Review: No thrills, no hefty price tag
A few weeks back we tested Dell's Vostro 1310, an low cost 13-inch business notebook, and now it's time to take a look at its 15-inch sibling, the Vostro 1510. Dell's Vostro series is targeted at small businesses and budget minded consumers, and it offers quite good value fot money. The 13-incher tested last week got our Top Value award, as it is currently one of the cheapest 13-inch units on the market, so let's see if the 1510 can follow in its footsteps.
Like the 1310, the Vostro 1510 is available in numerous configurations, and ships with CPUs ranging from the single core Celeron M540, to the 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo T9500 on the top spec'd SKU. We got a mid range model, powered by a T5670, with 2GB of memory and 160GB of storage. Whereas the 1310 faces relatively few competitors in its price range, the same can't be said of the 1510. Cheap 13-inch notebooks are few and far between, but the offer of budget 15.4-inch units is staggering, and basically every significant vendor has a cheap 15.4-incher to offer.
The Vostro 1510 measures 357 x 258 x 25,4-38mm and weighs 2.59kg with a 6-cell battery, which is a bit lighter than most low cost 15.4-inch laptops. It's design is very similar to that of the 1310. Obviously it's a bigger piece of kit, but it's not thicker than the 1310, which makes it look a bit more sleek, as the 1310 ends up looking a bit fatter. Basically, we think the sharp edged design is slightly better suited to the 15.4-inch form factor, as it doesn't make it look chubby, which can't be said of the 1310.
As we said, on the hardware side, the 1510 offers a lot of choice, so we won't bore you and spend too much time talking about all the options, but let's take a look at the basics. Apart from the wide range of CPUs, Dell also offers five screen options. You can get a matte 1280x800, matte or glossy 1440x900, or a glossy 1920x1200 panel on your Vostro, and the upgrades are affordable (€30 for 1440x900). The choice of graphics is limited, you can stick to Intel's IGP, or you can get a 64-bit Nvidia 8400. You can also get bigger 7200rpm hard drives and Blu-ray, and you can choose from five operating systems, two XP and three Vista flavors.
We got a 1280x800 matte panel, and it was ok, but the viewing angle was limited. Like the 1310, this Vostro also packs a bunch of connectors, four USBs, Firewire, LAN, ExpressCard, VGA out, but there's no video out. You might say that the lack of video/HDMI is not that important on a business model, but we beg to differ. A few years back VGA projectors were the norm, but nowadays you need HDMI, or at least S-video to connect your laptop to a widescreen TV, as they are becoming more and more popular among business users for presentation purposes. The card reader and audio connectors are placed on the front edge. We will talk a bit more about connectors and ergonomics a bit later on, so let's skip to design.
Design and Build Quality
The Vostro 1510 looks a tad more elegant than the 1310, as it's quite a bit wider, but retains the same height. It just ends up looking sleeker, and the sharp edged design suits it much better than the 1310.
Although they look very similar, there are quite a few differences when it comes to build quality. The pamlrests on the 1510 feel sturdier than the ones on the 13-incher. However, the keyboard is worse than the one on the 1310. It has more flex, especially near the center, and it just feels flimsy.
The choice of materials is not bad, but some plastic parts of the chassis still feel a bit too thin. Mind you, we've seen much worse in this price range, and at 2.59kg the Vostro 1510 is a couple of hundred grams lighter than most of its competitors.
The matte base of the lid is slightly smaller than on the 1310, and it looks even better, although it won't keep as much dirt off the glossy lid. The hinges are good and we're sure they won't give you any trouble, ever. The battery latches also feel solid, and it seems Dell didn't compromise on these crucial bits, in spite of some thin plastic around them.
The design is unexciting, but there's not much to complain about. There's only one color option, black, and the glossy paint has some metallic flakes in it. Once you open it, you start wishing Dell did a bit more, as the keyboard and palmrests are a sea of dull black plastic. This isn't an issue on the 13-incher, as it's quite a bit smaller, but we feel the 15.4 lacks some detail.
The stereo speakers on the sides of the keyboard don't help either. The mesh is huge, but the actual openings seem tiny, and it just looks a bit awkward.