Pros: Great power and features for the price
Cons: It's got Vista. Tinny sound. Microsoft Works?
For the past year, my wife has wanted a new laptop computer. She found this little gem at Best Buy for $600 and I'm impressed at the fact that this is a quality machine that doesn't cost a whole lot. There are a few things that could have been done better, but they are all minor.
First of all, let me get the technical specs out of the way. The Dell Inspiron 1525 we own came with a 1.73 GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, a 150 gigabyte hard drive, 2 gigabytes of RAM, a 15.4" widescreen display, a battery that goes for three to four hours under normal use between charges, Windows Vista Home Premium and a DVD/CD ROM drive that will burn dual layer DVDs.
There are a couple of odd issues to address that just have to pop up for everyone buying a laptop these days. First of all, there's the whole issue of the Intel Core Duo -- you get two cores and that leads to some faster response times, particularly when you've got several applications running at once. This computer feels good and fast, which is to be expected when you've got a solid 32-bit system tapping into two gigabytes of ram. And, yes, this is a 32-bit system utilizing a 32-bit version of Windows Vista. In other words, the day will come when this little laptop will be obsolete when the much-touted day of the 64-bit computer arrives. For now, however, the Inspiron is great and should serve my wife well for the next two or three years at least.
And then, there's the entire Vista issue. This Dell came bundled with Vista Home Premium and I still hate that operating system and curse Microsoft for cramming it down our throats since XP works perfectly fine. Regardless, we're learning to live with it. Software manufacturers are finally coming around and making programs compatible with Vista (a real problem when I stripped Vista from the laptop I got at work last year and replaced it with XP because I couldn't get anything to run). Yes, support for Vista is improving, and that's good news because, hell, we're stuck with it unless more people starting buying Macs (not a bad idea) or Linux evolves past the "hobbyist" stage. So, support for Vista is clearly improving and turning off that blasted User Account Control in the operating system has further eased compatibility problems.
Having said all of that, the best thing about this computer is that it just plain works. About all my wife had to do to set it up was turn it on, log into our wireless network and she was up and running. The display is big and bright, the sound is very good for a laptop and the system has proven to be very durable. Yes, our 110-pound monster of a dog sat on it and it's been fine. My wife dropped it once and it held up fine.
Another great thing about this system is that it appears to be easy to upgrade. That's not a big deal when you're talking about desktops, of course, but laptop systems have always been a different breed of cat. The conventional wisdom, of course, has been that it's probably best to simply get a new laptop rather than bother with upgrading one because computer techs had to get involved and that meant spending a ton of cash. The Dell user manual, however, contains detailed instructions on how to replace the system's keyboard, put in new memory, replace the optical drive or hard drive and etc. That all might seem minor, but it's nice to know that we can easily add more RAM later or replace the CD/DVD drive should it break.
Fortunately, a lot of good stuff is already built into this system. It comes with four USB ports, an SD card reader, VGA port, S-Video port, HDMI connector, network and modem connectors and an IEEE 1394a connector. The built in wireless connector is handy, too, and Vista's pretty good about finding which wireless networks are in range and helping the user hook up to them.
Are there any downsides to this system? Well, just a couple. First of all, you'll have to get a new office suite for this immediately. This system comes bundled with the increasingly irrelevant Microsoft Works -- a program that seems ridiculous these days when a great alternative exists in OpenOffice.org (that great office suite is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office and it's free). Also, the sound is more than a bit tinny, but that's to be expected in a laptop.
I also wonder how the graphics adapter will hold up under more demanding games. My wife and I don't fool with computer games for a couple of reasons. First of all, we've got everything from an Atari 2600 to a Nintendo Wii here, so we just prefer console games. Second, I got sick of computer games years ago when the first thing I did when I got a complex game was to download a bunch of blasted patches and updates. We do play a few small, simple "casual" games on our systems around here, but they've never come close to pushing the limits of any of our systems. Some people, however, love computer gaming so I'd advise a bit of research on how durable the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 that comes bundled with this thing actually is.
Of course, any serious gamer would probably want to see just what games run under Vista and which ones don't. Games are notoriously cranky when it comes to system requirements, so a bit of research on what Vista will run and what it won't is always a good idea (that's true when it comes to figuring out whether any "essential" program is compatible with Vista prior to buying a computer with that operating system on it).
Finally, the keyboard is large (by laptop standards) and provides enough tactical feedback so that one can type away in confidence (if that makes sense). Also, the common touchpad takes the place of a mouse here, but the one on the Dell is pretty slick in that it allows one to "tap" the pad to substitute for a mouse click and scrolling horizontally or vertically on the screen can be done by running one's finger across the pad (hard to explain, but it's great that you don't have to hold down the "mouse" button when you scroll). The best feature of that touchpad is that it doesn't cause the system to "jump" at random. On a lot of systems with touchpads -- including my trusty Toshiba -- it seems that putting pressure anywhere near the "mouse" buttons can zip a cursor halfway through a document, leaving you confused and typing gibberish. There's no such problem with the Dell -- it activates exactly when I want it to do so.
All in all, this computer has handled everything my wife has thrown at it and represents a true bargain. We may regret only having two gigabytes of RAM at some point in the future, but we can easily add more if we need to do that. The gripes I have about this system are minor, so I'd say we found both quality and value in this Dell laptop.