Technology review: Dell Vostro v131 laptop

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At this year's Consumer Electrinics Show in Las Vegas there was one term buzzing louder than the rest – Ultrabooks. A name coined (and, somewhat controversially, owned) by Intel, it refers to the new wave of super slim and powerful notebooks that have placed portability in the forefront of consumers' minds.

One thing that isn't so appealing, however, is the price. With most models coming in at around $1,000 and likely to cost around the same in sterling when they reach these shores, it's not an easy expense to swallow. Dell, however, appear to be providing a comfortable middle-ground for users seeking power and convenience whilst making some minor sacrifices to keep costs low – enter the Vostro.

Released at the end of last year, the Vostro v131 promised to provide a flexible powerhouse that was still easy to lug around. Whilst not as skinny as its supermodel-thin counterparts, the Vostro can hardly be called big or bulky, measuring in at just 21mm at its widest point and weighing under 2kg with its 6-cell battery attached. Carrying it to and from the office and between meetings was never hard and it sits comfortably on a desk or lap without any noticeable balance issues.
 
For such a compact device, it's more than capable of handling almost any day-to-day business applications. Bundled with Windows 7 Professional, you're treated to the ad-supported versions of Microsoft's Office Suite (excluding Outlook) and the 2.40GHhz i5 processor + 4GB RAM made light work of even the most daunting spread sheets. The 500GB hard drive wasn't as speedy as solid-state competitors but our average boot times were still under 30 seconds, meaning no awkward waits as you load up documents in front of impatient clients.
 
With so much power and so little laptop, we were expecting battery life to be at least a minor disappointment. However, after two days of moderate use with breaks, it was still going. We didn't quite make it to the advertised nine and a half hours but, with wi-fi on, music playing and multiple applications open, the Vostro only gave up the ghost after nearly six hours. Light use took us up to seven and a half hours; more than adequate if you have to spend a day on the road.
 
As with so many things in life, it's the little details that make or break a device, especially when there is eager competition waiting to take its place from all sides. It's here that the Vostro both excels and disappoints.
 
The build quality is sturdy, giving the laptop a wonderfully premium feel and the added shortcut keys, 1.3MP webcam, card reader and generous pair of USB 3.0 ports (as well as a standard 2.0 that also supports device charging even when the main unit is turned off) more than justify the reasonable price tag. The trackpad, however, is sadly unresponsive especially when scrolling and the keyboard, whilst it does the job, feels soft and becomes uncomfortable when typing anything longer than a few emails (like this review).
 
Still, for light use, the Vostro has more than enough going its way to make it worth serious consideration. Powerful enough to replace even a simple desktop, there's nothing to stop you hooking up a monitor (or TV via its HDMI port), mouse and external keyboard for longer sessions with ample connectivity options still left over.
 
Topping out at £799 for the premium model and with lower-spec (but still extremely capable) configurations available from £454, the Vostro v131 sits comfortably alongside more expensive ultraportables, offering a much more affordable solution for the sake of a few millimetres. Some minor comfort issues regarding the keyboard and touchpad aside, it’s an excellent device that gives brilliant value for money in an attractive package.
 
What we liked
Phenomenal battery life without the bulk.
Quick and powerful enough to replace a business desktop.
Great premium features as standard.
 
What we didn’t like
Spongy keyboard and occasionally unresponsive trackpad.
Tinny sound (but you can't really blame it at this size).

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