Friday, July 02, 2010

Review on the Dell Studio 15 laptop

So I bought a new laptop from Dell two weeks ago.  Here are the highlights:

The good

  1. Very speedy (of course I paid for that).
  2. Sleep/wake finally works well.  Waking is very fast, and actually reliable!
  3. The propping back legs on the laptop are conveniently placed and the heat on the underside of the laptop are also lending to holding the laptop on your lap without getting hot spots on your legs.
  4. The face recognition auto-login feature is cool, but I suspect a photo of me would log me in, which makes it more of a toy than a tool.
  5. I like the backlit keyboard.  And the touchpad has two-finger zoom (which can be disabled) and a scroll circle feature which is pretty cool (although I haven’t used it).
  6. It’s remarkably lightweight, especially considering how souped up the hardware is.

The Bad

  1. When left on for long periods, the mouse touch pad grows to be burning hot, making it unusable.
  2. It didn’t come with a TPM chip.  These things were invented and shipping in laptops years ago.  What’s up with that?
  3. No room for a smart card slot, that combined with no TPM chip, means I have to use a flimsy USB card reader to remote into work. 
  4. It doesn’t come with a Windows DVD, or software to burn a recovery DVD based on the backup partition on the hard drive.
  5. No hardware lights for disk access, or caps lock or anything else.  The lack of classic feedback for whether the computer is busy is a little unnerving.
  6. When the caps lock key is pressed, a small display appears that permanently steals focus from the active window (at least when you’re in Remote Desktop), so you’re typing away, press caps lock, and suddenly your typing isn’t going anywhere.  Whoops.
  7. The face recognition auto-login feature (and webcam) remains active while the screensaver is on.  This keeps the CPU hotter than it needs to be, and it means if you approach your laptop (perhaps to see your loved ones in your photo screensaver) the screen saver exits and you get logged in.  Where the real problem here though is that if the screen saver reduced your screen resolution and the face recognition auto-login exits the screen saver to log you in automatically, the screen resolution isn’t restored to normal, and the desktop is wacked.

The Ugly

  1. The WiFi is very unreliable.  It frequently drops the connection entirely and can’t find any hotspots.  I have to disable/re-enable the Wireless Connection to get back online.
  2. Bluetooth is even more unreliable.  Pairing with my Bluetooth mouse was an exercise in patience.  And it keeps losing the mouse, requiring a restart.  In the meantime, most Bluetooth dialogs/windows hang, making troubleshooting the problem virtually impossible.
  3. YouTube HD videos hang in the middle for minutes with a black screen mid-movie, and the video driver can otherwise randomly crash the machine for no apparent reason at all.

Verdict

I really like this laptop, but for me, the Ugly bits are deal-breakers.  I rely on the Internet for most of my work, and my Bluetooth mouse is much more usable than a touch pad.  When neither work well or reliably, the laptop is of very limited use.  Tech support suggested I upgrade the drivers on my brand new laptop to resolve the problems, which doesn’t make sense to me anyway given they should have put the latest drivers on when they shipped it, but that didn’t help anyway.

4 comments:

  1. Hi. I work for Sensible Vision - creators of the facial recognition software from Dell. Thanks very much for your review! I think I can help with a few of your questions.

    1. Photo rejection is actually quite robust (as it must be to keep our Enterprise customers such as banks and hospitals happy!). By keeping photo details intact that are created by environmental variables such as lighting and camera position, a standard photo is highly unlikly to allow access. If it's still a concern, simply enable the "Face + Password" feature. For a tremendous amount of detail on photo rejection and the Face + Password feature, please see our online FAQ here: http://www.sensiblevision.com/v/dell/faq.pdf

    2. Screen saver. FastAccess will not affect how the screen saver works with regard to screen resolution. If you have FastAccess set to lock your desktop automatically, it's exactly the same as holding down the Windows key plus "L". The FAQ also contains more details on this topic as well.

    Thanks again for the great review.

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  2. Hi Darin,

    Good to hear that photos shouldn't get a stranger into my account.

    As far as the screen saver issue, FastAccess sure seemed to have an issue, but it wasn't how it locked the computer, it was how it terminated the screen saver and unlocked the computer.

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  3. a screensaver on an LCD screen is useless, since they don't suffer from burnt in images. just disable the screensaver and makesure that the facial recognition is set to not auto-lock the computer when it doesnt see your face anymore. or disable it all together.

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  4. and to darin from Sensible Vision, it's great that photos can't be used to fake out the facial recognition and all, but relying on environmental cues like lighting and camera angle makes it very inconvenient on a laptop, where the purpose of having a portable computer is to be able to have it with you in different "environments." I got tired of having type my password in after waiting for the software to tell me it couldnt recognize me when i would go to a different room. so i turned it off. it's a novelty anyways on the average person's computer.

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