Dell's business range has, like Lenovo's, slowly been claiming more and more of our awards. There's a good reason for that: Dell has a focus on style to go with its excellent performance for price ratio, while Lenovo (see page 70) has the benefit of years of IBM knowledge in usability to support its lightweight excellence.
The Vostro range in particular stands out for small business, with well-featured laptops at very affordable prices. We were impressed with the Vostro 1520 when we saw it a few months ago, so we were keen to try out the new, and very stylish looking, Vostro 13 (or V13 as some of the Dell folk have dubbed it).
The exterior is lush aluminium, clearly borrowing its looks from the sleek lines of the Adamo, while inside everything is an invitingly deep matte black. It invites you to stroke its surface and pick it up, and it's hard to resist taking a closer look.
The 13.3in 1366 x 768 screen rewards closer inspection; the matte surface helps cope with the glare of fluorescent lights, and colours are rich and vivid. If anything, red tones are a little soft and washed out, but for business uses, text is clear and crisp, and the screen is bright.
Dell hasn't skimped on the internals either, opting for the mid-range 1.3GHz SU7300 CULV processor for the Vostro 13 rather than the more lightweight processor used in the Lenovo X100e. IT backs that up with a decent 500GB of storage, as well as 4GB of RAM - even though it only supplies a 32-bit copy of Windows 7 Professional to go with it.
There's no graphics processor, but this isn't a laptop designed to do more than PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets, and the SU7300 copes with those adequately.
Dell has avoided the trend to isolated keyboards, going instead for an edge to edge style that has slightly raised key centres.
There's not much travel, and little responsiveness, but at least the keys don't feel hard underneath your fingertips - we managed typing without discomfort, even if it's not the best keyboard we've used. The trackpad is nondescript, with no major benefits or drawbacks to speak of.
There's not terribly much surprising about the Vostro 13 once you get past its gorgeous exterior - in our performance benchmarks it produced a decent but not outstanding 0.69 overall, and like many lightweight business laptops, there's no optical drive. There are no real flourishes to aid the business traveller, either.
There's a fast presentation function button, and similarly the trackpad can be switched off, but there are only two USB ports (one of which is a hybrid eSATA/USB), and apart from that, you get just a D-SUB, Ethernet, Expresscard and memory card slots.
That limited selection of ports and connections - and their placement at the rear of the machine - make it seem as though the Vostro 13 is designed to sit on an executive desk with keyboard, mouse and monitor attached, but the sleek looks belie that. But anyone on the road with this would quickly become aggravated at both the placement and paucity of ports.
Dell's included features are minimal, too, with only a datasafe online backup program and a backup and recovery program included. While the lack of fingerprint protection and advanced security features is more of a concern for enterprise than small business, it's disappointing to find so little attention paid to security.
Battery life for those on the go is reasonable, but again, not outstanding. It managed nearly two hours on our heavy use benchmark, and thanks to the low voltage processor, it reached nearly five hours on light use, but these aren't above the pack, and models like the x100e and Thinkpad Edge outdo it in other regards.
There's no doubt that the Dell Vostro 13 is a very desirable object, but at $1299 it's more expensive than it should be and for a small business person, it's like a tradie who doesn't want to get their hands dirty: it may not get the job done.