by Jerry Jackson
The Dell Studio XPS 16 is designed for those who want power, cutting-edge features, and style. If you're someone who likes to make a statement with your notebook, the metal and leather looks of the Studio XPS 16 will help you in that area too. Sleek design combined with a 1080p display and powerful components come together to make for an awesome notebook. But is the Studio XPS 16 compelling enough to make shoppers spend some extra cash during tough economic times? Let's take a closer look and find out.
Our review unit of the Dell Studio XPS 16 features the following configuration:
Build and Design
Dell has successfully managed to turn around its corporate image over the last year or two. During the first half of this decade most consumers criticized Dell for making heavy, thick, and boxy laptops that offered great value but where short on style. While Dell sales floundered several companies like HP, Apple, and Sony made significant market gains by developing sleek notebooks that offered a more "personalized" appearance. Dell started to change all that in late 2007 with the XPS M1330 followed by more attractive notebooks in the XPS, Inspiron and Studio notebook lines. Following the huge success of the XPS line, Dell is now making the XPS brand a "modifier" for all their notebooks. In other words, you could buy a nice Studio 15 notebook or get better performance, superior build quality and more style with the new Studio XPS 16.
The first time you look at the Studio XPS 16 it's clear that this is something entirely new for Dell. They've taken the sleek lines and brushed aluminum accents from the XPS line and combined it with the multimedia features and a few chassis design elements from the Studio line to create a solid desktop replacement. I use the term "desktop replacement" because most people in the market for a 16-inch notebook aren't planning to haul their notebook everywhere and use it during regular airline travel.
What the Studio XPS 16 lacks in mobility it more than makes up for in solid design and construction. As mentioned above, the Studio XPS 16 takes several design elements from the latest XPS notebooks: the wedge-shaped profile, drop hinge, slot-loading optical drive, and touch-sensitive media buttons are all hallmarks of the XPS M1330 and M1530. That said, there's more to the Studio XPS 16 than just design elements from other Dell notebooks.
Another nice touch is the use of leather on the lid over the hinge area. We've seen leather-wrapped notebooks before, but this subtle use of leather looks a little more appealing and might even be practical. Since many people carry their laptops in their hand with the hinges pointed down this leather area provides a soft, textured surface for you to hold and keep a tight grip on your notebook.
In terms of overall chassis construction the Studio XPS 16 is quite solid and suffers from virtually no flex or creaks when squeezed and twisted between your hands. Construction is mostly magnesium alloy and some plastic with brushed aluminum accents around the hinges and the outer edge of the notebook. The Studio XPS 16 isn't quite as rugged as the Dell Latitude or Precision business notebooks but it should survive a drop from your desk without significant damage.
The one design element I have mixed feelings about is the bottom access panel. Rather than have the typical RAM cover, hard drive cover, and main panel on the bottom of the notebook, the Studio XPS 16 uses a single, massive panel that provides access to all of the notebook at once. While this is helpful for those people who want to make multiple modifications or service their notebook it also means you have to remove 10 screws from the bottom of the notebook just to upgrade the RAM.
The 16.0" 1080p Full HD RGBLED display is, in a word, gorgeous. Unlike standard LCD technology used in most notebooks, the RGBLED LCD offers richer, deeper colors and excellent contrast that make it ideal for watching HD movies from the built-in Blu-ray player or for editing high-resolution photos from your digital camera.
The 1920 x 1080 screen on our review unit looks beautiful from straight on and has fantastic horizontal viewing angles so you can easily watch a Blu-ray movie with three or more of your friends sitting around you. Backlighting was mostly even across the surface of the screen in our review unit. Upper vertical viewing angles are good, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back. That said, unless you plan to view your laptop's screen from the floor looking up this won't be a problem.
What might be a problem is the fact that Dell only offers the Studio XPS 16 with a "frameless" glossy display ... the type that uses a separate glossy protective layer in front of the actual display panel. This gives the screen a very modern look, but the trade-off is a signficant amount of reflections on the surface of the screen under strong indoor lights. Outdoors under direct sunlight the screen reflections are so strong it can be extremely difficult to see anything on the screen.
If you keep your office lights dim or live in your parents' basement with the lights turned off this won't be a problem.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls
The keyboard on the Studio XPS 16 is one of the nicer keyboards I've used on a desktop replacement notebook. The keyboard is firm with only a minor bit of flex detected near the "Enter" key. All the keys have excellent travel and cushion. Unlike the Studio 17, which featured a dedicated number pad, the fullsize keyboard on the Studio XPS 16 looks smaller than it actually is thanks to the massive speaker grills located on either size of the keyboard (more on that later). The only complaint some may have is that the keys are "flatter" than the ones used on other Dell notebooks, so touch typists might have a learning curve when using this notebook. The keyboard also features a nice white LED backlight function when you're typing in the dark.
The Synatics touchpad works well enough, though it seems a little on the small side given the size of the notebook. The mouse buttons have excellent travel and cushion when pressed. The good news with the touchpad is that it's responsive, has dedicated scroll areas and the glossy textured feel is extremely good.
A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with white LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the Dell Studio 17. The media button LEDs stay lit constantly rather than turning off after a fraction of a second, so they might distract you and reduce battery life by staying lit all the time.
Ports and Features
The port selection on the Studio XPS 16 is quite good for a notebook of this size and even has a few surprises. Here's a quick rundown of what you get:
The built-in HDMI is a very nice thing to have for those that want digital video and audio output. That said, I'm a little sad to see no lugs/screw posts for the VGA cable. While the lack of posts makes the VGA connection look "cleaner" it isn't convenient for people who regularly leave their notebook connected to an external monitor. On the plus side, the addition of DisplayPort makes up for any complaints I might have about video outputs on this machine.
With FireWire, three USB ports (including one combo USB/eSATA port), a media card reader, two headphone jacks, microphone jack, ExpressCard slot and Ethernet port you're well equipped ports wise.
Some of our editorial staff are huge fans of slot-loading drives and while I think these drives look amazing, I'm not entirely sold on the technology. Slot loading drives don't like small DVDs or CDs like those you sometimes receive with hardware drivers or in the mail. Another issue is that slot-loading drives tend to be a bit more noisy than traditional tray-type drives. While the drive in the Studio XPS 16 is one of the quietest slot-loading drive I've seen (or heard) it still makes more noise than a quiet tray-loading drive.
The speaker quality was extremely good compared to most notebooks thanks to the two large stereo speakers and built-in subwoofer. If you aren't an audiophile then you'll probably find the built-in speakers and subwoofer provide a fantastic range of highs, midtones, and deep bass. These speakers are more than enough to enjoy a feature film or share the audio from a webcast in a large office. While listening to some "Chad Vader" clips on YouTube it sounded like Chad was in the room talking to me.
The speakers for the Studio XPS 16 are located on either side of the keyboard next to the top two rows of keys. The speaker grill surface extends to cover the entire height of the keyboard, and it seems like Dell designers could have done something more with this extra space rather than just put empty speaker grills next to the keyboard.
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