- Solidly built
- Great keyboard, touchpad and speakers
- Fast performance, graphics
- Thicker than other 11.6-inch laptops
- Weak battery life
- Review unit covered in pink
Look and feel
The wedge-like or doorstop chassis design of the M101z is very similar to that of the new Inspiron 14R and the Mini 10. It's thicker than most laptops, but that's because Dell has integrated the battery into the design so it doesn't bulge from the back. It's an interesting move, but it does result in making the rear of the system measure 1.5 inches thick; the 11.6-inch Acer Aspire 721 and Lenovo IdeaPad U160 are .4 inches thinner. Still, at 3.4 pounds it's not too large of a burden, and it was easy enough to pop into a purse (that's where a pink laptop belongs, right?). One of the first things we did notice about the M101z was its solid build quality. While it's made of plastic, it feels noticeably stronger and more durable than the aforementioned Acer Aspire 721. Surrounding the machine are three USB ports, an SD card reader, HDMI, Ethernet, VGA, microphone and headphone jacks. There's a port for a TV tuner, but Dell actually tells us the unit won't be sold with this option.
Keyboard, touchpad and screen
We're thinking of treating the Dell employee responsible for the touchpad on the M101z to a steak dinner since it doesn't have the very uncomfortable and flaky integrated mouse button setup like the Mini 10. The smooth, silver pad is flush with the palmrest, but the material isn't too slippery and navigating was a pleasant experience. The right and left mouse buttons are ever so mushy, but still comfortable. Also, two-finger scrolling was extremely responsive in Firefox, but pinch-to-zoom was disabled out of the box -- we can't say we were all that tempted to enable it.
Dell's placed the 11.6-inch display on top of the keyboard, and claims the hinge design brings the screen "closer to you." It's nice to have the screen propped up a bit, but it means not being able to tilt the screen beyond a 120 degree angle. The glossy, 1,366 x 768-resolution screen itself is bright, and vertical viewing angles were decent when sharing the screen with a friend. On the other hand, horizontal angles weren't as good, and standing back from the screen caused a bit of color distortion. Firing up La Roux's "Bulletproof" in iTunes had us surprisingly impressed with the two speakers located on the bottom of the laptop. We could hear the song from across a large room with volume at 50 percent. Dell said it had made some enhancements to the audio, so whatever the company did, it paid off.
Performance and battery life
The lovely 1080p video playback also has ATI's Mobility Radeon 4225 graphics to thank. The integrated solution not only performs better than the Lenovo IdeaPad U160's Core i7 / Intel GMA 950 graphics, but also tops some with NVIDIA's last generation Ion platform. Along with those loud speakers, watching Katie Perry and Snoop's "California Gurls" music video was eye-pleasing. It played just as well when we hooked up the laptop to a 40-inch HDTV via HDMI. Even when streaming that HD YouTube video, the chassis remained relatively cool – the left fan was working pretty hard, but at no point did our lap get overly hot.
|Dell Inspiron M101z (Athlon II Neo K325)||2572||1311||3:35|
Acer Aspire One 721 (Athlon II Neo K125)
|Lenovo IdeaPad U160 (Core i7 ULV)||3863||1175||3:10|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (AMD Athlon Neo)||1511||1060||3:27|
|ASUS UL50Vf (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)||3724||827 / 3438||6:10|
|Alienware M11x (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)||2689||654 / 5593||4:30|
While AMD's improved the thermals, we still can't say we're thrilled with the battery life of the new platform. The 56Wh six-cell battery lasted for 3 hours and 35 minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same standard definition movie with brightness adjusted to 65 percent. In normal usage – surfing the web and listening to music – we got close to four hours and 15 minutes of endurance. That's longer than Lenovo's Core i7-powered U160 and in line with what we saw from the Aspire One 721, but it's still not great for any ultraportable laptop. We're still waiting on a mobile platform that provides an all around great blend of graphics, performance and endurance.
The M101z boots a completely barren Windows 7 Home Premium desktop. However, a few seconds later it loads Dell's dock loads with shortcuts to Internet Explorer and other preloaded Microsoft and third-party applications. Other than that, the preloaded software is really limited to Skype, Cozio and Syncables.