Nothing puts a smile on our faces like slating a rubbish laptop or applauding a wonderful one. But the version of Dell's Studio 17 that we review here -- the high-end model with a 17.3-inch touchscreen -- isn't really either. It's powerful, has brilliant audio-playback capability, and sports a comprehensive multi-touch management hub, but it also has a couple of flaws that make it hard to get very excited about.
The configuration that we had in for review costs around £980. The base configuration is priced at about £950.
Hit the right key
The Studio 17's chassis is relatively inconspicuous, with a glossy black lid and silver keyboard surround. The keyboard has a full numeric pad on the right-hand side, with a muted white backlight for typing in the dark. Kudos to Dell for implementing a Knight Rider-esque light show when the machine boots up.
There's little space between the keys, so it's easy to hit the wrong one, but the keyboard has a satisfying feel to it nevertheless. A minor aesthetic niggle is that the 'chainlink' pattern on the keyboard surround runs right over the touchpad. That's not really our cup of tea.
Weighing 3.6kg, the Studio 17 is no waif, but it makes every gram count, with a wealth of top-notch components packed in. Our review sample had 4GB of memory, backed up by a quad-core, 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor, and a drop-protected 500GB hard drive.
The Studio 17 packs a 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 GPU. This would easily be capable of playing back 1080p high-definition video without any stutter -- if Dell hadn't opted to fit a screen with a 1,600x900-pixel resolution. The display is vibrant and offers pin-sharp definition, so its lack of a 'Full HD' resolution is a shame. Our review sample also had a DVD, rather than Blu-ray, drive, but you can add the latter for £90. At least there are HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA ports, so you can pump images to a TV or monitor, for example.
The two JBL-branded speakers that sit on either side of the trackpad deliver fantastic sound, aided by the downwards-firing subwoofer. SRS Premium Sound technology is also included, aiming to give you an ersatz 5.1-channel audio experience. While we're not convinced by the 5.1-channel claim, the SRS technology adds an immersive quality to the already impressive audio feature set.
Multi-touch functionality is a novelty waiting for a decent application on Windows 7 platforms, but it's good to see it deployed well on the Studio 17. Dell's own Touch Zone Lobby brings up over-sized, idiot-proof icons with settings for games, media and the ever-impressive Microsoft Surface Globe demo.
The 2-megapixel webcam and TouchCam software are also worth mentioning, as they offer fun, if limited, image-manipulation capability.
Given its specs, it's not surprising that the Studio 17 romped in with a PCMark05 benchmark score of 6,499, as well as a pretty good 3DMark06 score of 6,318. With numbers like these, you can rest assured that the Studio 17 is capable of handling everything from basic everyday office tasks to heavier work, such as video-editing programs and 3D games.
We expected more from the 9-cell battery, though. In Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the battery is exhausted, the Studio 17 only managed 1 hour and 49 minutes, which is pretty poor.
There's much to like about the touchscreen Dell Studio 17, but it isn't quite greater than the sum of its parts. It has excellent features and puts in an impressive performance, but it's too expensive for a laptop in Dell's mid-range series, and it should really sport a 'Full HD' screen.
Edited by Charles Kloet