Review: Dell Vostro 3700 Notebook PC

If you’re the type that feels desktop PCs are so 1990s, Dell has a powerful new notebook PC that may make you forget about mini-tower PCs for good. The Dell Vostro 3700 likely has a larger, higher-resolution screen than you used in the ’90s, and undoubtedly a more powerful processor. And at a starting price of just $629, we’re sure it’s a whole lot less expensive than any desktop you bought back then.

The Vostro 3700 is the big-screen “desktop replacement” model in the Vostro 3000 Series Dell introduced this spring. The standard color is a rather subdued silver with black trim; if you prefer to make more of a fashion statement, step up to the red or (our favorite) bronze chassis for $40 more.

With its 16.2- by 10.7-inch footprint and 6-pound weight (6.5 pounds with the $99 extended battery option), you won’t want to lug the Vostro 3700 with you on airplanes. But buy a laptop bag that can accommodate a large widescreen notebook PC, and the machine is certainly up for the occasional trip to a client site or to shuttle between home and office.

Big, Beautiful Screen

Of course, the payoff for all that bulk is the gorgeous 17.3-inch high-def screen. With a resolution of 1,600×800 pixels, the Vostro 3700 allows you to have two application windows open side-by-side — to keep an eye on your email Inbox while you work on a proposal, for example. We found text to be exceedingly crisp and legible, and the LED backlight helps colors in images really pop.

Dell's Vostro 3700 Notebook PC
The Dell Vostro 3700 Notebook PC
(Click for larger image)

The LCD panel also boasts a very wide viewing angle, making the Vostro 3700 suitable as a presentation platform. For a small group, the 17.3-inch screen should be all you need. For presenting to a larger audience, use the machine’s VGA or HDMI connectors to connect a projector or TV. The Vostro 3700’s built-in stereo speakers are fine for business audio for a small group, but if you need to pump out room-filling sound plan on adding a set of portable speakers, especially if music playback figures into the equation.

The wide screen means there’s plenty of room for a spacious full-size keyboard and then some: You also get a dedicated number pad, making the Vostro 3700 a good bet for number-crunchers. Higher-end configurations include a gentle white backlight for the keyboard that makes the machine more usable in low-light environments.

Dell has included a roomy touchpad that supports multi-finger gestures for quickly executing tasks such as scrolling, zooming in and out, and rotating images. If you’re used to that feature on your smartphone or iPod Touch, you’ll appreciate it here, too. Unlike some business machines, however, the Vostro 3700 notebook PC does not also include a pointing stick for navigation.

For security, Dell has included a fingerprint reader so you can log on with a swipe of your finger — and keep others from doing the same. The preloaded Digital Persona utility also lets you use your fingerprint to replace those myriad online passwords you maintain.

The Vostro 3700 also comes with a 2-megapixel Webcam, for video conferencing, video chats and the like, and the included Dell Webcam Central software lets you easily grab stills and video clips and send them to email with a click. The software also lets you share your entire desktop with the person on the other end of the chat, which is ideal for making a pitch to clients or training new hires remotely.

Rounding out the standard hardware are four regular USB ports plus a fifth USB/eSATA combo port for attaching an external hard drive — a good bet for backing up the internal 250GB encrypted or 500GB drive (depending on the configuration you choose). Both drives feature Dell’s free-fall protection technology, which parks the hard drive heads to prevent data loss in the event of a bump or drop.

You also get a FireWire port, an ExpressCard/34 slot for expansion cards, and a memory card reader that accepts SD, MMC and Memory Stick card types. An 8x dual-layer multi-format DVD burner is standard, but Dell does not yet offer a Blu-ray option on the Vostro 3700 (sorry movie fans).

On the performance front, you can customize a configuration to match just about any need and budget. Need a basic machine for office productivity applications and the like? The Intel Core i3 CPUs and integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator GPU in the lower-end SKUs should suffice.

If you need better performance for media-creation and 3D work, step up to the available Core i5 or blazing quad-core Core i7 processors the Votro 3700 supports, along with the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics chip. And don’t tell the boss, but the Nvidia chip also delivers very good frame rates for demanding 3D games. The Vostro 3700 supports up to 8GB of RAM; 4GB comes standard on most configurations.

The Vostro Notebook PC Difference

Vostro isn’t just about just the hardware. Dell created the Vostro brand to cater to the particular needs of small business customers; it delivers the mix of features they need while keeping an eye on affordability. All customers get a year of 24/7 access to Vostro-only support techs specially trained to handle the small business inquiries, which Dell notes often involves questions beyond the laptop itself.

The system also includes DellConnect, which gives Dell support techs remote access to your machine (with your permission, of course) to try to resolve issues. You also get next-business-day on-site service for problems that can’t be resolved over the phone or via DellConnect.

Premium and Ultimate Vostro 3700 configurations include one year of on-site service plus Dell ProSupport — access to specially trained technicians, 24 hours a da, 7 days a week, with an average response time of 2 minutes or less Dell claims. If you opt for a lower-end configuration you can add the ProSupport option for $60 for one year, $140 for two years or $190 for three years.

The Dell DataSafe Online Backup service, another available option, automatically and continuously duplicates your crucial files to encrypted online servers whenever you’re connected to the Internet. So even if your hard drive dies or your laptop goes missing, you can recover your files and get back to work quickly.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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