Dell Studio XPS 13 notebook

The Dell Studio XPS brand combines the company’s high-end XPS range with the more affordable Studio range. The Studio XPS 13 is the first model we’ve managed to get our hands on, and sports a 13.3-inch screen. Despite the compact display, however, it’s not quite light enough to be considered an ultra portable.

The design marks a departure from the svelte lines of the XPS M1330; you’ll still find the same wedge shape, but it’s a bulkier machine weighing in at 2.2kg. The tactile rubber-effect lid has been replaced by a mixture of faux-leather, aluminium and high-gloss plastic. Although slightly tacky, it’s well put together.

Unfortunately, as soon as you take it out the box you’ll find it covered in fingerprints. Open it up, and you’ll find more of the same. The premium brushed aluminium of the XPS 13 has been replaced by shiny plastics, and you’ll also find a reflective sheet covering the screen itself. This stretches right to the edges of the display, and although the flush finish looks good when not in use, it hinders usability in bright conditions.

The 1280 x 800 pixel resolution is average for a panel of this size, providing crisp if unremarkable image quality. We found colours to be accurate, and a bank of touch-sensitive buttons below the display make this a capable machine for media playback.

The keyboard is the biggest departure from either the Studio or the XPS ranges, and it’s identical in style to most previous-generation Sony VAIOs. The keys are large and flat, and although it’s comfortable to type on, the new design direction is sure to polarise opinion. Backlighting is a nice touch, however, letting you work even when it’s dark.

If we’re slightly underwhelmed by the styling, there are no such qualms about performance. You’ll find a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and 3072MB of DDR3 RAM fitted as standard, and everyday tasks are dispatched with ease. Battery life also impressed, lasting for just under 5 hours from a single charge.

Our review sample featured Nvidia’s impressive GeForce 9400M graphics card – an integrated chip also found on Apple’s MacBook. 3D performance is more than capable when it comes to any office task, or even editing videos and playing mid-level games.

You’ll be able to add the GeForce 9500M GPU for an extra £100, utilising Nvidia’s Hybrid SLI technology for enhanced gaming performance. How well it works remains to be seen, but considering the performance benefits the 9400M gives over existing integrated rivals, the addition of a dedicated GPU on top promises to make the Studio XPS one of the most powerful 13.3-inch laptops available.

The inclusion of just two USB ports limits connectivity somewhat, although you’ll also find an eSATA port, display port and an ExpressCard slot. Compatibility with other digital devices is aided by a 4-in-1 memory card reader, and 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet are both provided as standard. Those wanting to connect an external display will be able to do so by both HDMI and VGA-out ports.

Verdict

As long as the Studio and XPS ranges exist alongside the Studio XPS brand, it’s difficult to understand the latter’s existence. The Studio XPS 13 may be a reasonable laptop in its own right, but there are few things that differentiate it from its cheaper Studio siblings, and it lacks the premium feel or style of similarly priced XPS models.

In its favour, you do get an awful lot of performance for your money, and the Studio XPS 13 is one of the most powerful 13.3-inch machines we’ve seen so far. At this price, however, it’s difficult to recommend it over Dell’s own XPS M1330.


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