for most of the consumer mainstream laptops and may limit them for long-term portable multimedia and gaming activities.
Other usage notes
I took this laptop with me to Ballarat when I was seeing a close friend of mine for the weekend and this friend was impressed with the fact that the computer was equipped with a touchscreen that worked tightly with the Windows 8 user experience. Like most people, he hasn’t come across a mainstream 15” consumer or small-business laptop that was equipped with a touchscreen. He was also impressed with the build quality of this machine and described it as being a good quality substitute for most mainstream laptops like the ThinkPad.
He even mentioned to me that the touchscreen interface will be very desireable due to the fact that most of us use smartphones and tablets with the touchscreen interface.
Limitations and Points Of Improvement
Sony could equip the higher-end variant of the VAIO Fit 15E with more options than just the more powerful processor and increased RAM in order to make for a convincing upsell option. Here, they could offer a BD-ROM / DVD burner as the optical drive, a 1080p Full HD display and / or dual-band Wi-Fi networking and / or a higher-capacity hard-disk for secondary storage.
These could allow Sony to create three variants with the same screen size and pitched at the same market as car builders like Ford and Holden have done with their popular family-car ranges. This is the laptop that serves primarily as the main household computer for Web browsing, games, running one’s “startup” small business and other activities.
As well, the NFC sensor could be duplicated on the back of the computer to cater for Sony’s NFC Easy Connect equipment-pairing ability.
I would position the Sony VAIO Fit 15e series of laptops as an all-round mainstream “dining-table” laptop for most households. Similarly it would work well as a small-business work-home laptop or as something that suits travellers who work from a particular location at their destination such as their friend’s house, a hotel room or ship’s cabin.
Here, Sony’s multimedia prowess would come in to its own when you want to dabble with photos, movies or music on the road.. The only sore point here may be the price being offered for this model but it is worth looking for the good deals on this unit.
I am reviewing the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook which is a newer take on the previously-reviewed Envy 4 Sleekbook. But this unit also comes with a touchscreen that takes advantage of the touch-enabled interface that Windows 8 is all about. Of course you have the regular keyboard and touchpad for content creation, especially if you want to create content.
– this configuration
Intel i3-3217U Ivy Bridge
4 Gb RAM
shared with graphics
320Gb HDD with 32Gb SSD cache
SDHC card reader
Intel HD4000 integrated graphics
LED backlit LCD touchscreen
Intel HD audio
Beats Audio by Dr Dre
USB 2.0 x 1, USB 3.0 x 2
3.5mm stereo output jack, 3.5mm stereo input jack, digital audio via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration
Windows Experience Index – this configuration
Advanced Graphics: 6.2
Insert variants with relative price shifts
The computer itself
Aesthetics and Build Quality
The HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook is the regular slimline clamshell laptop that satisfys Intel’s “Ultrabook” specifications but uses an aluminium escutcheon around the keyboard and trackpad. This yields a luxurious and cool finish where there is nothing plasticky about using this machine. Even things like rubber feet that aren’t as ready to come off along with a non-slip rubberised finish for the underside show that we are dealing with a well-built computer.
It is small and light enough to stash in to a shoulder bag or “bike bag” for easy transport. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing a lot of travelling or simply visiting your favourite “second-office” cafe or lounge.
This Ultrabook makes use of the Windows 8 Modern (Metro) touch-enabled user interface with the touchscreen
It feels slightly warm to use when you are using it on your knees, this not as ready to overheat for most computing tasks. This is due to the grillework on the top between the hinges and a ventilatilation grille underneath the Envy computer.
The Envy 4’s keyboard has that distinct feel that allows accurate touch-typing. Here, the keys are also finished in black rather than the matching grey so as to make them easier to identify.
he trackpad is very accurate but, like trackpads used on other recent-issue HP laptops, it has the enabe-disable function which requires you to dwell on the top left corner. This can cause you to mistakenly disable it if you are dragging an element and you take too long about it.
As for the touchscreen, it does its job with providing the coarse navigation and selection by responding properly and promptly.
Audio and Video
The visual experience with the HP Envy 4 is what I have expected from a recent laptop where it can handle most tasks properly with a proper frame rate out of video playback. I wouldn’t expect this kind of performance for “on-edge” gaming or advanced video editing tasks.
The Beats Audio sound-tuning had done its bit in providing some “body” to the sound even through the integrated speakers which are located above the keyboard. But I would gain best performance out of this laptop for sound when I use headphones or external speakers.
Like the previously-reviewed Envy 4 Sleekbook, this HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook uses the same “clothespeg” Ethernet socket so as to allow “dongle=free” connectivity to a Gigabit Ethernet segment. As well, there is a good complement of connections for use with current-generation peripherals such as an HDMI video connector and 3 USB sockets.
The 320Gb hard disk is big enough for most secondary-computer needs especially if you 00Gb hardmove data off it when you are finished with the data. But I would also like to see either a 256Gb solid-state disk for faster performance or a 500Gb hard disk for extra capacity available as an option.
Right-hand-side connections – separate headphone and microphone jacks, USB 2.0 connector and power socket
I am pleased that this computer still uses the SD card slot as removeable storage, which I consider important for those of us who download images from our digital cameras by removing the memory card out of the camera. This is compared to some Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13 which omit this feature, and would earn its keep with those of us who take pictures and coarsely edit them while on the road.
The HP Envy 4 is not demanding for battery life when subjected to most regular computing tasks especially if the computer is working with a Wi-Fi network. But, after I watched a 90-minute video from SBS On-Demand, I found that the battery was at half capacity at the end of the video.
When I used the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook in the lounge at the Intercontinental Melbourne on Rialto hotel, the staff were amazed at the touchscreen interface that this computer has. This was a difference for them as they were used to guests who use the lounge as a “second office” using laptops and not touching the screen to work with the computer or the guests touching the screens on tablets and smartphones.
Limitations and Points Of Improvement
Rear view of the Ultrabook
One improvemeit I would like to see for the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook is the availability of a deluxe version with extra RAM and secondary storage as well as 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi. As I have said before, this would encourage us to think of having more storage when we are on the go for longer times as well as having the computer be future proof for high-speed 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. Similarly, going for 3 USB 3.0 connectors can work well as we move towards more USB 3.0 peripherals like secondary-storage devices.
Other than, there isn’t much to improve on for a secondary travel computer with a large screen.
The HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook earns its place as the logical successor to the Envy 4 Sleekbook. Here, it comes across as another example of a lightweight secondary travel computer option where you value the 13”-14” screen. This is where you place value on content creation including creating elementary graphical content like PowerPoint slides or going through digital photos you have taken as well as creating written content on the go.
It then ends up alongside the HP Envy 4 Sleekbook, the Acer Aspire S3 and Sony VAIO T Series in my short list of ultraportable computers that I would use or recommend as a secondary portable computer for one who uses a desktop or larger laptop at home or the office.
When I talk of laptops, wireless routers and network-capable printers, I make frequent references to a “new computing environment” that these devices can enable.
What is the “New Computing Environment”
The “New Computing Environment” is a home computing environment that is based around portability and flexibility. The seed for this environment has been sown with the widely-publicised Intel Centrino campaign and is becoming stronger in a lot of households.
It consists of most of the computers in the house being laptop or notebook computers.It may also include the use of “all-in-one” desktop computers similar to the newer Apple iMacs or HP TouchSmart desktops. The goal is that these computers are able to be moved easily around the house at a whim.
This environment will also encompass the use of smartphones and tablet computers for secondary computing activities like casual Web browsing, email and use of social networks.
There is a Wi-Fi home network in place that is served by at least a wireless router that is the network’s Internet “edge”. The computers may connect to that router via Ethernet if they are close to it but are typically connected to that router using the Wi-Fi network segment.
What does this lead to
The key benefit is to increase flexibility when it comes to computer use. The major benefit is that you can relocate the computer as you need it. An example that was portrayed in an Intel Centrino radio ad that was played in the UK was someone who was writing out an email on a laptop being being interrupted by another household member who had come in to do the vacuuming. Then they are able to move somewhere quieter to do the rest of their work.
Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router
As well, the “New Computing Environment” also leads to increased “casual computing” setups like viewing sites like YouTube or Facebook while lounging around on the sofa; going through one’s email while relaxing in bed or flicking through online news sites while in the kitchen. I even wrote a short article on this site about the trend of young people visiting Websites while watching TV.
Catering to temporary workspaces
Another very common scenario is a household without a dedicated workspace. This is where the kitchen bench or the dining table becomes a temporary office. Some households may have a collapsible table like a card table or trestle table along with one or more folding chairs, set up in a lounge area or landing for use as a temporary workspace; or may have such furniture on hand to set up a temporary workspace as required. The “New Computing Environment” allows the user to shift the computer along with the rest of their work whenever they need to do something like set the table for a meal.
Even if a household has a dedicated workspace, there will always be the need to create another temporary workspace to suit another person’s work or study needs or to suit a different type of work.
Similarly, laptop computers are much easier to store when not in use. For example, they can be put in a drawer when not needed, as I have mentioned in an older article regarding use of a laptop as a kitchen PC. This allows the machine to be well out of harm’s way which can be of concern in a busy household or with some children and pets.
As well, the laptop is also more suited to households who have older “davenport” or “roll-top” desks which are capable of being closed up when not in use. Here, these computers can be used at and stored easily in these desks. It also allows these desks to become the elegant piece of furniture that they are known for.
Suitability with “downsized living”
This computing environment is becoming increasingly relevant with people who live in smaller houses and apartments; especially city apartments.
This class of user includes “empty-nest” parents who are moving to smaller premises because their children have left the family home, but still need to be able to look after their grandchildren when they come around. Here, their computing equipment doesn’t need to cause much space to be taken up in these smaller living quarters.
The “home-business” laptop
This kind of computing environment also suits the use of a “home-business” computer that is used at home but taken to the workplace while you are working. For some small-business operators, a large laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15R or the HP Probook 4520s may be the only computing device that they need to use for all their computing needs and you just pack this machine in the boot (trunk) of your car before you head to or from your workplace.
You will need to use a laptop computer that is commensurate to your computing needs. But it will have to be equipped with an integrated Wi-Fi wireless network interface of at least 802.11g WPA standard. This covers most laptops made over the past five years. I have reviewed plenty of laptops and notebooks on this site and will be reviewing more of them as they come along from different manufacturers. You can have a look at the list of equipment reviewed here on this page.
Compaq Presario CQ42 entry-level laptop
If you are intending to buy a new laptop computer, I would suggest that you look at the buyer’s guides that I have written – “Buying a Laptop or Notebook Computer”. Here, I have suggested the use of the 15” laptop computers as a sole or main computing device for this environment. If you have very basic needs like emailing and basic Web surfing, a unit equipped with a low-end processor and around 2Gb memory, like the Compaq Presario CQ42 that I have reviewed here, can suit your needs here. It is still worth it to spend as much as you can afford on the hard disk capacity because as you use the computer more regularly, you will end up filling the hard disk more quickly.
On the other hand, you may want to use an “all-in-one” desktop computer like one of the Apple iMac, HP TouchSmart Desktop or Sony VAIO J or L Series computers. These have the computing power, secondary storage and the screen integrated in one slim lightweight housing, with a separate keyboard and mouse. They may be useful as a “common” or “family” computer and can be stored or moved easily as long as you know how to reconnect the keyboard and mouse.
A lot of people who set up for the “new computing environment” typically use a direct-connected printer and bring the laptop closer to it in order to plug it in when they want to print or scan something.
Canon PIXMA MX-350 network multifunction printer
What you need to do for proper implementation is to use a network-enabled printer. Here, these printers connect directly to the network either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless and accept their print jobs through this connection. Multi-function printers can also expose their other functions like the scanner, fax or memory-card slots to the network.
This avoids the need to connect the laptop to the printer every time you want to print something out. With a network printer, you just select that printer from the list of printers when you specify a print job from your laptop and, moments later. you will find your print job in the printer’s output tray. Here, the job is sent via the network to the printer rather than via a cable that you always connect to the printer.
“Easing the gap” towards flexibility
Some users who are used to a regular laptop computer connected by Ethernet to a single-port broadband modem at a regular workspace may still get in to the habit of connecting the laptop to the wireless router using the “old way”. This is more so if they see their computer’s home location as being on the desktop near the router and while at that location they plug it in to the Ethernet socket on the router.
Some operating systems may react in a strange way if the user plugs in the Ethernet connection while the wireless connection is still active. This may be not of concern with newer operating systems that can automatically deactivate the Wi-Fi wireless network interface if the computer is connected to the network via an Ethernet cable. Here, the user needs to know how to manually enable and disable the Wi-Fi wireless network interface in the laptop.
Some of the computers will use a separate “Wi-Fi” button to turn the Wi-Fi modem on an off whereas more recent examples will require you to press the “Fn” key and a function key with a transmitter symbol to turn the wireless network on and off. This function may also be known as a “flight mode” and in some cases, will turn the Bluetooth function on and off at the same time.
Then what you might end up doing is to forget using the Ethernet cord and just use the laptop wirelessly as you realise you can use the Internet at home without wires.
Network-attached storage devices
If you are considering expanded or secondary data storage space for the “New Computing Environment”, you will be interested in buying a network-attached storage device. This is a dedicated external hard disk that is accessible from computers connected to your network. It is different to the idea of repurposing an old desktop computer as a shared storage server because the device is designed specifically to be a storage device and will end up being quieter, more efficient and more reliable to run than the old desktop computer.
They are relevant as a backup device; to offload rarely-touched data from your computer and/or to works as a standards-compliant media server for your music, digital pictures and videos. I have touched on this latter application in the DLNA Home Media Network series article: “Setting up for PC-free operation”.
An increasing number of wireless routers are offering NAS functionality when a USB hard disk is plugged in to them. This may be good for starting out or a temporary network-storage solution but a dedicated network-attached storage device can do the job much better for long-term use. As well, most of the routers that offer this function are very under-powered when it comes to handling USB hard disks and you would then have to use a self-powered USB hard disk or connect the “power” USB connection on small USB-powered hard disks to a powered USB hub.
Is wired technology relevant to the New Computing Environment
There are some cases where wired-networking technology is relevant to the New Computing Environment. One main case would be to support network printers or networked AV devices that don’t have integrated Wi-Fi functionality. This would be more so as you consider purchasing an Internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray player for your home and a lot of these devices may just have an Ethernet socket rather than Wi-Fi connectivity.
Another case would be to use a secondary access point to extend wireless-network coverage, such as with buildings that use thick walls made of brick, stone or similar materials; large buildings or outbuildings on a property.
Here, you may think that you have to lay Ethernet wiring through the premises and this may be expensive and of poor value if you aren’t renovating, extending or rewiring your building. In most cases, you could use HomePlug AV technology as your wired “no-new-wires” technology because this uses regular AC wiring as a data carrier.
What I am hoping to do with this is to explain the “New Computing Environment” that is becoming a major trend as far as home and small-business computing is concerned. This is where the computing environment is centred around the use of portable computers that connect to a wireless network.
I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 15R consumer laptop which is pitched by Dell as a value-priced mainstream consumer laptop that would suit most home users. It is another example of the recent trend by companies making equipment for the Windows platform to upstage Apple on aesthetics, build, functionality and performance in a cost-effective manner.
– this configuration
Intel Core i3 M330 CPU (2.13GHz)
Intel Core i5 processors – extra cost option
shared with graphics on Intel HD option
6Gb – extra cost option
500Gb hard disk
DVD burner, SD card reader
320Gb hard disk – cheaper option
640Gb hard disk – extra-cost option
ATI Mobility Radeon 5470 Graphics
1 Gb display memory
Intel HD Graphics – cheaper option
3 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA combined with one USB socket
1 x HDMI
1 x VGA
1 x 3.5mm Headphones output jack
Digital out via HDMI
1 x 3.5mm microphone input jack
Operating System on supplied unit
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Edition
The computer itself
Aesthetics and Build quality
The review unit isn’t styled in a manner that copies the aesthetics of Apple’s MacBook range of computers. The back of the display is finished in a red colour but is available in a range of other colours when you order the computer through Dell’s website.
As mentioned below, the keyboard area isn’t colour-coordinated to the back of the display. Here, the keys are finished in black and set against a chrome-look bezel that reminds me of the way various car manufacturers used a chrome panel around a group of controls on the centre console or around power-window buttons on the armrests of high-end vehicles to emphasise luxury.
These aesthetics may appeal to those of us who like to move away from the “Apple-copy” styling that is happening with some portable computers. The only limitation with this glossy finish is that it attracts fingermarks too readily.
The computer has a numeric keypad alongside the keyboard and this keyboard is the orthodox kind that Dell uses rather than the “chiclet” calculator-key layout that I have seen in other laptops. The trackpad is even made to be a “distinct” area with easily-identifiable buttons rather than the Macbook-inspired panel which has an area marked out for the buttons.
There is a 500Gb hard disk that is split in to 400Gb user space and 37.4Gb OS space plus a system-recovery partition for the main secondary storage. As well, a DVD burner and an SD card reader provide for the system’s removable storage needs,
This capacity would be suitable for a consumer notebook that is intended to become the sole computing device for someone who wants to head to the laptop-based “new computing environment”.
Audio and Video
I have observed the visual experience when running the move as part of the battery rundown test and it was smooth even through the scenes where there was a lot of action. The sound is very good if played through headphones or external speakers but like all laptops, it leaves a lot to be desired when played through the computer’s own speakers.
I have run the computer through the DVD run-down test and it has completed 2 hours, 17 minutes while playing a feature movie through Windows Media Player and the wireless functionality was enabled. It played the same DVD feature movie during the run-down test for 2 hours 39 minutes with no wireless modem in use; a task that would be performed when the laptop is used on a long-haul flight.
When I took the computer “on the road”, the battery duration was good for word-processing and Web-browsing even though it was powering my mobile phone as part of a tethered wireless-broadband-modem setup. I was able to get a few hours out of a USB tethered Nokia N85 when I ran the computer on batteries only and the phone was the wireless-broadband modem.
Other experience notes
When I have used this computer, it hasn’t run hot too quickly. This would be typical for a “standard-form” large-screen laptop where there is enough room for the components to breathe.
I would recommend this laptop as a value-priced option for most of us who want a large laptop computer for use as a main computer at home — the new laptop-centric computing environment — or as part of tertiary study. At a pinch, it may suit the small-business user who uses it as a computer to take between the office or shop and their home.
It wouldn’t be good for regular air or other public-transport travellers who want to use the computer while on board the plane or other transport vehicle. This is because it is too large for typically cramped spaces like urban public transport or the economy-class cabin in a plane.
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