Dell Vostro 1500 review
We're unconvinced by the benefits for businesses, but consumers stand to gain more.
Dell's range of laptops has remained remarkably consistent over the years. The Latitude range caters for business users, including excellent machines such as the D430, the Inspiron range for home users, such as the Inspiron 6400 (web ID: 86247), and the XPS range for gaming enthusiasts. With seemingly all bases covered, you could be forgiven for feeling a little bemused by yet another range.
The marketing material claims the Vostro brand is targeted specifically at small businesses with between one and ten employees. The idea is a reasonable one, since those with fewer than ten employees are unlikely to bother with a centralised IT infrastructure, meaning PCs and laptops need to take care of their own maintenance and backup.
Extra services are the key, with Dell relying on some business-style touches to get the Vostro brand noticed. So it offers a year's online backup (3GB), a service centre with "dedicated IT staff" and an on-site next-business-day warranty.
Take note, though, that many of Vostro's extras come at a price. Cut the online backup, for example, and you'll save £20. Also, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect any manufacturer's support lines to include a conversation with "dedicated IT staff". Finally, you can shave off £119 exc VAT if you take that impressive warranty down to a single year. Do the maths right and you can buy a bottom-of-the-range Vostro laptop for just £229.
There are also some strikingly odd touches in the specification of the Vostro 1500. Dell claims the graphics card, an Nvidia 8600M GT in this particular specification, is for "web design, programming and CAD applications", although it's extremely rare that these applications will make much use of a gaming processor. It does, however, make the Vostro incongruously good at games: it scored 19fps in our Call of Duty 2 test at its medium settings.
The rest of the specification is ample. The 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo T7100 is powerful enough to ensure responsiveness in high-end applications, and there's a healthy 2GB of RAM to keep Windows Vista happy. We also appreciate the roomy 160GB hard disk, which is plenty for a suite of applications, plus a music library and a smattering of video.
But the compromises turn up sooner rather than later. A laptop's looks shouldn't have much bearing on its success or failure, but first impressions matter in the real-world: just compare the difference between the Vostro 1500 and the Dell Latitude D430. The Vostro will never be mistaken for anything but a budget laptop. Open it and acres of anonymous black plastic stare back, and while Dell has at least imbued it with some curvy edges, once it's open in front of you it just looks slightly plump. Its weight, 3.1kg, is only just tolerable for regular carrying, but battery life is surprisingly good - 4hrs 04mins under light use.
Build quality is decent enough - the 1500 is solid, although there's a bit of flexibility in the screen and wristrest. It's pleasing to see Dell has used the full 368mm width to allow full-sized keys in a standard keyboard layout, which lends itself to acceptably comfortable typing.
The screen holds back the Vostro slightly. The 15.4in diagonal is spacious, but there's little room for working, courtesy of its restrictive 1,280 x 800 resolution. Editing a small spreadsheet or a single document is fine, but dragging and dropping between a few applications becomes tedious: you simply can't fit enough on the screen at once. Upgrading to a more practical 1,440 x 900 screen costs £40. The screen is at least bright, and viewing angles sufficient for presentations.