Dell's budget business laptop is certainly cheap, but is it cheerful? Mike Jennings pokes and prods the Vostro 1540 to find out.
The current trend for tablets might have overshadowed much of the technology that's out there but, if anyone knows the value of a traditional laptop, it's business users: after all, a real keyboard and full-fat operating system are both invaluable when you're trying to work.
There's plenty to be said for cheaper laptops, too, with companies like Dell selling machines like its new Vostro 1540 for just £319 ex VAT - less than you'll pay for most big-brand tablets. That money obviously gets you a basic machine, but Dell has handled the fundamentals pretty well. The touchpad is wide and responsive and the keyboard, while suffering from a slightly bouncy surface, is still snappy and comfortable. There aren't any layout issues, either.
Explore the Dell's 3.3cm-thick chassis, though, and the budget begins to tell. While the weight of just 2.4kg is relatively light for a 15in laptop – it’s a shade under our current favourite, the HP ProBook 4530s, which tips the scales at 2.5kg - it feels hollow rather than strong. The wrist-rest compresses with only a light prod, the base feels weak, and the screen is especially poor - a squeeze of the rear saw it bend and the screen distort.
The Dell Vostro 1540 is chunky, but feels cheap. It does have a nicely textured lid though.
The 15.6in screen has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, and it’s bright and has a matte finish that will please office users. The budget price means it’s not ideal for accurate graphical work, though: colours are a little washed out, and viewing angles aren’t particularly good.
The Dell Vostro 1540's matte anti-glare screen will please anyone who has to work underneath harsh overhead lighting.
It's hardly an ugly machine although, when compared to the stylish HP, it hardly stands out: black, glossy plastic is the order of the day, with only a border of chrome-effect material to lend some welcome pizzazz. The lid has a textured feel with raised horizontal lines running parallel to each other. The selection of ports and sockets scattered around the machine is similarly basic, with two USB 2 sockets on the right-hand side, an SD/MMC/MS card reader on the front and a single USB 2 port, VGA and HDMI outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet input and two audio jacks on the left-hand edge.
Processor: Intel Core i3-370M, 2.4GHz
Memory: 3GB 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics integrated
Hard disk: 320GB
Display: 15.6in 1,366x768, LED-backlit screen
Features: 1.3 megapixel webcam, microphone
Connectivity: 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 3.0
Ports: 3 x USB2, 1 x VGA, 1 x HDMI, 1x 3.5mm headphone output, 1x 3.5mm microphone input, SD/MMC/MS card reader
Dimensions: 376 x 260 x 33mm (WxDxH)
Warranty: 1 year collect and return warranty
OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
E-value code: N1115404
Image editing: 63
Video encoding: 40
Multiple apps: 40
Light usage battery life: 4hr 46m