A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of the Lenovo W510 notebook, a high-end machine ideal for IT pros and power users. For those of you looking for a robust notebook, another PC you might want to consider is the Dell (News - Alert) Studio XPS 16. I recently spent time working with Dell’s powerhouse portable and wanted to share my thoughts and opinions.
Unlike the Lenovo (News - Alert) W510, which is geared more as a business machine, the Dell Studio XPS 16 works for both business and entertainment. The Dell has a solid and classy look and feel. It’s well designed and well built. The lid is securely clamped to the base of the machine, so there’s none of the flimsiness you find on lower-end laptops. Leather trim covers the rear part of the lid, which looks cool and does give you a firmer grip when carrying the computer.
Since you order the Studio XPS 16 directly through Dell, you can naturally choose the features and specs you want. My unit came with a beefy Intel (News - Alert) i7 720-QM quad-core processor, though you can equip it with cheaper and less powerful Core 2 Duo or i5 CPUs. My unit was outfitted with 4GB of memory, but you can go as high as 8GB. Mine came with a traditional 500GB hard drive, but you can opt for higher capacity or go for a SSD (solid-state drive). Dell also offers the choice of a CD/DVD recordable drive or a combination drive that can read and write to Blu-ray discs as well as standard CDs and DVDS.
The 15.6-inch display itself offers edge-to-edge FHD (full high-definition) with a resolution of 1920x1080 and an LED-backlit LCD screen. To save money, you can choose a less expensive resolution, such as 1366x768. The video card is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730 with 1GB of memory, while the audio is provided by a Creative Labs Soundblaster.
A 2-megapixel webcam is also standard. Connectivity options include a 10/100 network card, an Intel Centrino Advanced-N + WiMAX (News - Alert) 6250, and built-in Bluetooth. On the sides you’ll find an array of ports, including an eSata port, Firewire port, media card reader, VGA port, Ethernet port, HDMI port, and two USB ports. And like on a MacBook, the Studio XPS 16 offers a slot-loading tray for your CDs and DVDs, so you just simply slide the disc into the slot.
The keyboard’s not bad. The keys themselves are large and nicely spaced out. The keys were a bit too soft and the keyboard too flexible for my taste. But as I said in my Lenovo W510 review, I tend to be a hard and fast typist, so it takes a pretty solid keyboard to withstand my typing. Overall, it’s a keyboard I could certainly live with.
The trackpad is small but nicely integrated into the base and quite comfortable to use. The multi-touch capability lets you use two fingers to scroll up and down or zoom in and out of the screen. Unlike other notebooks I’ve tried, such as the HP Envy 14 where the multi-touch doesn’t work reliably, this feature was very responsive and accurate on the Dell.
A bank of touch-sensitive media controls rests just above the keyboard, so you can easily control the sound, brightness, and other elements. Adjusting any one element displays a clear on-screen gauge, which helps you visually adjust that element.
At around 6.5 pounds, the unit is pretty hefty but not so heavy that it’ll break your back if you need to carry it around each day. The battery sticks out an angle at the bottom, giving the computer a bit of a slant. I typically don’t like batteries that stick out this way. But Dell kept the battery’s angle to a minimum, so it’s relatively unobtrusive. The 9-cell battery lasted around 3.5 hours, not too shabby for a PC with an i7 processor. Dell also wisely offers an Extended Battery Life option which can stretch your battery life by changing the power plan, switching the color scheme, and performing other tweaks.
One negative I did find was underneath the machine. In order to change the memory or hard drive, you have to remove the entire bottom cover, which is secured by 10 separate screws. Though replacing your RAM (News - Alert) or hard drive isn’t something you’d need to do every day, I wish Dell had made it easier to gain entry to at least these two components.
Though the Dell would serve nicely as a solid business machine, it also shines as an entertainment unit. The screen colors are vivid and fully saturated, while the display is very bright. I also liked the viewing angle, which keeps the picture clear as you move away from a direct view.
The speakers are top notch, delivering a full and rich sound. On some laptops, you need to pump up the volume full blast to get decent sound. But I was able to keep the volume on the Dell mid-range and still get good output. I checked out a couple of widescreen movies on the unit, and the results were a pleasure to watch and hear.
Crapware is minimal, thankfully. Most of the applications you’ll find on the Studio XPS 16 are useful, including Roxio’s CD and DVD Burning program and McAfee’s Security Center. I especially liked the facial recognition feature. This program takes a snapshot of you with the built-in webcam to help you use your face instead of passwords for your Windows and Web site logins.
Overall, the Dell proved to be a fast and solid performer. Whether you need a business notebook, an entertainment notebook, or a combination of the two, Dell’s Studio XPS 16 is certainly worth checking out.