by Phil Rosati, Nevada USA
When I decided to purchase a notebook, I knew it was primarily going to be a computer for me to carry around my place so as to not be "tethered" to a desk. Also, I have a high end gaming desktop computer that creates a lot of noise and heat and I wanted the antithesis of this for my basic computing tasks. Thus, I knew I wanted something small and light.
Dell Inspiron 700m collapsed open view (view larger image)
I do 99% of my research on the internet, so I first visited CNET, NotebookReview.com, PC Magazine, PC World, etc, to find the top picks. The Dell 700m came up in a lot of the reviews as the top pick, so I decided to check that one out. I would have loved to have gotten my hands on a VAIO or a LifeBook or a ThinkPad, but the price premium you pay for those was something I just couldn't justify, especially since I'm not a "Road Warrior". Basically, I had narrowed it down to a Dell. I checked out the Dell Kiosk at my local mall just to get a "feel" for the various notebooks. I had at one point been considering an Inspiron 6000, but after seeing it I decided it was just too big. I may have gone with the 600m, but since it didn't have the Tru-Brite screen (or whatever Dell calls it), I ruled it out. The fact that I was able to get an incredible coupon for the Dell Inspiron 700m sealed the deal. I got the following 700m (with a free bag and extra AC Adapter) for $1,077 shipped:
I think Dell's buying experience is pretty great. In my comparison shopping I've "built" many systems and Dell's process is one of the best. The options that are available are very clear, you can click on links for more info, and the layout is pleasing to the eye.
Shipping / Packaging
To me this is an important part of the buying process because it reflects the efficiency of the manufacturer and its readiness to please its customers. Dell's Order Status page is again really good, showing you where your product is every step of the way (almost). However, when the order gets to the "boxing" stage it seems to stay there for an inordinate amount of time. Dell's explanation of this stage is that it is when they box all of the materials. Great, except:
I came to find out that during this boxing stage, Dell puts the laptop on a boat from Malaysia (where apparently all of their laptops, at least the Inspirons, are manufactured) to the US. I think it would be nice if Dell would inform the customer in some way about this, but it's not a big deal. After that they shipped the package via UPS it took about a week to get to my place. Not bad, but not speedy.
When I opened my box, the case was the first thing I saw, wrapped in plastic. It is what it is. Then there is a box containing the spacer for the modular optical drive bay, some application/support CDs, the AC Adaptors, and the manual. It's nice to see Dell includes a paper manual in addition to a PDF one (some manufacturers are moving to just PDF) for those times when your PC crashes and you can't start it to read the PDF (doh!). The paper of the manual, however, feels thin and cheap and the manual is printed in black and white. Again, not a big deal, but not terribly impressive. I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet.
The final box contains the laptop, which is flanked by two styrofoam spacers and is enclosed in a plastic bag. All in all, nothing impressive, but it got here in one piece and with nothing missing, so that's nothing to complain about.
Aesthetics and Build Quality
The 700m seems very sturdy. Especially durable is the bottom, which is made of a very hard plastic. Some people have mentioned that the touchpad click buttons seem sort of cheap, which may be true. However, they have a pleasant feel that doesn't make me think "Man, this thing is a piece of crap" every time I click on something. Rather, I have more of an issue with the touchpad itself. It is perfectly fine to mouse on, but when I "click" (by just tapping the pad), it seems as if the top material of the pad comes into contact with a layer of plastic below, then sticks to it for a split second before coming back up. It's tough to describe, but it does feel a bit cheap.
Included power adapter for the 700m (view larger image)
As far as looks go, the Dell is probably a mixed bag for most people. On the one hand, I like how Dell didn't go with the same dark gray/blue color scheme that virtually every other Dell notebook sports. On the other hand, the light gray/splashes of white scheme isn't all that much better. That's just my opinion. It's not that I don't like it, but it's nothing I'm especially excited about. Also, for some reason, I find the green LED indicator lights that Dell uses to be extremely boring. They're dull and not very bright. The Gateway my wife got, for example, has some nice bright, blue indicator lights. Dell should at least make theirs brighter. I do like that the actual icons themselves light up and not just a non-descript dot above them. It makes it easier to see which item is lit in the dark.
Dell Inspiron 700m left side view (view larger image)
Dell Inspiron 700m right side view (view larger image)
Size comparison to standard sized magazine (view larger image)
My 700m came with XP Home and a ton of other crap. More crap than came with a Gateway my wife just purchased. I decided to just clean it off rather than reload it with Pro because I wanted to keep some of the Dell support stuff that was on it. So, off the top of my head, I uninstalled McAfee Security Center, McAfee Virus Scan, McAfee Personal Firewall, Dell Picture Studio, JASC Paint Shop Pro Album (or something like that), WordPerfect Office, MusicMatch Jukebox 10, and a few annoying browser helpers. The system seems to have recovered fine, though, after chasing down most of the remaining registry entries, etc. On another note, the BIOS splash screen is particularly ugly. At least in my opinion. I like some of the Dell Support stuff that ships with the laptop, like the little application that will tell you your Service Tag and Express Service Code so you don't have to find it on your chassis.
As I mentioned before, I bought this laptop to do most of my basic computing tasks. Thus, performance has been more than adequate, as all I have done is install applications, surf the web, burn a few CDs (more on that later), work in Microsoft Office, and edit a simple web page using FrontPage. I couldn't resist running a Super-Pi test, though. Super-Pi calculates the number pi to a certain number of decimal places. It's a processor intensive task and a decent (and quick) benchmark. Here are the results compared to two other systems:
Gateway m210x (Intel Pentium M @1.7 GHZ / DDR2700 2x512 Non-ECC Non-Buffered / 4200RPM 80GB)
Dell Inspiron 700m (Intel Pentium M 745 Dothan @1.8 GHZ / Infineon DDR2700 2x512 Non-ECC Non-Buffered / Fujitsu 4200RPM 80GB)
Work System (Custom Build) (Intel Pentium 4 530 3.0 GHZ Prescott, Geil Ultra DDR3200 1GB Non-ECC Non-Buffered, Western Digital SATA Raptor 10,000RPM 36GB)
I also ran an HD Tune test, which tests the basic stats of your Hard Drive. Here were my results:
|Notebook||HD Temperature||Min Transfer Rate||Max Transfer Rate|
|Gateway M210x||37 Celsius||2.6 MB/sec||28.9 MB/sec|
|Dell Inspiron 700m||42 Celsius||5.0 MB/sec||27.9 MB/sec|
Dell Inspiron 700m HDTune benchmark results graph
It seems as if the claims that a 1.8GZ Pentium M is equivalent to a 2.4 GHZ P4 may have some accuracy. Unfortunately, I didn't have a 2.4 GHZ P4 system available to test. To be honest, I was expecting the Dell to beat the Gateway in the HD Tune test, but it was not to be. Interesting, but not a huge difference. I haven't noticed any performance anomalies, no blue screens, no excessive hang-time, so I'm happy. A quick note on CD burning: The burner works just fine, but it is slow. I believe it's only rated at 24x, so it's not a barn burner.
Another quick note on battery life: It sucks. I get roughly two hours of web surfing before the laptop conks out, but I didn't spring for the barely-bigger but twice as long-lasting extended life battery. Personally, I can live with the battery life, but it's definitely one of the downfalls of the laptop. Also note that I haven't played with any Hardware Profiles/Speedswitch settings. Everything is factory.
Display / Sound
The display is beautiful. It has the glossy extra shiny style display and it's just great. Even when I run on battery and the display automatically dims, I don't feel like I'm getting cheated, it still looks awesome. To me, 12 inches is definitely not too small to run 1280x768. I like my high resolutions, but if you don't like tiny print, you may want to consider a laptop with a larger screen to run that resolution on (don't even think of running the laptop on a lower resolution, that's a waste of time and money). As far as the speakers go, they're typical laptop ones. They're not going to knock your socks off, and you miss most of the low-end of your media files/games. On the other hand, I've watched DVDs and the experience is fine. If you want/need good sound, invest in headphones or some nice speakers.
Yes, the keyboard is small, but you get used to it. I actually like the choices Dell made regarding which keys to make smaller, which keys to keep the same size, etc. Also, I couldn't be happier about the fact that the Ctrl key is on the outside of the keyboard on the left side, not the Function (Fn) key. I'm used to not looking to have to hit the Ctrl key, and if it were inside past the Function key, I'd go crazy. The keyboard also feels well built.
I wish there were more USB ports, and I wish they were a bit more scattered about the laptop, and I really wish they weren't right on top of one another. My jumpdrive, for example, partially obscures the second USB port when it's plugged in. Really, though, two is enough, and it's not like someone is going to buy this ultraportable and then stick forty peripherals on it. Also, it's nice that they included Firewire (albeit the wimpy 4-pin port). A big plus is the Secure Digital slot. Very nice to have, but that's because my camera takes SD. If it didn't, I wouldn't care. Finally, the headphone jack in the front is very convenient. I don't have to go digging around the outskirts of the case to find it.
Here are the rest of the ports I didn't mention:
I am infinitely happy with my purchase. I now don't have to boot up my gaming rig just to check my email. I can also do some light photo editing in front of the TV. It's light, easy to carry around, and the screen looks great. I'd recommend the 700m to anyone who wants a very portable notebook without sacrificing power. It's not as thin as other ultra-portables, but it includes an optical drive. Here are the final pros and cons:
Pricing and Availability: Dell Inspiron 700m
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