It's difficult to know what to make of the Dell XPS M1210. On the one hand, its 12.1-inch wide-screen display is characteristic of an ultraportable laptop, such as the Gateway NX100X. On the other hand, its 4.4-pound starting weight places it in line with thin-and-lights that have larger displays, such as the 13.3-inch Sony VAIO SZ or the 14.1-inch Fujitsu LifeBook S7110. Like the Lenovo 3000 V100, the XPS M1210 offers a feature set that's a cut above that of most ultraportables, which usually sacrifice some features for portability. Though our test unit includes upgrades that more than double the price, at its $1,300 starting price, the M1210 will appeal to everyday users who want a relatively light and compact but still full-featured Media Center computer.
It's a bit larger than its predecessor (the Dell Inspiron 710m), but the Dell XPS M1210, measuring 11.7 inches wide, 8.7 inches deep (9.4 inches deep with the extended battery), and 1.4 inches thick, is slightly smaller and thicker than the Lenovo 3000 V100. Weighing an even 5 pounds with the nine-cell battery, the XPS M1210 lands squarely in the middle of the thin-and-light category; the laptop's base configuration with a six-cell battery weighs a slightly more portable 4.4 pounds. With its bulky two-prong AC adapter, our XPS M1210 test unit's total travel weight comes in at 5.8 pounds, making it light enough to carry for semifrequent travel.
The XPS M1210 features a bright 12.1-inch display that's just big enough for surfing the Web and watching the occasional movie on the road; the crisp 1,280x800 native resolution and glossy finish in particular add to the movie-watching experience. Above the display sits an optional 1.3-megapixel Webcam with directional microphone; the camera swivels so that you can snap shots in front of or behind the laptop and record presentations with audio and video. Beneath the display sit two speakers with the tinny sound that's typical of a laptop; we had hoped for more from a laptop that's billed as a mobile entertainment center.
The keyboard on the XPS M1210 shows some significant gains over its predecessor's; all of the keys are full size, with generous travel that makes typing comfortable for even extended periods. The touch pad and mouse buttons are a bit small (typical for a laptop of this size) but functional. We like the glowing blue media controls that sit along the XPS M1210's front edge, making it easy to change music tracks and control volume. We also like the handy Wi-Fi catcher, which lets you test for nearby Wi-Fi networks by simply sliding a switch on the laptop's left edge.
The Dell XPS M1210 takes advantage of its slightly thick case by packing it with an impressive number of ports, jacks, and slots. For starters, you get four USB 2.0 ports, a number usually seen on much larger systems. Add to those four-pin FireWire, VGA, and S-Video-out ports plus two headphone jacks (handy if you want to watch a movie with a friend) and a microphone jack; there's also an ExpressCard slot and a five-in-one media card reader that recognizes Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, and xD formats. Networking options include modem, Ethernet, and 802.11a/g Wi-Fi; our review unit also included Bluetooth and WWAN. An integrated DVD burner rounds out the feature set.
Our XPS M1210 review unit ran Windows XP Media Center Edition and comes tagged as Windows Vista Capable. Dell also includes a copy of the Corel WordPerfect word processor, a 15-month subscription to McAfee SecurityCenter, and the expected disc-burning apps. Also, like most of the other models in the XPS and Inspiron lines, the XPS M1210 features Dell's MediaDirect software, which plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive without booting up Windows first.
Our XPS M1210 review unit cost $2,687 for a mix of high-end components: a 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo processor; 1GB of fast 667MHz RAM; a blazing, 7,200rpm hard drive with 80GB capacity; and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics card with 256MB of dedicated memory. The M1210 earned a very high score on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, making it exceptionally well suited for intense multitasking and even graphics-intensive tasks while on the move. The M1210's 4-hour, 24-minute battery life was above average for a laptop in its weight class.
Though Dell has moved to a 90-day standard warranty on its less expensive models, the company covers the XPS M1210 with an industry-average one-year warranty, which provides free parts and labor with onsite service. You can get help through Dell's 24/7, toll-free telephone line for as long as you own the laptop. Dell offers a special tech-support number exclusively for XPS owners, staffed by reps who can provide help with the latest games and technologies. The company also has a support Web site with downloads, FAQs, and hardware-specific user forums.