For the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to use the Dell Studio 14z laptop while I test out Phoenix Technologies new Laptop location technology service called FailSafe. The Dell Studio 14z starts at $699 and is more portable than other Dell notebooks. The Studio 14z ditches the optical drive to cut the weight down to 4.3 pounds. Its slim design makes for an attractive packaged 14″ laptop that can be ordered with in Black Chainlink, Ruby Red, Midnight Blue, Spring Green and Plum Purple.
Overall the Studio 14z is a good laptop with a few quirks but in the end the extras make up for most of the shortcomings.
Dell Studio 14z as tested:
- Processor: Pentium Dual Core T4200 2 GHz
- Ram: 3 GB
- Windows Vista 64 Bit
- 250 Gb Hard Drive
- 14″ Truelife HD Display 720p
- 1.3 MP Webcam
The Screen: As I mentioned already the Studio 14 z is very portable for a $700 14″ laptop. Thanks to the slim design it fits easily into a backpack or briefcase and doesn’t wear you down too much as you go through your day. Whether I was writing, emailing or watching a video on Hulu the 14z performed well.
For two of my most important screen factors the 14z held its own. First, while it is one of the new glossy screens the glare wasn’t nearly as painful as it was on my HP mini 1000 in the same light conditions. Second, the screen itself tilts back enough that most users will be able to comfortably work on the 14z with it in their laps. These two criteria have become more important to me as I spend more time writing in the passenger seat of a car where I need to be able to see the screen even in sunny conditions and have it tilted back far enough that I can read it without contorting into an odd position.
Graphics: Since you won’t, or shouldn’t, spend all of your time working it’s good to know that the notebook’s Nvida 9400 GPU makes gaming and watching Hi-Def video a breeze. The 720P trailer for Law Abiding Citizen played smoothly and provided a good viewing experience from head on; proving good enough to watch a full length film while on the go.
Thanks to the dual headphone jacks you can also share the audio with a friend. The inclusion of an HDMI out and a Displayport connection underline the multimedia focus of the 14z, though some users will be sad to see that there is no VGA connection to hook up to a projector. You should still be able to snag an HDMI-DVI converter for a few buck to connect to most projectors.
Battery Life: The Studio 14z that I used came with s 6 cell 56 Whr battery and provided me with 3.5-4 hours of use which was a welcome increase from the battery life of my netbook but ultimately not enough to get me through an entire day away from the desk. One handy battery life option included on the Studio 14z is the ability to push a key and switch quickly to a low power battery mode that dims the screen and changes Windows Vista to basic mode. Using this mode and turning off wifi made a noticeable difference in battery life over default settings. The 8 cell battery claims 6.5 hours of battery life and sits flush with the Studio 14z making it a no brainer upgrade at checkout.
It’s the little things: Another note about the Studio 14z is that the little touches Dell has worked into this laptop do a lot to lift the overall value to the buyer. The Most notable “little things” are the speakers that sit above the keyboard which make it easier to listen to audio while the laptop is on your lap and a battery life indicator that tells you how charged the battery is without turning the 14z on.
The Studio 14z can also charge your gadgets without the laptop being plugged in thanks to the eSATA/USB combo port that provides enough juice to charge on the go. This is a nice touch that let me leave my bulky phone charger at home when I took the Studio 14Z on a weekend trip.
Optical Schmoptical: The 14z has a few, well, interesting changes which aren’t bad, but may factor into whether or not the Studio 14z is the notebook for you. First off, as I mentioned earlier, it has no internal optical drive. While I rarely use an optical drive, and didn’t miss not having one for a week or so, if you absolutely need an optical drive make sure you’re prepared to carry an external one.
Function-al keys: Dell made an interesting decision regarding the function keys, F1-F12, on the Studio 14z which will delight some users and infuriate others! Instead of giving you access to the Function keys like most laptops the Studio 14z puts the normally hidden keys like brightness, volume, monitor select and more at the front. This means no more hunting for the Function button to handle a simple task like muting your music, but it does mean you’ll spend time looking for it whenever you want to hit F7 for spell checking a word document or a similar action. It took me a while to accept the layout and move on but I still caught myself muting instead of spell checking several times.
SD Card Reader is MIA: There are many things you can forgive a slim and lightweight notebook from having but given our reliance on memory cards for pictures, Mp3 players and video’s I was really shocked to find, or rather not find, an SD card reader.
That’s right, if you want to upload the pictures from your camera to Facebook you’ll need to carry a USB adapter or spend $20-$30 on an adapter that fits in the Express Card slot. Dell should really have included the ExpressCard slot SD card reader with purchase.
Up, up and away: With that out of the way the only other real quibble I had with the Studio 14z was the keyboard. While the keys felt nice and had a good tactile feel the right shift key isn’t in the “right” place. It’s a shorter key, which keeps the keyboard smaller, but you will inevitably hit the up arrow instead of the shift key causing much frustration. After 3 weeks the problem is less noticeable but if I’m “in the zone” I tend to forget and hit the up arrow by mistake.
- Good screen and graphics
- Extras; gadget charging, tweeters, battery life indicator
In the Middle:
- No optical drive
- F-keys need function pressed to work
- No SD Card Reader
- Right Shift Key
The Bottom Line:
If you find yourself working on the go in situations where the sun will be a factor and you need more power or a bigger screen than netbooks can give you, the Dell Studio 14 z is definitely a laptop to consider. It provides an excellent portable package that can handle both work and play all for around $700. However, if you think you’ll need both an optical drive and an SD card reader you should probably look for a laptop that has them built in since buying both will not only up the price of your notebook but add bulge to your bag.
The Dell Studio 14z is available direct from Dell starting at $699. Recommended upgrades include; 8 Cell battery to get you more than the ~4 hours provided by the standard 6 cell, Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, and bumping up to a 320 GB hard drive.
Additional pictures comparing the size to an HP Mini 1000: