We’ve covered Dell’s new Stage UI before, mostly in respect to its use on the Dell Inspiron Zino HD HTPC, and Dell’s newer touchscreen all-in-one, the Dell Inspiron One. This is the first time Dell has started shipping the new software on regular desktop PCs, however, and it feels very much like a competitor (in a good way) to HP’s longstanding MediaSmart software.
The best part of the Dell Stage UI is that Dell seems to have used it as a replacement for the terrible Dell Dock, which was a bit clunky and a pain to use. Fortunately, the new one is contemporary and intuitive. Tiles are still a bit slow to load, which, given the machines’s specifications, smacks of unoptimized programming. That means that it should only get better as time goes on and Dell speeds things up.
The Stage is composed of nine specific tiles: Music, Photos, Video, Games, Dell Web, Documents, Shortcuts, Web Tile and App Gallery. Some of this is still too new to have much content, like the App Gallery, but the whole thing is perfectly serviceable. The Music tile works very well, actually, and when audio is playing, a set of controls appears below the Dell Stage.
Unlike the Dock, much of the Stage is customizable and configurable, with some icons and tiles updating the content themselves. One interesting facet is the CinemaNow functionality that Dell has incorporated into the Video tile. Users can watch trailers for new movies, and even rent and buy them, all from the Stage app. It’s very nicely done.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to the great job Dell has done with the Stage UI, and that’s some of the other software that the manufacturer loaded on top. Specifically, their “DataSafe” application, which helps users back up their software and operating system to another drive. Like most manufacturers, Dell now lets most users make their own software backup discs that can restore the desktop to a like-new state. DataSafe’s other functionality, that which lets the users actually back up their software, is disabled. To activate it, you have to pay money, which the software tries to get you to do.
In fact, you’ll even be subjected to random popups, asking you to backup, asking you to upgrade. Some of these are the typical Windows alert dialogs in the upper right corner. Others, however, are custom Dell popups that appear on the upper left and cover a good 20% of the display. This is basically just inexcusable. If Dell wants to include data backup functionality, they should do it and make it free – as it is, they can’t possibly be making much money off of DataSafe upgrade subscriptions, and wouldn’t the good will of their users more than compensate them for it? It’d be yet one fewer point with which they could fairly compete with Apple, who builds that functionality into the operating system free of charge (of course, all of this will likely be rendered moot by Windows 8).