- Attractive for a business notebook
- Good keyboard
- Decent performance for the price
- No mobile broadband option yet
- No optical drive
- Short on ports and connectors
Business users often look enviously at sleek consumer notebooks, wondering why corporate systems are generally so unprepossessing. So Dell's attractive 13.3in. Vostro V13 comes as a pleasant surprise — and its affordability is the icing on a tasty-looking cake.
Dell's 13.3in. Vostro V13 weighs less than 2kg and is sleeker than most business notebooks
Looks-wise, the Vostro V13 is a long way from your average business notebook. Slim and sleek, it measures 33cm wide by 23cm deep by 1.65-1.97cm thick. It weighs 1.59kg, placing it in the sub-2kg 'ultraportable' category.
The outer chassis — top and bottom — is made from aluminium, which provides significant protection and makes the notebook look different from an everyday business notebook. Protection is not total though: it's possible to twist the lid section in the hand when the notebook is opened, and the display will bubble if you apply significant pressure. Even so, the level of protection is greater than that usually afforded by a plastic chassis.
The aluminium baseplate is a single sheet, which will give you a headache if you want to add more RAM to the base configuration. The battery is under the baseplate too, so you can't quickly swap in a spare.
There's no clasp to hold the lid and base sections together, but there is an indentation that extends along about two thirds of the bottom front section of the chassis, making it easy to lift the lid. This may also, of course, make it easy for dust and potentially screen-damaging materials to get inside the notebook when it's in transit. A protective case — always a good idea — may be required if the notebook is to be a frequent traveller.
The display measures 13.3in. across the diagonal and has a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. The screen's matte finish is welcome as it means there's no distracting reflection as you work. It's sharp and bright, and viewing angles are superb in the horizontal plane, although slightly less so in the vertical plane.
The keyboard has a solid feel: there is a little give, but even the heaviest-handed of typists should get on with it. The keys, which return well and click nicely, are large — the extra-width, double-height Enter key is particularly difficult to miss.
The wide touchpad gets the cursor about four fifths of the way across the screen in a single sweep. It has very responsive scroll zones built into the right and bottom edges, and there's also a responsive pinch-to-zoom feature.
A webcam sits above the screen, for which Dell provides some software. As with the Fujitsu Lifebook P8110 we recently reviewed, the bundled webcam application is perhaps not ideal for business users: avatars including the inevitable alien, a cat and a skull sit alongside various frames to 'enliven' your videocalls. More useful, perhaps, is a desktop share view that allows you to show all, or a section, of your desktop to an interlocutor.
Dell Vostro V13 comes with three processor choices. Our review sample had a 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300, but cheaper models use a 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo SU3500 or a 1.2GHz Celeron 743. Our review sample had 4GB of RAM, with lower-spec models come with 2GB. Graphics are handled by the integrated GMA 4500MHD module in Intel's GS45 Express chipset. Hard drives come in either 250GB (5,400rpm) or — as in our review sample — 320GB (7,200rpm) capacities.
Our review sample ran Windows 7 Professional, but the least expensive models come with Windows 7 Home Premium. A downgrade to Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3 is also available.
Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR); a Dell 5540 HSPA Mobile Broadband Module is listed as 'coming soon' on Dell's UK website.
The range of ports and connectors is slightly disappointing. There are only two USB ports, both located on the back of the chassis. They are close together, and if you have larger USB peripherals only one of them may be accessible. One USB port doubles as an eSATA port. Also on the back edge are the Ethernet (RJ-45) port and a VGA-out connector for an external monitor. We'd have liked to see an HDMI port too, but that's not present.
The left edge is bare, while the right edge houses just a ExpressCard/34 slot and a reader for SD-compatible and Memory Stick media. Both of these sit in trays that are a little difficult to get at because the left and right edges of the chassis slope inwards. This makes for a sleek look, but hampers accessibility.
The front edge of the chassis houses a pair of audio jacks. There's no optical drive, which may be a deal-breaker for some business users.
Performance & battery life
The Vostro V13's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 3.2 (out of 7.9) was brought down by the graphics subsystem. Both Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) scored 3.2. Processor (calculations per second) was rated at 3.9, while RAM (Memory operations per second) got 4.9. The highest score, 5.9, went to Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate).
The Vostro V13 comes with a 6-cell Li-ion battery. We have already noted that the battery sits underneath the aluminium baseplate and is difficult to access. If you like to carry a spare notebook battery, this isn't the system to choose.
Because this notebook lacks an optical drive we tested its battery by running video from a Memory Stick. We left Wi-Fi on and connected throughout the test and chose the Dell power plan that's designed to balance performance with energy consumption. Video playback lasted for a reasonable 2 hours and 49 minutes under these conditions.
Dell's Vostro V13 has visual appeal, although the aluminium baseplate will cause problems if you want to upgrade the RAM or swap in a second battery. It's also somewhat short on ports and connectors, and some business users will rule it out for lacking an integrated optical drive.