Irritating light bleed from the backlighting isn't the biggest problem with the keyboard, though. Neither is the layout for that matter, it's just fine and matches that found on the M1330 in more or less every detail. Its keys, however, are an entirely different story. Keys lack depth, feel soft and clumsy and don't depress evenly if you hit them off centre, leading to a rocking motion when pressed in at the corners. Overall, the typing experience still remains passable, but it could and should have been a lot better and is another retrograde step compared to the M1330.
Thankfully the touchpad garners no such complaints. Recessed slightly into the palm-rest section, it offers a smooth action allied against a subtle texture, while the two buttons have a firm and crisp action. They're also backlit, like the keyboard.
Outside of the familiar reflectivity, few complaints can be made of the screen, either. We've got the LED backlit version here, which is very bright and very sharp, producing small text with no problems and bringing out the finer details in high definition content surprisingly well. Colour production isn't overly vibrant but is acceptably accurate, leaving only the lack of a higher resolution option over the standard 1,280 x 800 our only meaningful complaint.
Less charitable things can be said of the speakers. Dell clearly hasn't made any attempt to improve these and though they can reach reasonable volumes, making them fine for the occasional video clip or music sample, a lack of bass and depth means you wouldn't inflict prolonged film viewing or music listening on anyone you like. It's hardly the most important of issues, but it's worth remembering nonetheless.
More worrying, though, are some of the fit and finish issues exhibited by our sample. Most striking was how one of the four rubberised feet, which otherwise do a decent job of keeping the machine planted on flat surfaces, didn't actually touch the desk. This resulted in an irritating wobble whenever one pressed down on one corner, or just leaned on the machine to type. A little research reveals this isn't an isolated issue, either, with many end users reporting the same problem. This is of course sufficient grounds for an RMA, while homebrew fixes do exist, but it doesn't reflect well on the quality control or manufacturing consistency on this model.
We also found, possibly related to the uneven base, that the battery compartment was incredibly tight requiring a significant amount of force to remove and re-insert. Finally, the smart looking silver trim around the edges of machine could, in some places, be lifted by using one's fingernails - something we also found on our sample of the sister machine, the Studio XPS 16, which we'll be reviewing shortly.
This ends the build quality complaints, but one other issue arises regarding the slot-loading optical drive. First, it's quite noisy, though this isn't uncommon among this type of drive, but secondly and more importantly, it has to be the most finicky DVD drive we've ever encountered. It routinely refused to read burned discs we've never had problems with before and even refused to read two different factory produced Windows Vista installation discs.