More than usable
The Vostro 3350, or the V3350 for short, is an elegant laptop, and our initial inspection didn't reveal any problems with the build quality. The only worry was the hinge on the screen, which felt a little too flexible and contrasts with the solid impression that the rest of the laptop left us with.
The keyboard uses chiclet keys, and they're a decent size and well-spaced, making typing a breeze with errors kept to a minimum.
We also liked the multi-touch trackpad because it combines a decent size with accurate tracking over a nice, smooth surface. Even the left- and right-click buttons are good, and feel much more robust than they often do on a laptop.
Video captured by the 720p webcam is a little blurry, but other than that it's fine. There's plenty of detail in dark areas of the scene but no overexposure in lighter areas, while colour reproduction is also accurate. All told, it's an excellent webcam.
Despite the small 13.3'' form factor, there's a full range of inputs and outputs, with two USB 3.0 ports and a DVD writer on the left-hand side. On the right are HDMI and VGA video outputs, a combined USB 2.0/eSATA port and an audio line in and out for a mic and headphones respectively. The SD memory card reader is at the front and the power port at the back.
The V3350 has a pretty powerful cooling system on board, and even when it's working hard, the laptop never gets hotter than 40 °C. Less helpful is the fact that it expels hot air from the sides and at the back, which isn't much fun when you have it on your knees or are using a USB mouse to one side of the computer. Other laptops get round this problem by having an air outlet in the hinge between the screen and the keyboard. If you want to forget that the V3350 is there, you'll want some other background noise because if you're in a totally silent environment, you'll hear hear it as soon as it sets to work.
Tempertature readings on the Dell Vostro 3350 when the components are under stress.
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 camera.
Underneath with the bottom cover removed
2 X USB 3.0 ports, RJ45 and DVD writer
Line out, line in, combined USB 2.0/eSATA, HDMI output and VGA output
Processor power: good performanceThe V33(0 that we tested in the lab has a slightly different configuration to the basic version: the one we tested has an Intel Core i5-2410M processor, but the V3350 usually comes with a Core i3-2310M that we tried out when we tested the Dell Inspiron 15R (N5110).
The Intel Core i5-2410M makes everyday tasks life office work and web browsing smooth, but it can also handle more challenging tasks like photo editing or encoding HD video which require a little more effort.
This laptop is perfectly capable of playing 1080p HD video, the equivalent of a Blu-ray disc, without any problems. If you're planning on trying it yourself, we suggest you allow the built-in Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset to do some of the work. Using the hardware acceleration for decoding 1080p Full HD video leaves the processor free to work on other tasks at the same time.
The laptop comes with the 64 bit version of Windows 7 Professional, which boots up in 42 seconds, to which you can add another 10 to 20 seconds for all of your software to load and a WiFi connection to be established. The laptop shuts down totally in under ten seconds.
Gaming: a reasonable performance
Unlike the basic version which uses an AMD HD 6470M graphics card like the Sony VAIO VPCCA1S1E, the V3350 that we tested only has an Intel HD 3000 chipset for handling video games, so you can expect the default version to put in a better performance than this one.
This is one area where the graphics chipset does less well. It struggles with 3D, but you can still play some recent games like Starcraft 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 if the level of detail is set to minimum. It's hardly likely to win favour with avid gamers, unless of course they prefer older titles or are prepared to stick with 2D.
Audio: headphones are compulsory
Just what were Dell's engineers thinking of when they built the V3350? The line in and line out are amongst the best we've heard of late, with crosstalk and dynamic range both close to 90 dB. The sound produced is more than acceptable for a small laptop. Things were just about perfect, until ...
Very little distortion from the headphone jack
... we realised that the speaker (there is only one!) is absolutely useless. Even at the maximum volume, the sound is so quiet that it's almost entirely covered by the sound of the fan. Start typing, and you won't be able to hear a thing. Using a pair of headphones is absolutely compulsory, especially if you're going to be talking online.
Battery Life: 5 hours 20 minutesThe V3350's eight-cell battery can last for 5 hours 20 minutes with WiFi turned off, the headphones plugged in and brightness set to 100 cd/m², which is an excellent result. If this laptop came in under the 2 kg mark (it's 2.1 kg), then it would have been perfect for mobile users, but it easily starts to weigh you down after an hour or so in your bag. Another irritation is that the battery sticks out from the laptop body, which might make it hard to slide into a case. You can choose the four-cell battery instead, but what you gain in space and a lighter laptop you lose in battery life.
- Screen has a matte finish
- Powerful processor
- Good battery life: 5 hours 20 minutes
- Generally pretty tough
- Screen has very poor contrast (155:1) and poor colour reproduction
- Fan very loud when the processor is working hard
- Display too flexible when you press on it
- Speaker is totally useless
It's not quite the perfect ultra-portable laptop, but the Vostro 3350 is a great option for any non-gamers who want to combine good performance, long battery life and a tough exterior in a single compact form factor. But whatever you do, don't use the speaker!