You Grade The Brands: Dell Notebooks
From now until the end of the year we’re taking a holistic look at notebook brands and how vendors fare when we aggregate data from our reviews, research, and third-party data. Generally, we focus on individual systems, but over time we’ve been able to identify trends based on the vendor. One company might always offer great design and excellent keyboards, another can be counted on to produce notebooks that get too hot. Each vendor has its strengths and its Achilles heel.
Until a few months ago, Dell held the number 2 position in notebook sales worldwide. Though recently passed by Acer, the company shipped over 10 million units in the third quarter of this year alone. Check out the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, its 2009 review scorecard, and overall rating. Then sound off in the comments and tell us what you think of the brand and about your own experience. Without your input, our report card will be incomplete.
- Performance – Dell’s notebooks consistently impressed us in 2009 on overall performance and sometimes brought the graphics muscle. The XPS Studio 16 multimedia machine blew away the averages on our benchmarks, then later in the year the Studio 17 with Core i7 blazed through them again. We were pleased to see several notebooks offer solid state drives as an option. The Latitude E4300‘s SSD gave it a performance edge over systems with traditional hard drives.
- Displays – We also often praised Dell’s displays for offering bright, popping colors, true blacks, and excellent viewing angles. Dell took a leadership position in offering LED-baclkit panels and in experimenting with new technologies like RGB, which offer a wider color gamut.
- Personalization – Dell does a good job with its consumer notebooks when it comes to customization, both in terms of allowing customers to build their systems with the specs they desire but with a wide range of color options. Dell Studio gives shoppers an opportunity to pick artist-inspired lids, as well as MLB teams, for about $65 a pop.
- Battery Life - Over the past year the major weakness of Dell’s notebook line was poor battery life. This issue cropped up across every category of system from ULV ultraportables like the Inspiron 11z to the Latitude XT2 business tablet to the multimedia-driven Studio XPS 13 and 16. However, there were some welcome exceptions, like the Studio 14z.
- Touchpads – Though not as severe an issue as HP’s touchpad dilemma, we often dinged Dell for finicky or undersized touchpads and mushy, hard to use mouse buttons. This was a particular problem on the Inspiron 11z and the Mini 10 series.
Best Rated Notebooks
Worst Rated Notebooks
Review Report Card
So far we’ve reviewed 13 Dell notebooks this year. Of those, 38.5% earned a rating of 3.5 and 4 stars (5 systems each). Only one earned the low rating of 2.5 (Inspiron 11z) and two systems received 3 stars. Out of the 13, we awarded two systems the LAPTOP Editor’s Choice.
Tech Support and Reliability
Unfortunately, Dell earned a grade of C- in our Tech Support Showdown. According to a study by SquareTrade, Dell laptops have a failure rate of about 18 percent over a 3 year lifespan, which is about average.
Overall, the Dell brand can be counted on for good design and performance, though it isn’t often that the company turns out a notebook that we truly get excited about. (The Adamo XPS and Latitude Z both look very cool, but we have yet to review either system.) We’re also looking forward to testing the Vostro V12, Dell’s ultrathin but affordable small business laptop. We’re hoping that more future notebooks will couple the high-end ideals showcased in the Adamo line with the solid performance and value the brand has become known for.
Now It’s Your Turn
Do you own a Dell laptop? Owned one in the recent past? What does Dell get right and where does it need improvement? Tell us how you’d rate Dell notebooks and why.