We heralded the Dell XPS M1330 as one of the best 13.3-inch notebooks when it debuted, and when we see the trade-offs and exorbitant prices that newer entries demand, the M1330 looks even better.
Dell’s Delightful Design
The M1330’s distinctive wedge shape looks sharp, as did our test unit’s blue-and-silver color scheme (black, white, or crimson are also available). Flip the lid and you’ll find a full-size keyboard that’s second—just barely—to the ThinkPad X300 in comfort and feel. The touchpad is on the small side, but we appreciate the dedicated horizontal and vertical scroll areas.
You’ll also find a row of capacitive-touch multimedia buttons above the Function keys, including a Media Direct button for accessing your content without booting into Windows and an eject button for the slot-loading DVD burner. We wish there were a Blu-ray drive option, given the M1330’s HDMI port. Dell also bundles noise-isolating earbuds and a remote control that slips into the ExpressCard slot.
When equipped with the 6-cell battery, the M1330 weighs just 4 pounds, though we prefer the extended 9-cell battery. It adds a bit of heft but gives an ergonomic lift to the back of the machine and provides a comfortable handgrip for carrying. It also delivers more runtime: An excellent 5.5 hours of typical use (the same as the Sony VAIO SZ series) and a good 2.5 hours of continuous DVD playback.
The 13.3-inch LED-backlit screen delivered rich, vivid colors and was excellent at handling motion and shadow detail. Audio quality for movie and music playback was very good, and volume was adequate for personal use or for a few people around a conference table. The screen’s viewing angles are good from the sides, though moving off-axis in the vertical plane resulted in a brightness shift and washed-out screen image.
Penryn Gives The 1330 A Push
With the addition of the 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 45-nanometer processor (codenamed Penryn), Dell has made an already excellent performer even better. The M1330 scored 3,061 on PCMark Vantage, booted Windows Vista Home Premium in a quick 37 seconds, and completed our iTunes encoding hands-on trial in 4 minutes flat—all excellent.
Equipped with a 128MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 graphics processor, the M1330 has the chops to deliver playable 3D frame rates. Granted, you won’t be gaming at the highest resolution or detail levels, but we saw 63 fps on F.E.A.R. at 800 x 600 and an excellent (for this class) 6,166 on 3DMark03.
The M1330 also has 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, and available EV-DO Rev. A or HSDPA wireless broadband. And its Wi-Fi throughput was top-notch, streaming an average 18.1 Mbps at 15 feet and 16.6 Mbps at 50 feet.
You also get a generous 160GB hard drive, a fingerprint reader, and a 2.0-MP webcam that includes image-enhancement controls, pan and zoom, face tracking, and special effects (a VGA webcam upgrade costs $150 more). Other perks include 10GB of free online storage for one year; the free DellConnect service, which enables technicians to resolve many common problems remotely; 15 months of antivirus protection from McAfee, Norton, or Trend Micro; and even Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements software. Dell backs the M1330 with a one-year, next-business-day, in-home service warranty on parts and labor.
So let’s review: top-notch screen, keyboard, performance, design, portability, and features, all for under $2,000. Sure, it’s not as thin as the MacBook Air or ThinkPad X300, but the XPS M1330 has more features than the former and a much lower price than the latter. This is the ultimate sweet-spot notebook for consumers.