Review: 13 inches for a fistful of dollars
Supplied by Disti Sarajevo
Dell's Vostro series is designed to cater to the needs of small businesses and other users on a budget, and the Vostro 1310, a 13-incher launched last year, is one of the more interesting models in the series.
Envisioned as a budget business series, most Vostros are fairly affordable, and the 1310 is one of the cheapest 13-inch units on the market. Recently, 13-inch notebook have started to make a comeback of sorts. Still, compared to 13-inchers, the choice of 12-inch and 14-inch notebooks is vast, but recently consumers and manufacturers started showing much more interest for 13-inch products. Currently there are a lot of very desirable 13-inch notebooks on the market, such as the Air or Lenovo's X300/301, and some of that appeal seems to be rubbing off on entry level models, such as Lenovo's SL300, Toshiba's U400 and, of course, Dell's 13-inch Vostro.
Apart from the screen size, these entry level products don't have much in common with the likes of Lenovo's X300 or Apple's Air, but they are still a very tempting alternative to 12-inch or 14-inch notebooks. Basically, they weigh just a bit more than 12-inchers, and their footprint is almost the same. A few years back 13-inch notebooks were rather pricey, and most still sell north of the €1000 mark. However, many vendors have focused their efforts on launching more affordable units, and the market seems to be reacting well to them.
The Vostro 1310 measures 317x243x23-37mm and weighs 2kg, which is just a bit more than your average 12-inch notebook. As you can see, it looks rather chubby, mainly due to its sharp edged, faceted design. Still, it's no thicker than other notebooks in this price range, but most of them are designed with curved, gently sloping edges, which make them look a bit slimmer. The Vostro's design is rather conservative, classic, which is no surprise considering it's designed with business users in mind.
Based on Intel's GM965 chipset with X3100 integrated graphics, the Vostro 1310 is available in numerous configurations, with CPUs up to 2.6GHz. We went for the entry level version, with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo T5870, 2GB of memory and 160GB hard drive. Frankly, getting a high end SKU of a value series notebook doesn't make much sense. You are supposed to be buying a value product to save money, so why not get the base model while you're at it. However, a 160GB drive sounds a bit too cramped these days. After all, even netbooks feature 160GB drives, but this thing isn't meant to be used as a multimedia center for storing your flicks, photos and music.
A total of four USBs, WLAN, LAN, Bluetooth, ExpressCard slot and Firewire assure connectivity and upgradeability won't be an issue. One thing is missing though. There is no video out, only VGA. HDMI or at least S-video would have been a nice addition. All connectors are well placed, nothing is on the front side, and the USBs on the right hand side are placed far back, which is also a nice thing. LAN and VGA are at the back, and as you probably won't use them often, if ever, this was also a good call. The slot-in 8X DVD writer is on the right, and it looks quite nice. Mind you, we're not huge fans of slot-in drives. It's also a bit on the loud side, but you probably won't use it much anyway.
Dell has a habit of offering a choice of glare or non-glare screens on its notebooks, and our Vostro comes with a matte screen. We said it many times in the past, and we'll say it again, on small notebooks or netbooks, non-glare screens are a much better choice than glare panels. The image quality on the 13.3-inch WXGA CCFL backlit screen is good, although the viewing angle is rather limited, but this is a small price to pay for better performance in daylight. After all, you probably won't play movies for your buddies on it, as it's a compact, business notebook for people who are slightly more serious than us.
Design and build quality
Dell opted for a glossy black finish on the magnesium alloy screen lid, and the sides of the chassis. Obviously the black gloss tends to pick up fingerprints like sailors STDs, but luckily the designers didn't push it too far. If you want a 13-inch notebook with more glossy black bits, you can pick up Toshiba's U400, which features glossy black palmrests, chrome touchpad buttons, and even a glossy keyboard, so you'll probably spend more time cleaning it than using it.
The paint has some metal flakes in it, but it's not too tacky. The base of the lid is matte, as well as the palmrests and keyboard. The matte bit of the lid is quite a nice touch, as this is the part of the lid that tends to gather the most dirt and fingerprints. Unfortunately, the gap between the matte plastic and glossy finish is a bit to big, and gathers dust. The same goes for the Dell logo on the lid.
This SKU ships with a 4-cell battery and there's no battery hump sticking out of the back. This makes using the Vostro 1310 in your lap quite comfortable, and it doesn't heat up much either. The battery lock is good, and once you've secured it, it won't budge.
The only glossy part you'll touch while using it is the bit housing the multimedia and power buttons. It too feels a tad flimsy. As we said in our preview, the plastic on the palmrests is a bit too thin for our liking, but most other parts feels quite sturdy, including the screen hinges.
Unlike some Dell models, this series doesn't feature many color options. In fact, Dell seems to have gone with Henry Ford's "You can choose any color you want, as long as it's black" philosophy. This isn't a bad thing, mainly because the target group is business users, and because we doubt it would look good in any other color.
The slot in drive is also a nice touch, however, the wireless button, placed next to the drive, feels flimsy and creates a rather annoying sound when you touch it. Note the sharp edges.
The Vostro looks discrete, perhaps even too discrete, so don't count on it to turn heads, but there's also nothing to dislike about its looks. It looks a lot better than Dell notebooks of yesteryear, but there's still much room for improvement. The build quality is good, although there are a few annoying details, such as the plastic palmrests.