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The Vostro 3560's 1080p screen is well worth the extra outlay, and rest of the specification is solid, although we'd like more storage options. The physical design is unremarkable, the keyboard a little too flexible and battery life disappointing, but it's still good value for money.
Dell's Vostro 3560 is a large 15.6in. notebook that lacks design finesse but packs a real punch. Among the user-configurable options are a high-resolution 1080p screen and an Intel third-generation Core (Ivy Bridge) processor — both of which were present in our £549 (ex. VAT) review unit.
Design The Vostro 3560 might have a lot going for it in terms of raw specifications, but there are precious few design highlights. In fact, this notebook is something of a brick, with a blocky chassis design.
The chassis tapers slightly towards the front, which boosts the aesthetics, while the use of a contrasting colour for the front 13mm or so of the lid and base sections is pleasing. However, there's no 'wow factor' here — although we do like the fact that the status lights are on the front edge, simply because this makes them easy to see.
Inside, the design gets a bit more interesting with a silver reflective frame to the slightly recessed keyboard that's set against a darker, slate-coloured surround. Whether you like it or not is down to personal taste, but at least it's different.
The Vostro 3560's 2.57kg weight might put mobile professionals off, although its dimensions — 37.5cm wide by 25.9cm deep by 2.88-3.25cm thick — are reasonably trim. Dell could have made this notebook thinner, reducing the lid and base sections by a few millimetres, but the footprint isn't overly large — there's not a lot of screen bezel, for example.
The 15.6in. screen, on the other hand, is a pleasant surprise. Dell offers a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution option for the Vostro 3560, which is what we got in our review sample. The extra pixels over the standard 1,366 by 768 resolution allow you to see more rows of text in documents, and generally get more data on-screen: it's very comfortable to work with two document windows side by side. The LED-backlit panel has an effective anti-glare coating, good viewing angles and delivers vibrant colours.
The large and responsive touchpad beneath the keyboard is a plus point, and when it's disabled via a Fn-key combination (to guard against accidental activation when typing) an orange LED above it reminds you of the fact.
Sitting above the recessed keyboard area on the right are three small buttons. One opens the Dell Support Centre, which provides access to system information and tools. Another opens the Windows Mobility Centre, while the third can be configured to do one of a number of tasks — ranging from muting the microphone to toggling presentation mode, to turning off the display.
The keyboard itself is comfortable to type on with a good action to the isolated keys. There's a fair amount of flex, however, which heavier-handed typists will certainly notice.
Features There are five preconfigured Vostro 3560 models at Dell's website as we write, starting at £369 (ex. VAT) and rising to £699 (ex. VAT). Our next-to-top-end review sample is listed at £549 (ex. VAT).
For that outlay you get a third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i5-3210M processor running at 2.5GHz, supported by 6GB of RAM. The RAM quota has only recently been upgraded, and our review sample came with 4GB. Graphics are managed by a discrete GPU — AMD's Radeon HD 7670M with 1GB of dedicated video RAM — rather than the CPU-integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
Our review sample came with a 500GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. Unfortunately this is the largest-capacity hard drive you can specify for the Vostro 3560 — we'd prefer more choice here.
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (4.0) and Gigabit Ethernet are all present.
There is an HD webcam on the upper screen bezel, which is supported by Dell's own webcam software. You can take photos and record video at resolutions to 1,280 by 720 pixels, and also upload to Photobucket and YouTube from within the app.
If you're in frivolous mood, Dell Webcam Central offers a host of effects, including scenes to drop onto your video or photo, face 'accessories' such as eyeware and hats, avatars and some clever if rather unnerving face distortion effects. There's no face-recognition login option, but biometric login is catered for via a fingerprint sensor embedded into the wrist rest.
Dell provides no fewer than four USB 3.0 ports, one of which has Power Share capability. These are deployed in two pairs, one on the left edge and the other on the right. The right edge also houses a 34mm ExpressCard slot — quite a rare sight on notebooks these days. The optical drive is also on the right, along with the Ethernet (RJ-45) port.
As well as two of the USB 3.0 ports, the left edge carries VGA and HDMI ports, plus a pair of audio jacks (microphone and headphone). On the front there's a card reader that accepts SD- and Memory Stick-compatible media.
Performance & battery life The Vostro 3560's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.9 (out of 7.9) is very respectable, with the Processor (Calculations per second) score leading the way on 7.1. The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which in this case was a draw between RAM (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate). In between came Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), both scoring 6.5.
Note that the model now shipping from Dell, with 6GB of RAM rather than the 4GB reviewed here, should perform even better.
Dell provides the Vostro 3560 with a 6-cell battery, which we tested by setting the notebook to play a DVD continuously until the (fully-charged) battery expired. It managed a disappointing 2 hours and 36 minutes under these conditions, which leads us to suspect that you'd struggle to get a day's typical usage from the system without resorting to a recharge.
Audio quality from the stereo speakers is good enough both for DVD-watching and for delivering multimedia presentations to small groups.
Conclusion The Dell Vostro 3560's high-resolution 1080p screen is well worth the extra outlay, if you can afford it. The rest of the specification, including an Ivy Bridge Intel processor, is solid — although we'd like more storage options. The physical design may be unremarkable, the keyboard a little too flexible and battery life disappointing, but this notebook still represents good value for money.