The Dell Studio 15 is geared towards those looking for a well-rounded computer. I broke up this review into several different sections to clearly states it's pros and cons.Price:
The price is one of my favorite aspects of this laptop. While I wouldn't necessarily consider it a steal, it is definitely much cheaper than other laptops that are just as, or even less, powerful. Using a $250 discount coupon, I managed to snag mine for about $900. Even without the coupon, $1, 150 is a pretty good price for a computer of this quality. If I were to guess the price of this laptop without knowing how much someone bought it for, I would probably guess around $1, 500.
This laptop comes with a tray-less disc drive, like those found on Macbooks. Although it could be a tad noisy when inserting a CD (it sounds almost as if it chews it up), this is a very convenient feature. Rather than having to push a button, pop out a tray, insert the CD, then close the tray, you just slide the CD in. Those trays were always a little fragile, and could easily be broken if not handled properly. In order to eject the CD on this laptop, you just push the touch-sensitive "eject" button just above the keyboard.
However, this brings up my first complaint. Apparently it is a common issue amongst Studio 15 users for the eject button to malfunction upon start-up. What happens is when the computer is powered on, the eject button will immediately light up, as if it has been pressed. During this time, none of the other buttons above the keyboard can be used. After Windows starts, the disc drive tries to eject a non-existent CD, and will repeatedly try to do so about ten times before the light goes off, and the other buttons become usable again.
While this is not a major issue, it definitely is an annoyance, especially when you're turning on your computer in a library, and the sound of a distressed CD drive ejecting a non-existing CD goes off for a minute or so, bringing some attention to your direction (yes, this is a first-hand experience). I was told to have the laptop sent to Dell to repair the issue, which I did, and the issue was not resolved. Note that this may not happen to everyone, and it does not happen every time the computer is turned on, but it happens frequently enough to be considered a con for this laptop.
On the topic of the eject button, I would like to discuss the row of media-controlling buttons above the keyboard. These buttons include a quick trigger to open some media software, rewind (or previous track), fast forward (or next track), play, pause, stop, mute, volume up, volume down, and eject. Personally, I really only end up using the play, pause, next track, and volume buttons for listening to music, which makes the experience very convenient. My one complaint, however, is that when the buttons are not in use they are almost impossible to see in the dark. Note that I do not have the backlit keyboard. Other than that, the row of buttons is definitely a feature that makes this laptop a good media experience.
Also on the hardware note, this is the first Windows laptop that I have owned that is hatch-less. Instead of clicking the laptop shut, then later having to un-latch it to get it open, it just sort of closes by itself. Once you close the screen to a certain angle, it snaps shut as if it is magnetized. At first, I was a little weary to hear that there was no latch, but I've come to love it. It has no problem staying shut, and makes it that much more convenient to open.
I got my laptop with a fingerprint scanner. For those that are unaware, this little fingerprint scanner allows you to simply swipe your finger to log into the computer, as well as any login page on the Internet. For example, to log in to Facebook all I have to do is go to the login page and swipe my finger and I'm in. It's a great convenience, however the quality seems to have gone down a bit since I first got the laptop. Sometimes it takes a few swipes before it recognizes my finger (maybe the sensor has just gotten a little dirty).
The last piece of hardware I'll talk about is the mouse pad. To be honest, I don't like using it as much as mouse pads on older laptops. There seems to be a little too much friction for my taste, but I've grown used to it. However, there is a problem where it seems like the mouse pad doesn't recognize your finger for a few seconds, and you have to lift your hand and put it back on to get it working again. For example, the mouse will literally just stop mid-motion, and I have to tap the pad a few times to get it working again. I realize this sounds like a pretty big issue, but believe me, it doesn't happen that often, and you don't have to worry about it at all if you use an external mouse anyway.
For my final hardware review I'll just point out that the speakers are pretty terrible. Not only do they not get loud enough to be particularly useful if you really want to hear something, but they also distort if turned up too high. Do yourself a favor and get some external speakers when you're at your desk, and some headphones when you're on the road.
In terms of everything that doesn't have to do with media, this laptop performs exceptionally well. I have 4 gigs of memory in mine, and it runs Vista very smoothly. You really need a lot of running windows to cause this thing to slow down at all. Internet browsing is fast and efficient, and downloads go just as quick as your average desktop computer (of course, this also depends on your internet connection).
This is where the laptop really shines. The resolution is beautiful, and every color comes out crystal clear on the display. While I haven't done too much movie watching, what I have done was a flawless experience, with a clear video and no lag whatsoever. I can listen to music, surf the web, work on a report, and copy files all without any diminishing performance. As I said before, it takes a good amount of activity for this machine to slow down.
For you PC gamers out there, this laptop does surprisingly well for not being a real gaming laptop. My Studio 15 has an Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 2.67GHz processor, and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3400 graphics card. While you can't play the latest games with graphics at full blast, you can play just about any graphically demanding game with the graphics turned down quite a bit. To give an idea of its capability, I can play Counter Strike: Source with the graphics turned all the way up, Left 4 Dead with medium graphics, and Bioshock with medium graphics, but a game like Grand Theft Auto 4 forces me to turn them down to the bare minimum.
The built-in web cam is nice too. It picks up a clear picture and sound.
After owning this laptop for about 4 months, I'm quite pleased with it. While it has a few flaws (mainly just in the hardware area), the pros seem to outweigh the cons, and this makes for a good buy overall.
Get this laptop if:
- You need a well-rounded computer that can handle multiple tasks as well as basic media needs for a decent price.
Don't get this laptop if:
- You plan to play a lot of graphically demanding video games.
- You expect good quality built-in speakers.