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Dell Inspiron 17R - Usability, Display and Speakers
Much like the M101z, the 17R has an outstanding keyboard - in all likelihood the best in its class. The matt black, tile-style keys are large and very comfortable indeed, with just the right spacing. Its layout is great and includes a full number pad, though secondary functions are all relegated to the top F-keys and are actually the default function. This is always a matter of taste, but if you don't like it you can change the setting in the BIOS.
In use the keys offer truly excellent feedback with no flex whatsoever. There's more travel and a more solid feel than on any of the 'chiclet' or isolation-style keyboards most laptops sport these days, and keys offer just the right amount of give, pressure and crisp response. This is one of the few laptops we'd be perfectly happy using for hours-long typing sessions.
For a change, even the touchpad and its buttons hold up beautifully. The large pad supports multi-touch and is flawlessly sensitive, but its positioning prevents it from interfering with typing. Its matt surface is a delight for the fingertips, while the large buttons below it are every bit as pleasant to use and crisp as the keyboard's keys. Where input is concerned, the R17 is unrivalled.
The 17.3in screen's 1,600 x 900 pixels might not match the Full HD resolution of the last laptop we looked at, Sony's VAIO F12, but then it's considerably cheaper, will still display 720p HD video and means you won't have any problem making out text or icons, especially since sharpness is great as usual. There's little sign of banding or backlight bleed, and dark detail is good at the cost of white differentiation. On the negatives side there's some visible dithering, and both horizontal and vertical viewing angles are somewhat sub-standard, but not to a distracting extent. Just keep in mind that this is one laptop screen where you'll suffer quite a bit of colour and contrast shift if viewing from much of an angle.
Onto the speakers, the 17R carries SRS audio processing, which does a reasonable job of boosting the audio output. What they lack in clarity, the speakers more than make up for in dynamism, relatively punchy bass and sheer volume, all combining to create an immersive sound-stage for films and games. Unless you're listening to classical music, this is one laptop where external speakers or headphones are not required, and for any but the most discerning listener nearly matches the harman/kardon efforts found on the likes of the Toshiba Satellite A660.
On the topic of noise, the 17R is mostly silent when idle, though occasionally the fan does rev up to match the audible but not annoying whoosh it produces when under load.
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