If any single notebook can bring Dell out of its recent slump, the XPS M1330 is it. This portable's combination of light weight, stylish design, powerful performance, and built-in mobile broadband makes it a top choice for business travelers and hipsters alike (view photo gallery). Add in a stellar screen and keyboard and long battery life, and you have one of the top contenders for notebook of the year.
The M1330's soft-touch, crimson exterior is a new look for Dell, but the round logo on the lid is reminiscent of the one on the XPS M1210, this system's predecessor. Only 4.8 pounds (or as light as 4 pounds, depending on the battery), our configuration came with a built-in webcam, nine-cell battery, and travel remote. Although the VGA webcam no longer swivels as it did on the M1210, this one comes with tons of capabilities via software, including pan and zoom, face tracking, and special effects. All the webcam features worked reasonably well, and the picture was bright and clear, albeit washed out.
Along the right side you'll find an ExpressCard slot (with a mini remote control inside), a slot-loading DVD+/-RW drive, a Wi-Fi Catcher, and one USB 2.0 port. The left side houses another USB port, along with FireWire, VGA, Ethernet, and HDMI ports. An 8-in-1 memory card reader, dual headphones jacks, and a microphone jack grace the front.
We're big fans of the multimedia buttons along the top of the keyboard deck, although in general we'd prefer real buttons to touch-sensitive ones. Nonetheless, the Eject, Rewind, Stop, Play/Pause, Fast-Forward, Mute, and Volume buttons all worked well for us. You'll also find a Media Direct button for accessing your content without booting into Windows. The full-sized keyboard has a light, bouncy feel, which made touch typing a pleasure. The track pad and mouse buttons were both responsive, and we like the horizontal and vertical scrolling function on the track pad. A fingerprint reader sits off to the right.
Even with its slick external design, the display steals the show. The epic battles in our 300 DVD looked sharp and spectacular on the 13.3-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel widescreen. Colors were vivid, thanks to Dell's backlit WLED display. This panel is a welcome upgrade to the 12.1-inch screen on the XPS M1210.
We found the notebook's speakers plenty loud but the bass weak, especially at the top volumes. Dell bundles noise-isolating earbuds, which sounded spectacular for both movies and music. We'd like to see some visual feedback when adjusting volume with the media buttons and the remote, but beyond that, watching movies or listening to music on a plane will be a blast with this screen and earbud combo.
Like its predecessor, the XPS M1330 packs a lot of power into a compact frame. Intel's 2-GHz Next Generation Core 2 Duo processor, along with 2GB of RAM, paced this system to a very strong PCMark05 score of 4,545; that's about 1,000 points higher than average for a thin-and-light system. Regular productivity tasks were speedy as well, even with several windows open, and the M1330 handled Vista's Aero interface with ease.
This notebook pumps out plenty of eye candy, at least for casual gamers. Thanks to Nvidia's GeForce 8400M GS graphics card with 128MB video memory, the M1330 turned in a way-above-average 3DMark03 score of 5,196. The M1330 garnered decent F.E.A.R. scores of 56 and 15 frames per second on autodetect and maximum settings, respectively. Having an HDMI output on board means you'll be able to output video and audio to a larger screen via a single port, whether you're playing games or watching movies. Too bad Dell doesn't include a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive option..
Wi-Fi scores were also impressive at 19.1 Mbps and 16.9 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. We saw very good speeds with the integrated Verizon Wireless EV-DO Rev. A mobile broadband connection. We uploaded a 991K image file to our FTP site in 38 seconds (208 Kbps) and downloaded it in an even faster 11 seconds (720 Kbps). Likewise, we downloaded Firefox (a 5.7MB file) in just 53 seconds. To date, only the Panasonic Toughbook CF-W5 has been faster, at 37 seconds. Other Rev. A. notebooks hover between 1:01 and 1:07. And when surfing the Web on a bus ride to New Jersey from Manhattan, Web pages loaded quickly, with only a little trouble while we were in the Lincoln Tunnel, understandably so.
We saw solid battery life of 2 hours and 24 minutes on our DVD rundown test with a six-cell battery and 3 hours and 47 minutes with the included nine-cell battery, which added $60 to the price of our tested configuration. That's five minutes longer than average for this class, and you should expect about 4.5 to 5 hours of productivity time.
Our system came with Windows Vista Ultimate, but you can save yourself $199 if you go for Home Premium. You also get a trial version of Norton AntiVirus. Dell backs the M1330 with a one-year next-business day, in-home service warranty on parts and labor.
Whether you compute on campus, during your commute, or while flying from coast to coast, the Dell XPS M1330 has the power and multimedia chops you're looking for. It's one of the few no-compromise lightweight notebooks we've seen, and we like this one the best because of its unbeatable combination of performance, portability, and style. Dell is back.
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