REVIEW: Dell Vostro V131

Many PC manufactures are struggling to break even for the fiscal year because of the market disaster caused by tablets. But even as the consumer fever for tablets dies down, some argue that laptops just aren’t exciting enough to regain the interest of consumers and mobile professionals. Can Microsoft and Intel cut it in today’s consumerised world?

Until the release of “Ultrabooks” later this year―the next generation of laptops which will be faster and thinner at a reasonable price―laptops are going to have a tough time. They’re not as thin and light as tablets, don’t have instant on, sound quality is poor and prices are relatively high, but laptops are essential tools for content creators and business users. The Vostro V131 is the latest laptop from Dell, designed for highly mobile business users needing the full flexibility of a Windows environment. Let’s see what it offers…

Features

Building on last year’s Vostro V130, the Vostro V131 is an impressively sleek addition to Dell’s Vostro laptop line. It’s not as powerful or desirable as Apple’s MacBook Air, but at £359 (ex. VAT) the Dell is over half the price. And as one of the lightest (1.64kg) and thinnest products in the Vostro portfolio, the Windows 7-based Vostro V131 is more practical for small-business customers.

Sporting a robust anodised aluminium casing, 13.3-inch (1366 x 768) anti-glare LED display and coming in either Aberdeen Silver or Lucerne Red, the Vostro V131 supports the latest 2nd Generation Intel Core i3 and i5 processors and up to 8GB DDR3 (1333MHz) system memory, making it a relatively impressive portable powerhouse for working on the move. Equally important for frequent travellers is the inclusion of a removable 6-cell battery, which delivers up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

For improved performance, users can upgrade the standard 320GB (7200rpm) hard disk drive for a 128GB SSD (additional £180 ex. VAT). Another option definitely worth considering is the backlit keyboard (additional £30 ex. VAT), which makes working in low-lighting conditions more comfortable.

The Vostro V131’s compact size means it doesn’t have room to install lots of ports―or even an optical drive―but most of the important ones are included. There’s both HDMI and VGA ports for hooking up an external display, along with one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, memory card slot (SD/MS/MMC) and 3.5mm headphone jack.

Wireless connectivity is also a major factor so it’s great news that the Vostro V131 has most bases covered, offering a wide variety of options including 3G, WLAN and Bluetooth 3.0― features that are more common in an enterprise-class laptop. Combined with the Web camera integrated into the screen’s lid, the Vostro V131 makes it easy to stay in touch with colleagues and customers visually. Skype is preinstalled and users can customise the Quick Launch Button (situated at the top-right of the keyboard) to enable instant access to other collaboration tools.

To the left of the Quick Launch Button are two more useful buttons. The first opens up Windows Mobility Center, which puts commonly used laptop settings in one spot so users can access them easily on the go. Users can quickly adjust the display brightness and volume, check battery status, change power settings, and turn wireless on and off, among other tasks. It’s all in one place, so users don’t need to go hunting around for settings when they move from a desk to a meeting or home.

Further features specific to the Vostro V131 include the ability to alter the brightness of the keyboard’s backlight, as well as toggle wireless connections and authenticate the fingerprint reader. The standard fingerprint reader provides exceptional security for peace of mind, but unfortunately the Absolute LoJack security software is limited to US customers. Users can also turn the touchpad on or off, should they prefer the sole input of an attached mouse.

The third shortcut button opens up Dell’s excellent Support Center, a portal providing simplified access to self-help, support tools, chat, service resources, and system information in one intuitive, easy to use interface. It provides vital support information such as Service Tag or Express Service Code, BIOS version, installed and missing drivers, along with basic hardware and software information. What’s really neat is that the console is designed to provide targeted content based on the customers’ system type, which makes managing the Vostro V131 a snap.

The final feature of note is the option to support Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi), allowing users to project the Vostro V131’s display to a TV or projector wirelessly. The full desktop, including media and applications, are captured and sent to the display in full HD (1080p) resolution using a dedicated Wi-Fi (802.11n) connection. This is great for watching movies or sharing documents or Web pages with lots of people without the need for cumbersome wires. The downside, of course, is that Wi-Fi isn’t as fast as a wired connection, so users will likely experience interruptions to their video streaming.

Summary

The Vostro V131 is ideal for everyday office operations like document editing, presentations and e-mail, and also provides impressive collaboration options thanks to a full HD camera, digital array mics and support for Intel’s WiDi. USB 3.0 support will also come in useful for digital content producers as it supports transfer rates 10 times the speed of USB 2.0, and the backlight chiclet keyboard and quick launch keys are noteworthy usability enhancements. We’d also like to commend Dell for the large touchpad and soft-touch mouse buttons―the latter of which are silent when pressed. It won’t win any design awards, nor is it as rugged as a Dell Latitude, but the Vostro V131 is a feature-rich laptop for small-business users wanting high performance without sacrificing portability and data security.


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