At £730, the Studio 1558 sits neatly between Dell's budget Inspiron models and the more-coveted XPS range. This laptop is designed to offer a good balance between performance and price, with the added appeal of a customisable lid in a range of colours and artistic patterns.
The Studio 1558 may not have the sexy brushed-aluminium look of some of the models in Dell's XPS range, but there's still plenty to like about its design. Because the chassis is wedge-shaped, the spacious keyboard naturally tilts towards you to provide a pleasant typing angle. We also like the way the trackpad is integrated seamlessly into the keyboard surround to give it a unified look and feel.
The snappy keys feel fast under your fingers so you'll have no problem getting up to a decent speed when you're touch typing. The landscape-shaped trackpad is also relatively roomy and the buttons are suitably responsive. Our model came with a backlit keyboard, which adds an extra £26 to the price, but we think it's a worthwhile spend.
The laptop's build quality is well above par and it feels remarkably solid. There are a couple of negatives, however. The silver finish that frames the keyboard looks a little on the cheap side and the laptop is also rather heavy. To be fair, it doesn't weigh a whole lot more than other laptops with similar-sized screens. But, at 2.5kg, you wouldn't really want to be carting it around with you all day.
The 1558's line-up of ports is satisfactory rather than spectacular. You get three USB ports (one of which doubles as an eSATA port), along with a VGA socket and an HDMI output for hooking the laptop up to a large-screen TV. Dell has also included a mini FireWire port and an SD card reader. For internet connectivity, there's an Ethernet port plus 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth capability.
Our model came with an upgraded, Full HD display, which will cost you an extra £70. Again, it's money well spent -- the display looks outstanding. The 15.6-inch screen is LED backlit, which helps it not only produce exceedingly bright pictures, but also exceptionally vivid colours. This, combined with the 1080p resolution, makes for beautifully crisp and punchy pictures.
The laptop is no slouch in the performance stakes, either. Powered by a quad-core Intel i5 M520 2.4GHz processor, helped along by 4GB of RAM, it managed to rack up a highly respectable score of 6,632 in the PCMark05 test, so it should have no problems dealing with heavy multitasking duties.
Our model also had a dedicated graphics processor in the form of the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470. This is a relatively powerful chip and helped propel the Studio to a decent score of 4,560 in the 3DMark06. This score suggests the 1558 will happily run the latest first-person shooters, but you may have to turn the detail down a little.
The 500GB hard drive is quite substantial, giving you plenty of space to store your work files as well as fun stuff like movies, photos and music. The right-hand side of the laptop is home to a slot-loading DVD rewriter, which comes in handy for backing up the laptop and playing the odd DVD movie.
Unfortunately, DVD movies and music won't sound too hot through the on-board speakers, which are quite tinny and almost completely devoid of bass. You're best to pair the 1558 with a decent set of PC speakers if you're going to use it for home entertainment purposes.
The Studio 1558 is relatively large and heavy, so it's not really a laptop for road warriors. Battery performance, therefore, isn't as crucial as with lightweight machines like netbooks and ultra portables. If you are planning on using it away from the mains for extended periods of time, you'll be pleased to hear its battery performance isn't actually that bad. In our intensive Battery Eater test, it managed to keep running for an hour and 34 minutes, which compares favourably to ultra portables like the Samsung Q330.
On the whole, the Studio 1558 is a good all-rounder that offers an impressive screen and a processor with plenty of poke, for a sensible price. Its design, despite the range of colours and patterns on offer, is not quite as flash as some of the latest 15-inch models from Toshiba and Samsung, but it makes up for this lack of flair with remarkably good build quality. If you're looking for a mid-range laptop for the whole family to use at home, we think it's a safe bet.
Edited by Emma Bayly