Dell Vostro V131 Notebook Review
Tucked away from the prying eyes of most end users on Dell’s website, you’ll find the Vostro lineup of notebooks. These may be geared towards professionals who have higher expectations for quality and functionality but most of the hardware used is identical to what’s included in the mass market Inspirons. Indeed, many who are used to buying from Dell know to go straight to the Vostro and Latitude pages to get the best value for their money. It may sound counter-intuitive to push everyday consumers towards professional oriented products but by the end of this review, we’re certain you’ll be paying just a bit more attention to the the Vostro series has to offer.
Dell has been angling most of their product stack towards more value oriented market segments and the newest addition to the Vostro lineup – the V131 – seems to follow this same path but with some interesting twists along the way. As with many of Dell’s notebooks, it is available in a number of flavors ranging in price from just $399 with a Celeron ULV processor, 2GB of memory and a 320GB HDD up to about $900 for a fully equipped model with an i5 processor, 750GB HDD and 4GB of memory. Options here in Canada are a bit more modest with a pair of Celeron-equipped models on tap while the most expensive model boasts an Intel i3 processor and won’t even hit the $700 mark when 4GB of memory and a 750GB hard drive are both added. All of the configurations also come with an Intel WiDi module for wireless communication with compatible display devices. For those of you wondering, our review unit came to about $825 with the specifications listed above.
One of the most important inclusions on all of these models is a 6-cell 65WHr battery. With it equipped, Dell claims up to 9 hours of battery life when paired up with a Celeron ULV processor but even with the i5 processor included in the highest end model, we should still expect up to 7 hours of unplugged use. This will be a key selling point since many other notebooks in this price rage barely manage to hit the five hour mark.
The warranty plans for the Vostro are a key factor when catering towards small business that may not necessarily have dedicated IT staff to troubleshoot problems. Most of the Vostro models come with Dell’s basic one year warranty and overseas 9 to 5 technical support but for a nominal fee, the ProSupport service can be added. As it is described, ProSupport not only gives you access to tier-2 North American based technical support but if the problem can’t be diagnosed and fixed over the phone, Dell will send a support technician (within no more than 24 hours) to your location. Not only does this service minimize downtime but it should also give you peace of mind, regardless of whether you are a business or home user. As for pricing, three years ProSupport goes for about $125 and we HIGHLY recommend it if your notebook costs more than $600 and accidental damage protection at a small premium as well.
The Vosto V131 was first introduced just a few months ago and it eschews the usual preconceptions associated with business friendly notebooks. Instead of using the heavy, plain and thick designs of past generations, it is finished in a scratch and smudge resistant aluminum exterior (with black magnesium alloy bumpers on the front and back), weighs just 4 lbs with the 6-cell battery installed and is at most just 0.83” thick. This isn’t your daddy’s brick-like company laptop and with an available Lucerne Red finish, it can certainly stand out in a crowd too.
For a sub-$1000 notebook, the build quality here is surprisingly good but our unit did come with a slightly loose screen bezel and the cover exhibited a bit too much flex for our liking. The interior was awash in black plastic but even here, there was very little to fault for a notebook in the V131’s price range.
Dell has chosen to incorporate the same hinge system as seen on some of the Inspiron notebooks and that suits us just fine. Even though there is an odd overlap between the lid and the main chassis that somewhat limits the viewing angle, its opening motion is smooth and the whole affair locks securely into place.
The connector layout on the V131 is surprisingly complete considering the limited amount of space Dell’s engineers had to work with. It may lack an internal DVD / Blu Ray drive but the I/O connector layout more than makes up for this. On the left edge there is a HDMI 1.4a output alongside a USB 2.0 port and 8 in 1 media card reader. The USB port is compatible with a handy feature called PowerShare technology (this can be enabled in the BIOS which allows for device charging when the notebook is turned off.
The right edge houses a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a headphone / mic jack, the ubiquitous network port and an essential item for all business class notebooks: a VGA connector. If you were wondering about the absence of the power connector and Kensington lock, they’re both located on the notebook’s back edge yet are still easily accessible.
The bottom of this particular notebook doesn’t house any interesting features other than a removable tray for access to the memory modules and hard drive (more on this later). It should be noted that with the 6-cell battery installed the V131’s rear portion is elevated by about ½”, making for a more comfortable, ergonomic typing experience. Unfortunately, Dell hasn’t included a docking station port which may be a deal killer for some potential buyers.
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