We're still unsure of Dell's goal in combining the mid-range Studio and high-end XPS laptop lines into the new Studio XPS brand, but at least it means we're finally getting a true 16:9, 16-inch laptop from the company, in the form of the Studio XPS 16.
Prices on the Dell Web site for this laptop start at around £799. The version that we tested costs around £1,090.
The Studio XPS 16 is a smart-looking laptop with some new features that distinguish it from a run-of-the-mill Inspiron, including a backlit keyboard and leather trim on the back of the lid. We think the trim is superfluous but we feel more positively about the leather-clad wrist rests. Dell's Studio XPS models also offer options not available on the standard Studio (non-XPS) line, such as a full, 1,920x1,080-pixel LED-backlit display.
The rounded hinge and tapered design remind us of Dell's XPS and Studio laptop lines, which makes sense, since this is a hybrid of the two. Unlike many other Dell systems, the Studio XPS 16 is only available in one colour scheme -- a shiny piano black, with a matching black-leather trim that covers a strip on the back of the lid near the hinge. The leather accent seemed arbitrary to us, but it's a matter of taste and certainly not unattractive.
With a backlit keyboard and flat, widely spaced keys, the Studio XPS 16 shares a general typing aesthetic with Apple and Sony laptops. We always encourage backlit keyboards (Toshiba has started adding them to lower-priced models), as they are fantastically useful when, for example, looking something up online while watching TV in a darkened room. A row of touch-sensitive media controls sit above the keyboard -- a feature Dell includes in even its low-end laptops.
Thanks to the 1,920x1,080-pixel display, the Studio XPS 16 is great for watching Blu-ray movies or other high-definition content (an optional Blu-ray optical drive is available). For £150 less, you can get a more basic 1,366x768-pixel display, but we wouldn't recommend it. Both display types, however, have that edge-to-edge glass that seems to be all the rage these days.
The Studio XPS 16 is one of the first systems we've seen with a DisplayPort connection built in. According to Dell, it's getting behind the new standard in a major way, and we should expect to see it on most Dell laptops in the future. While the technology itself is fine, we're dubious of how quickly the public will adopt DisplayPort. After all, HDMI is just starting to gain mainstream acceptance, thanks to cheap HDTVs and HD game consoles, such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Jumping to a new connection (and a new set of required cables) is going to be a hard sell for the typical consumer. Fortunately, the Studio XPS 16 also includes VGA and HDMI connections.
The 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 CPU, coupled with 4GB of RAM and the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, makes for a powerful performer, even though it's in the mid-range of Dell's processor options for the system (you can trade down to a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 or up to a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo T9600). Any of these choices are more than adequate for typical use -- Web surfing, editing documents, media viewing and so on -- as well as photo and video editing.
The 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 is a good mid-range choice for a multimedia system that will also handle light gaming chores. We got nearly 60 frames per second at a 1,280x800-pixel resolution in Unreal Tournament 3, and the ATI card is included in the base configuration for the system.
The Studio XPS 16 ran for 1 hour and 43 minutes on our video-playback battery-drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's not terribly impressive, and makes this more of a stay-at-home laptop than a mainstream portable machine. We also received a nine-cell battery, which added significant bulk and weight, but came closer to 3 hours of battery life.