Dell Vostro V131 review: Dell Vostro V131

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MSRP: $799.00

The Good Offering excellent battery life and processing power in a compact, sturdy design, the Dell Vostro V131 improves on last year's version while keeping a clean look.

The Bad Other 13-inch laptops are even thinner and lighter; the matte screen and mono speaker are weak for a laptop this size.

The Bottom Line The 2011 Dell Vostro V131 succeeds at being an affordable and powerful update to the 13-inch small-business laptop, adding much-needed battery life and processing boosts. At its lower-priced configurations, it's worth a look for budget shoppers.

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7.9 Overall

Most companies strive to create distinctions between their small-business and consumer laptop lines, sometimes to the point of creating whole new designs that aren't available otherwise. Most of these business laptops aren't of much interest to the average person, but sometimes a sleek design and a good price make a laptop appealing to nearly anyone. The Dell Vostro V series has been that way for us for well over a year now. These slim ultraportables resemble distant cousins of the Adamo, but start at a fraction of the price. The only catch: the last model we reviewed, the slim Vostro V130, had a battery life that was far too short, and a low-voltage processor that wasn't fast, either. The new Vostro V131 addresses both processor and battery life, with new second-gen standard-voltage Core i-series processors and much better battery performance, while keeping an aggressive price.

Granted, $499 as a starting price for the Vostro V131 doesn't land you a Core i-series CPU; instead, you get a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron ULV 847 processor, which we'd recommend avoiding at all costs. Most people (us included) would choose the $599 model instead, which bumps up to a more reasonable second-gen Intel Core i3-2310M CPU. Our $799 version has a Core i5-2410M processor.

In the field of thin 13-inch laptops, it's hard to find good ones for less than $700. For $599, this slim 13-incher could be a perfect solution for some. At higher prices, it's likely that you'll find equally good options elsewhere.

Price as reviewed / starting price $799 / $499
Processor 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 2410M
Memory 4GB, 1,333 MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB HDD, 7,200rpm
Graphics Intel HD 3000 (integrated)
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 13.0 inches x 9.4 inches
Height 0.63-0.83 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.1 / 4.7 pounds
Category 13-inch

Squared-off at the edges and universally slim throughout (unless you add an optional six-cell battery like the one included in our configuration, which adds a little bulk to the back end), the Vostro V131 is, like the Vostro V130, a sleek, angular laptop that feels almost ThinkPad-like.

The laptop's magnesium alloy and anodized aluminum construction lend it a solid heft, with a weight that just tips over 4 pounds. The laptop also has elements of the Adamo in its clean design. The Vostro V130 comes in a dull silver color, unless you spend an extra $30 for Lucerne Red. The slight hinge-forward design of the top lid leaves a little back lip jutting out behind the opened-up lid, like the Inspiron R and XPS designs. The AC power cord plugs into the back lip, which is otherwise left blank. Ports and heat vents line the sides, unlike the previous Vostro V130. It's an improvement for ease of access. Like the V130, the V131 lacks an optical drive to save space.

The Vostro V131's keyboard has changed since last year's V130, adopting an island-style chiclet keyboard instead of the V130's flat keyboard with raised key surfaces. This is true not just with the Vostro, but with the rest of Dell's laptops. The chiclet keys are even easier to differentiate, and fewer accidental keys are pressed. There are some annoyances: volume and brightness aren't function-reversed and have no dedicated buttons, and a column of page up/page down keys on the right side cramp easy access to the Enter/Shift keys. Backlighting is an option that comes standard on certain models of the Vostro V131, including this $799 configuration. Dell claims the keyboard is spill-resistant; we don't do spill tests on our laptops, but we'd still avoid accidentally pouring liquids on anything that says "resistant" rather than "proof."

The power button lurks above the top left of the keyboard; on the right, two discrete buttons launch a quick-access computer settings dashboard and Dell Support Center, while a third programmable button can launch any number of actions or applications.

A wide, matte black palm rest frames a square multitouch touch pad with discrete buttons beneath. The pad is smaller than what you'd find on Apple's MacBook Air, but it's responsive and has all the requisite multitouch gestures enabled. On the far right there's an included fingerprint reader for added log-in security and password protection. Even though this is a business-targeted laptop, however, it lacks VPro and other IT-oriented features normally seen on bigger-business models.

The 13.3-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels and has a matte coating, which helps protect against glare. We wish we could say we loved the display more, but color and images wash out very quickly at even moderate viewing angles. Despite the front edge of the Vostro V131 looking like it has stereo speakers, it only has a mono speaker. It reaches an acceptable volume and sound quality isn't overly tinny, but most people will prefer headphones.

The included Webcam has a 1,280x720-pixel maximum resolution, and looked much better than average. The array microphones included in the Dell Vostro V131 are also far better than the average laptop; our recorded voice sounded crisp and distinct.

Dell Vostro V131 Average for category [13-inch]
Video HDMI, VGA VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/mic combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband/WiMax Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None DVD burner

HDMI, Bluetooth, and dual USB 3.0 ports round out an up-to-date set of ports and connectivity options on the Vostro V131. Mobile broadband--in either WiMax, LTE, or 3G broadband--can also be added into certain configurations. The Vostro V131 lacks an optical drive, but it does have a fingerprint reader (apples and oranges, but many businessfolk probably prefer the latter). The Vostro V131 is also Intel Wireless Display-enabled, which can transmit HD-quality video and audio to a nearby TV outfitted with a WiDi adapter box. This could come in handy for PowerPoint presentations--but don't forget to buy that WiDi adapter.

The Vostro V131's least expensive entry-level config is $499, but only comes with a Celeron processor, along with 2GB of RAM and a 7,200rpm, 320GB hard drive. Our $799 configuration has a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive. RAM can be expanded up to 6GB.

While last year's Vostro laptops had low-voltage Intel Core i-series processors, this year's crop has full-fledged versions. The 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU in our model is the same processor we've seen in the HP Envy 14 and Sony Vaio SA, to name a few. It performed on par with those laptops in our benchmark tests, to no great surprise. It's more than capable for most computing needs, including multiple-program multitasking and even some more-intensive projects like video editing.

The Vostro V131 has no discrete graphics options; Intel HD 3000 graphics is all that's available. They're adequate for most people, and can even handle some basic gaming. Street Fighter IV ran at 13.5fps in native resolution and 2x antialiasing. Hey, you can't blame us for being curious, but it proves our point: hard-core games won't play well on this, not that you'd expect that out of a slim 13-inch business laptop.

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