It's difficult to know what to make of the Dell XPS M1210. On the one hand, its 12.1-inch wide-screen display is characteristic of an ultra-portable laptop, such as the Gateway NX100X. On the other hand, its 2kg starting weight places it in line with thin-and-lights that have larger displays, such as the 13.3-inch Sony Vaio SZ or the 14.1-inch Fujitsu LifeBook S7110.
Like the Lenovo 3000 V100, the XPS M1210 offers a feature set that's a cut above that of most ultra-portables, which usually sacrifice some features for portability. Though our test unit includes upgrades that more than double the price, at its £899 starting price, the M1210 will appeal to everyday users who want a relatively light and compact but still full-featured Media Center computer.
It's slightly larger than its predecessor (the Dell Inspiron 710m), but the Dell XPS M1210, measuring 297mm wide, 221mm deep (239mm deep with the extended battery) and 30mm thick, is slightly smaller and thicker than the Lenovo 3000 V100. Weighing 2.3kg with the nine-cell battery, the XPS M1210 lands squarely in the middle of the thin-and-light category, but the laptop's base configuration with a six-cell battery weighs a slightly more portable 2kg.
The XPS M1210 features a bright 12.1-inch display that's just large enough for surfing the Web and watching the occasional movie on the road. The crisp 1,280x800-pixel native resolution and glossy finish in particular add to the movie-watching experience. Above the display sits an optional (add £70) 1.3-megapixel Webcam with directional microphone. The camera swivels so that you can snap shots in front of or behind the laptop and record presentations with audio and video. Beneath the display sit two speakers with the tinny sound that's typical of a laptop -- we had hoped for more from a laptop that's billed as a mobile entertainment centre.
The keyboard on the XPS M1210 shows some significant gains over its predecessor's -- all of the keys are full size, with generous travel that makes typing comfortable for even extended periods. The touch pad and mouse buttons are rather small (typical for a laptop of this size) but functional. We like the glowing blue media controls that sit along the XPS M1210's front edge, making it easy to change music tracks and control volume. We also like the handy Wi-Fi catcher, which lets you test for nearby Wi-Fi networks by simply sliding a switch on the laptop's left edge.
The Dell XPS M1210 takes advantage of its slightly thick case by packing it with an impressive number of ports, jacks and slots. For starters, you get four USB 2.0 ports, a number usually seen on much larger systems. Add to those four-pin FireWire, VGA and S-Video-out ports plus two headphone jacks (handy if you want to watch a movie with a friend) and a microphone jack.
There's also an ExpressCard slot and a five-in-one media card reader that recognises Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and xD formats. Networking options include modem, Ethernet, Bluetooth and 802.11a/g Wi-Fi. An integrated DVD burner rounds out the feature set.
Our XPS M1210 review unit ran Windows XP Media Center Edition (an extra £23.50 on top of the base price) and comes tagged as Windows Vista Capable. Dell also includes a copy of Microsoft Works 7.0 and the expected disc-burning apps. You can buy a 15-month subscription to McAfee Security Center for £25, among other options. Also, like most of the other models in the XPS and Inspiron lines, the XPS M1210 features Dell's Media Experience software, which plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive without booting up Windows first.