User Review: Dell Studio XPS 16 Update

by Biosci3c Reads (63,447)

Overview

Currently the most powerful laptop offered by Dell short of an Alienware, the Dell Studio XPS 16 is a sleek, performance-class machine. Recently, Dell refreshed the machine, adding Intel’s new Core i-series processors and a more powerful ATI graphics card. However, depending on the selected options, it can also bear a hefty price tag.

My Dell Studio XPS 1645 had the following specifications:

  • Obsidian Black
  • 16” 1080p (1920×1080) RGBLED screen w/webcam
  • Intel Core i7 720QM (1.6GHz/2.8GHz Turbo Mode, 6MB Intel Smart Cache)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670, 1GB
  • 6GB DDR3, 1333MHz (4GB + 2GB)
  • 500GB 7200RPM hard drive with freefall sensor (Seagate Momentus 7200.4/ST9500420ASG)
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5300AGN
  • Slot-loading Blu-ray Rewritable drive
  • 9-cell Li-ion battery (85Whr)
  • Weight: 6.3 lbs (as listed on Dell website)
  • Dimensions: 15.15” (W) x 10.02” (D) x 0.95”/1.34” (front/back H)
  • MSRP: $2,124

The Studio XPS 16 starts at $949 for a base, 15.6” model. Unfortunately, getting the 16” RGDLED screen is a bit tricky lately, since many configurations do not seem to offer it. The last time I checked, one way to get the screen would be to order it from the small business division of dell (which means that you have to be content with a Core i5 processor). The other available 1080p screen is the 15.6” WLED LCD.

I received this machine a few months ago as a refurbished warranty/ADR replacement for my aging Inspiron E1505, which began to break down. Therefore, this review will reflect my impressions of the machine over the course of several weeks.


Build and Design
The Dell Studio XPS 16 is a study in contrasts: sleek but large, and stylish, but bulky. The silver trim and black gloss paint make it classy without being garish in the least. Unfortunately, since the finish is high gloss, it attracts fingerprints like crazy. In addition, oil from your hands (and anything else on them) rubs off on the finish and is transferred to the screen when you close it (since the screen is not recessed).

The build is mostly plastic (even the metallic-looking trim), but it is reasonably robust. It creaks a bit if you grab it by the sides, but it doesn’t feel like it will fall apart. Some of the trim near the screen doesn’t line up perfectly, and tends to put a tiny scratch at the very bottom of the screen (hard to see unless you really look for it). I am not sure whether this is a defect in my machine or a general issue. The hinges are quite strong, and the screen takes a bit of effort to open. Ripples show up on the screen if moderate to heavy pressure is applied to the lid, a consequence of having such a large screen. Being a 16” machine, the Studio XPS 16 has a bit of heft, necessitating the use of two hands to carry it.

If you get the impression that this notebook has questionable build quality, please remember that this is a large 16-incher, and it is therefore quite robust for its size. I carried this machine around in a padded messenger bag to and from classes at college for a few months now, and it is serving me very well (my shoulder originally had a different opinion, but I acclimated quickly). However, I would agree that it could be somewhat more robust. As a side note, the Studio XPS 16 fits (barely) in a messenger bag designed for 15.4” laptops.

The entire bottom cover can be removed to access the hard disk and memory. While this makes for a much sleeker appearance, it does make changing upgrading a bit more work. However, unless you are taking out the keyboard (or something similar), it is nothing terribly annoying.

Screen and Speakers
There is only one word for the screen: WOW! This is quite simply the best screen I have ever seen, and it has spoiled me horribly. The native resolution is 1920 x 1080 (1080p, full HD) Color saturation is extremely high (maybe a bit too high, particularly for the reds), and the contrast is excellent. While the backlighting is ridiculously bright, it has the upside of keeping the screen usable even under bright indoor lighting. Unfortunately, I ran into a little issue at this point, as the screen flickers occasionally when the brightness is ~50% or below (only when large regions of white are present on the screen). It occurs so quickly, that I found myself questioning whether it really occurred. At any rate, it is only mildly annoying, and the solution is to get used to the higher brightness levels.

(These images simply do not do the screen justice. My ancient 1 MP Pentax really struggled with getting pictures of the screen in the dark).

The viewing angles on this screen are very impressive. Horizontally, the screen’s brightness falls off somewhat at ~50 degrees, and the screen tone becomes a tiny bit redder. However, it still looks great, and remains legible even when viewed from almost 90 degrees to the side. This makes it easy to have multiple people view the screen at once. Vertically, the viewing angles are very good, with the colors inverted at 50 degrees above or below the screen. The screen is glossy, and actually has a layer of glass in front of it that extends to the very edge of the frame (and is thus a “frameless” design). Reflections can be an issue, but the brightness can be increased to counter this. There is a webcam and dual-array microphone in the screen. The webcam has a slow refresh rate, and produces grainy images. It can be used with face recognition to log into the computer, but this feature seemed to work intermittently. I did not test the microphone.

As impressed as I was by the screen, I was satisfied but not blown away by the speakers. My old Inspiron E1505 actually had pretty good speakers, but they lacked bass. The Studio XPS 16 definitely has a subwoofer, and the bass is impressive for a laptop. However, the speakers sound a bit on the tinny side (like they are small, which they are). The volume has a nice range, and can easily fill a small to medium-size room. There is little to no distortion at high volume. The speakers have a bit of a directional effect, with some volume drop-off at certain angles. The two headphone jacks have no noticeable static.


Keyboard and Touchpad
The keys are fairly flat, with a ridged shape. This permits the keys to be spaced very closely together while keeping your fingers sufficiently spaced apart. The keys have a fairly short throw and are fairly quiet unless you strike them with a fair amount of force. Pressing very firmly on the keyboard yields no discernable flex. The Studio XPS 16 lacks a numpad (unlike my E1505, it is not even embedded in the middle of the keyboard and activated by the fn key), and the Home, PgDn, PgUp, End keys are positioned just to the right of the backspace and enter keys. A nice bonus is the backlighting, which has three settings (high, low, and off).


The Studio XPS 16 sports touch-activated media controls above the keyboard. Their white backlighting remains on regardless of the keyboard backlighting settings, but I found it tasteful. One nitpick is that I often hit the ‘eject’ button by mistake when attempting to press ‘Delete.’ The touchpad is almost completely smooth, with just a tiny bit of texture. The buttons require very little force to press, but are recessed enough to prevent accidental clicking. Like the keyboard, they make little noise when pressed.


Ports and Features

The Studio XPS 16 has an impressive array of ports. Most notably, it possesses two headphone jacks, an eSATA/USB combo plug, a Displayport connector, and an HDMI port. One nitpick I can find in this department is the fact that it has only three USB ports. Another is that the power cable has an annoying habit of falling out of the plug if it dangles a certain way (a problem I experienced with my old machine that probably involves wear on the plug).


Left Side: Kensington lock slot, VGA out, 1000Mbps Ethernet, Displayport, HDMI, 2x USB 2.0, microphone and 2 headphone jacks


Right Side: Expresscard port, Media card reader, Mini IEEE 1394, Slot-loading Blue-ray RW drive, eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, and Power jack.


Front: Indicator lights (Hard drive, Bluetooth, WiFi, and WLAN)


Back: Battery


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