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Budget ultra-portable laptops, such as those in the Asus Eee PC range, have been making all the headlines recently with their shockingly low prices, but usually pretty basic specs. With the Vostro range, Dell is aiming to offer a more grown-up-sized laptop with a beefier spec for a similar price. The Vostro 1310 starts at a rock-bottom £229, but the model we've reviewed here is higher-end, with a larger £674 price tag to match.
The Vostro range is aimed primarily at business users -- you'll find it in the business section of the Dell Web site -- but there's nothing to stop consumers from taking advantage of their low price tags. Most budget machines are heavy and slow, but the Vostro 1310 only weighs slightly more than 2kg and has a surprisingly good specification.
Our review model was built around a fairly speedy Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 chip running at 2.10GHz, with a decent 2GB of memory to help it along. It feels sprightly and managed to push itself to a PC Mark05 score of 4,528, which is perfectly respectable.
For storing your documents and media files, there's a relatively roomy 160GB hard drive, a slot-loading DVD rewriter, and you also get a multi-format card reader for transferring files from devices such as digital cameras.
Connectivity is good too, as Dell includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. You also get four USB ports and a mini-FireWire socket, so you can easily hook up a DV camcorder for a spot of video editing.
As the laptop is intended for everyday office tasks rather than watching movies, the 13.3-inch display has a matte, rather than glossy, finish. It's less reflective than glossy screens, and although colours don't look as vibrant, it's still very bright and the 1,280x800-pixel resolution means text and images look quite crisp. There's also a tiny webcam perched on top of the display, so you can make video calls with software such as Windows Live Messenger or Skype.
The Vostro's budget origins are quite plain to see from its case. It's got all the style of a trainspotters' convention and also feels quite plasticky. The design is certainly not going to fool anyone into thinking that this is a more expensive laptop than it really is.
This also has another knock-on effect. Although the Vostro is quite good value with its lower-spec models, when you start to add extras to it, as with our model, its budget charm starts to wear thin. The problem is that for the same price as our model, you could get a similarly specified laptop from other manufacturers, except with a much more compact and stylish-looking chassis.
The battery life on our review model wasn't wonderful either. In our Battery Eater run-down test, it managed to keep going for 1 hour 42 minutes, which is relatively poor by today's standards. Also, although it wouldn't complete our 3DMark tests, it was pretty obvious that the onboard Intel graphics chip hasn't got the grunt to run the latest games. The keyboard feels cheap too, and the trackpad is too small for our liking.
The Vostro 1310 is a decent all-rounder for everyday office tasks and Web surfing, and we reckon it's probably a good buy in its lower specification guise. With the high-end spec that our review machine came with, however, it merely looks like a budget laptop that's trying too hard to make it into the major league.
Edited by Jon Squire