Dell Vostro V13 Review

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$991

Pros: Stylish brushed aluminum design ; Less than an inch thin ; Loud speakers

Cons: Short battery life ; Expensive ; Loud keyboard

Verdict: Dell's sturdy and stylish small business notebook trades battery life for its thin profile.

If the Dell Adamo XPS is designed for the CEO trying to make a statement, and the Latitude Z600 is for the junior executive trying to impress his superiors, then the Dell Vostro V13 is for the entrepreneur trying to rake in venture capital. Like those earlier Vostro models, the V13 ($991 as configured) lends the appearance of a businessperson who's a master of the universe, or about to become one. Unfortunately, just like those first two systems, the V13 offers more style than substance.

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Design

Measuring a thin 13 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches and weighing a mere 3.4 pounds, this ultraportable practically disappears into a messenger bag. Not that you'd want to hide it. For a small business notebook, the V13 is quite stylish. The lid and underside are made of brushed aluminum, and the inside is a matte black plastic; neither surface shows fingerprints, and the entire look is quite classy. Combined with reinforced zinc hinges, the V13 feels like it can survive the rigors of business travel. Similar to the Inspiron Mini 10 and the Adamo, the V13's lid is hinged about half an inch forward of the back edge of the notebook.

Heat

For a system as thin as it is, the V13 stayed fairly cool during our testing. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys was 92 degrees, and the middle of the underside reached 100 degrees. The only area of concern was the back edge, which got up to an uncomfortable 105 degrees.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The V13's keyboard is a mixed bag. The keys abut each other at the base, and the top of each is terraced, much like the HP EliteBook 2540p. The layout is certainly large enough, but the keys made a fair amount of noise while typing. The keyboard also isn't as comfortable to use as the one found on the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13.

Considering it's such a small system, we were pleased with the size of the 3.2 x 1.7-inch touchpad. While the same color and material as the keyboard deck, it's slightly recessed, making it easy to find by feel alone. The touchpad itself offered little to no friction, and the discrete mouse buttons offered just the right amount of resistance.

Display and Audio

The antiglare display on the Vostro V13 had very good viewing angles from the sides to nearly 180 degrees, and it was also easy to see when tilted back as far as it would go; however, it became washed out as we tilted it forward. While watching videos streamed from Hulu, colors were very good, and contrast was acceptable. Its resolution of 1366 x 768 is standard for a 13.3-inch screen, and we were able to comfortably view two open windows side by side.

Despite the fact that this notebook is not geared towards the entertainment crowd, the audio on the V13 was quite loud, offering excellent fidelity. When streamed from Pandora, Jay-Z's "03 Bonnie & Clyde" had plenty of bass, and it filled a small room at max volume.

Ports and Webcam

Owing to its thinness, all of the V13's ports are on the back, and are limited in variety. There is one USB, a combo eSATA/USB, Ethernet, and VGA, and that's it. On the right side are a ExpressCard/34 slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. The front right lip has microphone and headphone jacks.

The 1.3-megapixel webcam offered fairly good images during a Skype video call; it was able to accurately record our skin tones as well as an orange shirt we were wearing. We like Dell's Webcam Central software, which allowed us to tweak the image quality. Also, the face tracking feature was quick and responsive when we moved our head around.

Security and Backup

Customers have a few backup and security options to choose from: Dell DataSafe Online Backup stores the contents of your system in the cloud; you can store up to 2GB for free for a year; after that, you can select storage options of 10GB ($29.99), 30GB ($39.99), 50GB ($49.99) and 100GB ($59.99). Standard on all systems is a freefall sensor on the motherboard that parks the hard drive in case the V13 is dropped; in lieu of a traditional hard drive, customers can opt for a 7,200rpm, 250GB hard drive with Full Disk Encryption, so that prying eyes can't see your data should the laptop be stolen.

Support options include Dell ProSupport, which provides round-the clock IT help not only for hardware, but also for tutorials of applications such as Norton AntiVirus, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Small Business Server, Intuit QuickBooks, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Acrobat.

Performance

Powered by a 1.3-GHz Intel U7300 processor and 4GB of RAM, the V13 scored 2,896 on PCMark Vantage, which measures overall system performance. That's about 100 points below the ultraportable average, and roughly equal to the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 (2,869). Although it's not as thin, the HP ProBook 5310m's full-power CPU notched 3,382. Still, we were able to have numerous tabs open in Internet Explorer while listening to music and typing this review without any problems.



The 7,200-rpm, 500GB hard drive performed very well, duplicating a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files in 2 minutes and 47 seconds, a rate of 30.5 MBps. That's 9 MBps faster than average, and 4 MBps faster than the ProBook 5310m. The hard drive also helped the V13 boot into Windows 7 Professional in a just-better-than-average 58 seconds.

Predictably, the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics aren't all that powerful, notching just 554 on 3DMark06, about 450 points below average, and well south of the ProBook 5310m (952) and the ThinkPad Edge 13 (908). When playing World of Warcraft, the system managed just 25 frames per second with the resolution set to 1024 x 768, and graphics at optimal.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The endurance of the V13 was disappointing given its portability. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi), the V13 lasted just 4 hours and 19 minutes, approximately 1:20 below the ultraportable average, and about 1:30 less than the Edge 13 (5:46). Moreover, the battery is integrated into the system, and cannot be swapped out for a new one.

The V13 uses an Intel WiFi Link 5100AGN wireless card. At 15 feet from our access point, we saw good throughput of 32.4 Mbps, which isn't too far ahead of its 50-foot speed of 26.5 Mbps.

Greenness

While the V13 has a paltry EPEAT Bronze rating of 7 (21 out of 27 is more typical these days), the notebook was very efficient when it came to recharging its battery. Taking just 2 hours and 24 minutes, the notebook drew an average of 23.3 watts during that time, for a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 13--well below the ultraportable average of 19.7.

Configurations

Our configuration of the Vostro V13 cost $991, but its starts at $449. At that price, you get a 1.3-GHz Intel Celeron M ULV 743 processor, Ubuntu Linux version 9.04, 2GB of RAM, a 5,400 rpm, 250GB hard drive, and 802.11b/g wireless. It also lacks one-year next business day on-site service. Another preconfigured model ($619) comes with a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 processor, Windows 7 Home Premium, 2GB of RAM, a 7,200rpm, 320GB hard drive, and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.

Integrated broadband will be available as an option in the future, though Dell did not specify when.

Software and Warranty

The V13 comes fairly free of trialware, including only a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, and a 30-day trial of Trend Micro Internet Security. Dell backs this notebook with a one-year basic limited warranty, plus one year of mail-in service. Configurations (such as ours) also come with one-year next business day on-site service (instead of mail-in). Users can extend their basic Limited Hardware Warranty from one to three years to stay covered into the future. To see how Dell fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Verdict

Much like the Adamo XPS 13 and the Latitude Z600, Dell has created another attractive notebook that is not only more expensive than its peers, but it comes up short in terms of endurance. At $991, only well-heeled business users won't balk at this model's price, especially when you're getting only 4 hours of battery life. Small businesses looking to spend their money wisely would be better off with the ThinkPad Edge 13 or ProBook 5310m. The former has a better keyboard, the latter is more powerful, and both cost less while lasting longer on a charge. If you want more bang for your buck from Dell, get the speedier but slightly chunkier 13-inch Vostro 3300 instead.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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CPU 1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (32-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 500GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 13.3
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA 4500MHD
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) USB/eSATA
USB Ports 2
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Card Slots ExpressCard/34
Warranty/Support One-year basic limited with one-year mail-in service/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 13 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches
Weight 3.4 pounds
Company Website www.dell.com