Review: Dell Studio XPS 16

When it comes to style, the Dell Studio XPS 16 is a step up from typical business notebooks. Make that a big step up. A stunning 16-inch screen adds to its allure, making it a fitting choice as a desktop replacement or presentation machine. A starting price of around $1,100 might keep bargain shoppers at bay, but if you’re willing to ante up you’ll be rewarded with a laptop that performs well and looks even better.

Strikingly Elegant Design

Dell’s XPS line ranks above the company’s business-oriented Vostro and Inspiron families, and is intended to appeal to home buyers and discriminating business customers alike. The relatively recent Studio XPS models—the Studio XPS 13, Studio XPS 15 and Studio XPS 16—employ the latest components and share a strikingly elegant design. The outer shell is done in glossy obsidian black with brushed-metal trim. A wide band of genuine leather near the spine looks great and provides a comfortable surface to grip when you carry the machine.

Inside, the black-on-black color scheme gives a modern, uncluttered feel. The full-size keyboard is exceedingly comfortable to type on, and the flat-top keys feature letters and symbols that are pleasantly backlit by a soft white glow. The same light illuminates the strip of multimedia control keys above the keyboard; those controls give quick access to volume/mute commands, play/pause/skip for music and DVD playback, and so on. Below the keyboard you’ll find a large touchpad that makes controlling the mouse easy, but note that there is no pointing stick navigator common on many business notebooks.

The Studio XPS 16 includes all the ports you are likely to need. There are three USB ports, one of which can also accommodate external SATA (eSATA) peripherals such as the latest portable hard drives, plus a FireWire port. Dell has thoughtfully included VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort connectors for attaching an external display; having all three means no matter what projector or big-screen you run across in the future, you’ll be able to connect.

Expansion comes in the form of an 8-in-1 memory card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot. The latter is now the standard for external expansion cards, but if you have older PC Card/CardBus or PCMCIA peripherals that you can’t part with, you’ll have to invest in an adapter (like the DuelAdapter from Duel Systems). As for connectivity, the Studio XPS 16 includes 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi standard. Bluetooth is an option, as is a built-in 3G wireless broadband radio for use with Sprint’s high-speed data network.

<TDThe Dell Studio XPS 16
The Dell Studio XPS 16 features a new-generation 16-inch LCD and a great-looking design.
(Click for larger image)

In LCDs, 16 is the New 15.4

The most striking feature of the Studio XPS 16 is its 16-inch LCD. This is a relatively new size of glass that gives you more viewable real estate than the 15.4-inch panels that have become the norm on mainstream notebooks, while keeping the machine fairly portable. At 6.4 pounds, the Studio XPS 16 is no bantamweight, but it’s better suited to occasional travel than the often-unwieldy 17-inch laptops on the market.

The LCD features a high-def resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, and its LED backlight helps the panel deliver a wider color range than lower-end screens while also consuming less energy. Image and video reproduction on the Studio XPS 16’s screen is particularly noteworthy: Colors are vibrant and well-saturated, making the machine a joy to use for photo and video work.

The screen is also brighter than on most laptops—Dell claims a brightness level of 300 nits for the panel, versus 200 nits for typical notebook LCDs—and the wide 130-degree viewing angle means you can use the machine to present to a group gathered around a conference table. One caveat: As with all high-def screens, default text sizes in applications and on Web sites can be pretty small, but at least text is amazingly crisp.

Plenty of Component Choices

Configurability is Dell’s hallmark, and the Studio XPS 16 is no exception. You can choose one of the two suggested configurations and be done, or customize your machine to your needs and budget. Hard drive choices include the 320GB unit that comes standard (and that should prove enough for most uses), a whopping 500GB model, plus three flash-memory solid state drives for crash-proof performance. An 8X multi-format DVD/CD burner is standard, but high-def movie fans can step up to a DVD burner/Blu-ray reader combo.

The Studio XPS 16 comes standard with 4GB of RAM, which is more than enough to run its Windows Vista operating system; if you run a demanding application that can take advantage of more RAM, you can configure a machine with up to 8GB of memory. And you won’t find any two-generation-old processors here: Choices range from a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 to a 2.93-GHz Core 2 Duo T9800. The included ATI Mobility Radeon M86XT (with 512MB of dedicated video RAM) is a good choice for business 3D, and powerful enough for the occasional gaming session when work is done.

Good Value Overall

Dell backs the Studio XPS 16 with a one-year warranty that includes on-site service and toll-free tech support. You can expand that in yearly increments to get up to four years of coverage. 

Granted, the Dell Studio XPS 16 isn’t cheap, but it does represent an excellent value. By the time you add the necessary upgrades to a lesser machine with a teaser bargain price, you’ll likely be near the Studio XPS 16’s $1,099 price—and you won’t be getting its slick design and high-end features.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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