In a world of vampy Vaios and mouthwatering MacBooks, Dell has often been derided for dull design. Could the M1330's slight frame but heavyweight specs change that?
Dell churns out plenty of boxy business laptops that have about as much chance of raising your pulse as Anne Widdecombe in a leotard. But occasionally it lets it hair down and launches a sexy young thing under the XPS label.
The M1330 recently lost its claim as the world's thinnest 13.3in notebook to the MacBook Air, but its tapered chassis – 25mm at the front edge to 36mm at the rear – is by no means flabby.
Again it's beaten in the looks department by Apple's manila-filler, but the brushed aluminium lid (in red, white or black) and gunmetal silver interior give it a premium feel.
Dell doesn't claim the M1330 to be a multimedia powerhouse, but the ultra-bright screen and integrated graphics card certainly handled Halo 2 and all the DVDs we threw at it with aplomb. The stereo speakers are loud if slightly tinny.
One slight moan is that the slot-loading DVD drive, while keeping the chassis slim, can become noisy after an extended gaming session.
Still, at least hi-def is on the cards – there's an HDMI port round the back and Dell is planning to offer a Blu-ray drive option soon. Less pleasing is the inclusion of only two USB ports, but you'll soon forgive it when you find the multimedia remote in the PC card slot which lets you control music and videos from around 3m away.
The model we reviewed had an LED backlit screen. This makes for a thinner, brighter and more energy-efficient display, but there is a trade-off – it's a more expensive option, and physical limitations mean you have to settle for a standard VGA webcam rather than the substantially higher quality two-megapixel version.
The keyboard is enjoyable to type on, with large keys that feel firm and responsive. Running along the top are some handy touch-sensitive volume controls, although a lack of on-screen feedback makes them slightly frustrating to use. A more traditional volume dial would have been more welcome.
By contrast, the fingertip scroll controls on the touchpad are really useful. The built-in fingerprint reader includes an interesting innovation: you can 'train' it to launch different applications depending on which digit you use. Nice.
If you're looking for a laptop for on-the-road web surfing, the M1330 is a good option. Three wi-fi aerials hidden in the lid mean you rarely struggle to get a good signal, and the option of a built-in 3G modem could ensure you're never without a connection.
It may not match the aesthetic appeal or innovation of the MacBook Air, but the M1330 is an attractive, well specced machine. Its Core 2 Duo processor may seem slightly slow next to the newer chips finding their way into Sony Vaios and the Air, but if you're looking for a light, affordable lappy the M1330 is still one of the best out there.
Dell XPS M1330 review
It's not as beautiful or lightweight as the latest ultraportables, but if you're looking for an affordable multimedia laptop the M1330 is a fine choice