Unboxing the laptop was routine. I wasn't expecting some apple-ified smoke and mirrors packaging, and I didn't get one. Instead, I got a brown box from Dell's business division labeled "Made in Malaysia", with a laptop, and all the accouterments inside. Included were four recovery CDs (free of charge, unlike some other laptops I've bought), some manuals, the power adapter plus plug and a catalog asking me for more of my hard earned money. Most notably absent is the rather useless phone cable that I've received in the past. I'm sure dell saves 2 cents on that, but not having the waste involved is great environmentally as well.
But speaking of which, that the laptop was made in Malaysia is a bit unsettling. Without going into the economic factors involved, it strikes me as a bit odd that I would consider spending 8 dollars to get dell to plant extra trees when we could reduce the environmental impact by just sending the parts to me, straight from the factory. This would have been more fun. I guess the best I could hope for is that the Malaysian factory workers are at least being fairly compensated for their labor and have access to all the health care they need.
Switching back to a more materialistic thread, removing the plastic from the laptop revealed a sleek looking black laptop underneath, with the usual 9-cell wart protruding out of the back. Two very cool features caught my eye at first. Underneath the laptop, I can check the charge of the battery using the exposed meter. I'm sure it's been done before, but this is a first for me. It's incredibly frustrating to have to remove the battery on a laptop in standby just to check the battery power, and this solves the problem quite neatly. Second is the lack of a latch to keep the laptop closed. Instead, there is some kind of spring/resistance system to keep things in place, and it feels quite sturdy. The screen never shakes the way my old ones used to.
The laptop itself is sleek, sexy, black, and otherwise quite thick. Since it's from the business division, I'm sure I could make several bad jokes about certain stereotypes that also match description. I don't feel like starting a flame war tonight. Sufficed to say, it's reassuring to know that behind this otherwise hefty design is the same kind of technology that goes into a Thinkpad laptop that makes it so sturdy. Overall, the machine weighs a bit more than 6 pounds, but makes up for the fact by being only 14 inches across diagonally. This makes it feel slightly lighter when I hold it from one side, which I often do when I move things around. I mention this not because Dell got something right, but because of the usefulness of analyzing exactly how I use the objects in my living spaces :P.
I'm not a big keyboard junky, but the keyboard does feel pretty nice, and the inside of the laptop when you open it is also quite nice to look at. When I turned the laptop on, the BIOS took some time to start up the first time. The BIOS Setup screens are relatively stuffed with options compared to other Dell's I've seen, but it's nothing outrageous. Booting up Vista the first time was equally slow, but it gets faster. The scary thing though is how quiet the whole system is. I didn't realize how quiet it was until I put a CD in, and got something that sounded like an airplane taking off. Once the computer figured out what the disc was (A DVD), it quieted down somewhat. Still, the tray cover does not fit flush with the rest of the machine causing some slight rattling when playing DVDs. It can really get annoying. Otherwise, the machine is perfectly quiet, all the more amazing when you put your hand up to the exhaust vent under a heavy load, and feel this massive power of air rushing past your hands. Bonus points to Dell for getting that right.
Sound quality (with the HD addons) is great. I haven't tested anything with alot of spatial effects in the music, but the overall quality is the highest I've ever heard in a laptop in a long time. Coupled with all the annoying bleeps Vista enjoys making, it gives the laptop a very polished feel. I said I wouldn't comment too much on Vista, but I do have this to say. Dell has put quite a bit of effort into integrating Vista with the rest of the laptop. On my old laptop, Fedora and the BIOS would have two separate ideas of what the correct brightness should be when the laptop is unplugged. On this laptop, the settings in the BIOS are reflected clearly in the Control Panel, and vice versa. There are many little touches to it that really makes it feel like a finished product. Seeing alot of them in Windows is a bit tragic because you start to realize how many of these features are messing just due to common sense. (That is, we are not OEMs but software creaters and need the efforts that only an OEM could provide.)
So far the experience has been nothing but good (not including that one problem with the CD drive). That is, it's been great up to the point where Windows asks be stupid questions about every single action I want to perform. That smarmy ad that Apple ran about it a while back, it's so far beyond true, it's not even funny. All it takes is one hacker to convince Vista that his code is legit, while Winamp and the Winamp Toolbar aren't, and said hacker will have access to way too much. I hope this happens soon, so people will learn not to use this kind of faulty security.