After years of producing solid but unexciting gray boxes, Dell adopted a 'design-first' philosophy in 2007 that led to both smartly redesigned versions of its mainstream Inspiron laptops, and one of our favourite laptops of the year, the 13-inch XPS M1330.
Dell has taken the basic design of that system to build a new 15-inch laptop around it. Mid-size 15-inch laptops are perhaps the hardest to make interesting, and the XPS M1530 isn't nearly as revolutionary as the earlier model -- which had an LED-backlit screen and was less than 25mm thick.
It's still the best-looking 15-inch
laptop we've seen in a long time, and reasonably configurable, starting
at just £599 with high-end touches such as a slot-loading DVD drive,
touch-sensitive media buttons and HDMI-output jack. We've reviewed the £829 version, the third most expensive of the four available units.
The M1530, like the M1330 before it, is slightly wedge-shaped, going from 24mm in the front to 35mm in the rear. At around 2.6kg, it's lighter than most 15-inch laptops we've seen, and the overall look is slim and attractive.
A few colour options are offered, although the only difference is in the back of the lid, which is available in black or red. Our review unit had the matte-red finish -- Dell calls it 'crimson red' -- which looks great. More colour options -- as with the current Inspiron line of laptops -- would have been welcome.
The keyboard tray is brushed silver with black accents and includes touch-sensitive controls for volume and media playback and an eject button for the slot-loading DVD drive. A tiny credit-card remote control sits tucked into the Express Card slot and is a standard feature on XPS laptops.
Dell offers a 1,280x800-pixel resolution LCD display on most models, although the £1,099 unit has a slightly higher native resolution of 1,440x900 pixels. The lid itself is very thin, slightly more than 6mm thick, even though it's a standard LCD screen, not the power-saving LED backlit display found in the M1330.
Also, the included Nvidia GeForce Go 8600M isn't the fastest
laptop video card
available, but it's better than the slower GeForce 8400, available on
the lower-end model. While it's not as good as the latest 8800-series
cards we see popping up in high-end gaming laptops, you'll still be
able to get decent game play out of it.
We've never been crazy about the slightly tapered keys on Dell's laptop keyboards, which seem to leave you less typing surface area, because the individual keys are wider at the base than the top.
For a laptop that starts at £599, it was good to see extras, such as a webcam and HDMI output, included as standard equipment. But you'll find you'll have to pay more for 802.11N Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, although they do come standard on the three higher units. Costs can start to rack up on these models, however. While most features were included on our unit, you can add a Blu-ray drive that will run you around £320 or a 64GB solid-state hard drive for £790, with prices correct at the time of writing.
The XPS M1530 is available with two battery options, and we tested both
the 6-cell and 9-cell versions. While the 6-cell fits flush with the
system and ran for 2 hours 9 minutes on our DVD battery drain test,
the 9-cell battery ran for 3 hours 22 minutes on the same test. The
catch is that the 9-cell battery is positively gigantic, raising the
rear of the laptop from 38mm to 56mm, although it
fortunately doesn't extend past the back of the system. The weight goes
from 2.6 to 2.9kg when you switch to the larger battery.
Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labour warranty with the system, including gaming and on-site support, a perk for customers of the higher-end XPS line.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday