Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review of Dell Vostro V131

I don't usually do reviews - there are so many sites who do a fantastic job (and more importantly, do it at the time of launch - whereas, I am usually  a late adopter). But the Dell Vostro V131 is likely to interest a lot of people like me who are buying on a budget so I thought I would do a quick recap after two weeks of using it. This does not purport to be an exhaustive review - I'll give you some links to reviews that helped me to make up my mind at the end of this post. It is rather a recap of the good and bad points.

I bought this laptop for work use (I am self employed). I was looking for a light, 13 inch laptop with good service support at a price point under Rs.60,000. No graphics card. Good keyboard. The choice narrowed down to  the Dell Vostro V131 and the Sony Vaio S series which features some models under Rs.60,000. I also considered the Dell XPS 14, but did not see an additional value for paying Rs.65,000 other  than the good looks. As an aside, the XPS range has really gone downhill. At the time when I bought an XPS 1330 nearly four years ago, nothing could match the XPS range. Now, everything seems to have overtaken it in specs, but not in price!

I bought the Vostro V131 primarily because of the attractive price (Rs.48,000 including 3 year extended warranty for parts and next day business service). And also because the service support for Vostro is best in class.

My machine comes with an Intel Core i5-2430M processor (2.4 GHz), 4 GB of RAM and a 500GB 7200 RPM Drive from Western Digital.

Firstly, let's see the good points;

1) The battery life is awesome

I get an average of 8 hours a day working non-stop, with wi-fi on. It is fully worth the ugly little 'battery bump' that Dell created on the laptop. It's good for almost an entire working day without power.

2) It has a decent keyboard

Frankly, I am not a fan of the chiclet-type keyboard which first showed up on Macs and is now being copied on all laptops. I liked the old 'floating island' keyboard on my Dell XPS 1330, because it had more depth and tactile response. But, I guess I am  getting used to the keyboard. Keyboard is THE most important thing for me on a business laptop - I need to be able to type fast and smoothly and so far, no complaints about this keyboard. Just as well, because it would have been a deal breaker otherwise.

3) The build quality is reasonably good

I mention this because many of the reviews point out that the build  quality is poor and flimsy compared to more expensive  machines like  the Dell XPS 14 or the Dell Latitude. I appreciate great design and a strong build, but there is nothing much wrong with this. My Dell XPS 1330 had a good build but shoddy finishing around the (then) ultra-thin LED screen and after three years of use, it looked pretty scuffed up. The V131, ironically, seems better finished overall, and less likely to show wear and tear with its matte and scratch proof surfaces. Maybe it won't survive a fall, but I am thankfully not in the habit of dropping laptops. Cellphones yes, but laptops no. Having said  that, I have invested in a good laptop bag and a slipcover for transport.

4) It  runs cool
My comparison point is the Dell XPS 1330, which would expel hot air in a steady stream all the time. The Vostro 131 is thankfully cooler. I have not felt the need to purchase a cooling pad for this one.

Now, for the flip side

1) Terrible, terrible screen

After keyboard, screen is the next big deal breaker for me. I need to say this upfront - the screen sucks big time. It's not so noticeable when working on a powerpoint, but it is really bad when I watch video. Maybe, if I had seen the display before purchase, I would have been put off. I can live with it now, but let's just say that it's going to drive me towards wearing reading glasses prematurely.

2) Dell Bloatware is a nuisance

The Vostro V131 comes with pre-installed Dell Bloatware including Dell DataSafe online backup and a Dell Support center which is pretty redundant, given that Windows 7 can take care of itself, thank you very  much. Disabling the automatic  back up and updating options requires you to dig into the settings.

I would still recommend this to anyone whose primary  use is business - which is what the laptop is designed for anyway. The poor quality screen rules it out for movie watching or gaming. Otherwise, it's a fantastic package, at a starting price of only Rs.42,000 for a Core i3 processor. You will not find an ultraportable at a comparable price point in India. The battery life and keyboard make it great for daily business use.

For me, the average life of a laptop is 3 years. At that point, whether it's working or not, I upgrade because hardware  and software have moved way ahead and a laptop is a basic business investment for me. Also, let me confess that I get bored  and I need a change. So it does not make sense for me to spend big bucks on a laptop. I look for a reliable and trouble-free three year performance and that's it. And I feel very sure that the Vostro V131 will be working just fine for the next three years.

Here are links to the reviews that helped me to make up my mind-

The AnandTech review
The LaptopMag Review
The CNet Review