Dell takes on the MacBook Air with its own sleek business laptop, the Vostro V130
Dell hasn't always been known for its focus on style, but with the advent of the gorgeous Adamo, it had a laptop for the kind of people who'd buy a MacBook Air or a Sony VAIO Z Series. It didn't quite pull it off, but the design soon evolved into the sleek Latitude 13 and now this: the Vostro V130.
It's flat, gently curved at the sides, and measures just 20.5mm thick (including feet) - and that's the same from front to back, since there's no incline or variation at all. The lid opens on a hinge set an inch or so from the rear edge, giving it a neat, angular look when sat on a desk. And best of all, it weighs just 1.66kg. That isn't quite as light as the 1.33kg of the 13in MacBook Air, but it isn't far off, and shows just how honed Dell's design has become.
There are no ports or sockets around the sides, bar a single memory card slot for SD, MMC and Memory Stick formats - and that comes with a plastic stopper to keep the silver lines clean. Instead, on the flat rear edge you'll find D-SUB and HDMI outputs, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB ports and a USB/eSATA combo port. It's a slim selection that may require a USB port replicator.
The keyboard exhibits no such compromise. The keys are large with no shrunken tiddlers, and there's space for the page navigation keys down the right-hand side. Key travel is shallow - not surprising given the tight squeeze of the base - but it's comfortable enough to type on, and the multitouch touchpad and buttons are responsive. There's no ThinkPad-style trackpoint, or security extras such as fingerprint readers and TPM chips, however.
The 13.3in screen has the usual 1366 x 768 resolution, and its white-LED backlight is even and keeps things nice and bright. Thankfully it isn't glossy, so although the colours aren't as vibrant as on the Sony VAIO Z Series, you won't have to worry about reflections from the office lights. The lid feels strong, as does the base, and the hinge has enough stiffness to stay put when you're moving it about.
Dell has chosen one of Intel's low-voltage processors, but at least it's a modern one: the dual-core 1.33GHz Core i5-470UM has a maximum TDP of just 18W and, combined with the 4GB of DDR3, it gained a benchmark score of 1.06. That's faster than the 0.96 of the MacBook Air, and plenty for such a compact laptop. There's nothing in the way of discrete graphics, but that isn't a huge loss.
Of more benefit to business workers is the Vostro's 3G adapter, accessed via the SIM slot on the front edge - something Apple still doesn't offer. Also, for the first 15 months Trend Micro will host and maintain security remotely for SMBs without the resources to do so themselves. Add to this the 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3, a 2-megapixel webcam above the screen, and the option of Windows 7 Professional, and the Vostro V130 holds its own as a business laptop.
There's a "but", though, and it's a significant one. In our light-use battery test, the Vostro V130 held on for a mere 3hrs 55mins - that's an idle desktop with Wi-Fi disabled and brightness lowered, the best-case scenario. The sealed, Apple-esque chassis means you can't even upgrade the battery. By comparison, the MacBook Air 13in lasted an incredible 12 hours in Mac OS X and close to eight in Windows, even with a discrete Nvidia chip capable of modest gaming; the Dell doesn't even come close to competing.
That's a blow to its business credibility. The thin design and light weight count for nothing when it has the battery life of an average 15.6in fatty, and that's a shame, because in most respects we really do like the Vostro V130. It's a joy to use, it's customisable, and its looks are up there with the best of them. It's also extremely affordable at $1099, and if that's enough for you, take the plunge - just don't expect it to last the day.