Note: This review is part of our Back to School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
While 13-inch laptops make up only a small part of the market, Apple's popular MacBook has made this form factor, which we call thin-and-light, a staple of college campuses and coffee shops everywhere. Just small enough to carry around and just big enough to use as your main computer, the 13-inch is the perfect choice for many students.
One of the few competitors to the MacBook is Dell's 13-inch XPS 1330, which we first saw in the spring of 2007. The system hasn't had a serious overhaul since then, but this fixed-configuration retail model, the $1,149 1330-126B, offers a decent mix of components and features for just north of the $1K mark, along with more than three hours of battery life.
It's still hard to beat the best-selling 13-inch MacBook, but XPS 1330 at least offers a stylish Windows-only alternative.
|Price as reviewed||$1,149|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (Thickness)||.87-1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.5 / 5.2 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
Physically identical to the first XPS 1330 we looked at last year, the system is slightly wedge-shaped, going from 0.87-inches in the front to 1.4-inches in the rear. It also manages to come in about a pound less than the Apple MacBook.
The brushed metal keyboard tray has touch-sensitive controls for volume and media playback, an eject button for the slot-loading DVD drive, and a quick-launch button for Dell's proprietary Media Direct software. We'll repeat the complaint we made in the original 1330 review--the tiny, 2.75-inch touch pad is too small, especially given that there's plenty of room on the wrist rest for a bigger pad.
With a 1280x800-pixel native resolution, the same as on the 13-inch MacBook or a lower-end 15-inch system, you get the decent mix of screen real estate and readability. This version, however, does not have the LED-backlit display you can get as a $125 option when you use Dell's online configurator. The LED screen is slightly thinner, lighter, and better for battery life, but the trade off is that there's only room for a VGA-quality Webcam, instead of the 2-megapixel model built into the standard display.
One issue we ran into was that the overly glossy display was very hard to read in natural light situations, and made off-axis viewing especially difficult.
|Dell XPS m1330||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone (2x)/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Slot-loading DVD burner||DVD burner|
With only two USB ports, some users may feel shortchanged, but the HDMI output and twin headphone jacks are welcome additions, and we're finding them on even the cheapest laptops these days. Bluetooth is included, a feature many retail laptops cut out, but the only way to upgrade to built-in mobile broadband would be to configure a version of the 1330 directly from Dell's Web site.
Many of the back-to-school laptops we've looked at in the $1,000-plus category have CPUs and chipsets from Intel's new Centrino 2 platform. The XPS 1330 was one of a handful with older parts, including a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 CPU. That's still the non-Centrino-2 medium-to-high-end default, and gave us decent performance all-around. Going forward, a refreshed version of the 1330 selling for the same price should have Intel's new P8400 CPU.
The XPS 1330 ran for 3 hours and 16 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which tied for best performance in our high-end back-to-school roundup (although several of the other systems were 17-inch desktop replacements, which we wouldn't expect to have long-lasting batteries). We might have expected impressive power performance if the 1330 used Intel's Centrino 2 platform or a power-saving LED screen, but this system lacks both, so the battery score is even more impressive in that context.