Usability is, in a word, excellent. Unfortunately it’s still the case that many manufacturers seem to be reserving their best keyboard experiences for their business lines, and Dell is apparently no exception. The typing experience on this Vostro 3350 is far superior to, for example, that on Dell’s premium XPS 15z. Though it’s still a stylish chiclet keyboard, key spacing is perfect and key feedback is nice and crisp with plenty of travel.
The only factor to keep in mind is that the large, protruding battery tilts the keyboard significantly, which is presented as an ergonomic benefit but should actually be the other way around to be healthiest for typing (hence why ergonomic keyboards are usually tilted with their back lower than the front).
Shortcuts are intelligently placed and clearly marked in orange. It’s also spill-resistant, though it might not survive an entire cup of coffee like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 can. Attractive white backlighting is optional, and unfortunately our model didn’t have it – in fact, Dell annoyingly doesn’t offer it as a selectable option. Rather, you have to select the right preset configuration to get it. Overall then, this is one of the better typing experiences around, though it still doesn’t match the IBM-like awesomeness of the Thinkpad X220.
Above the keyboard are three white-backlit shortcut buttons. The first brings up a range of handy options in Windows’ Mobility Center. The next connects to Dell Support Center, which is a service somewhat similar to VAIO Assist on Sony’s VAIO C Series. Last but certainly not least is a customisable application-launch button, a feature we feel every laptop could do with.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, the Vostro 3350’s touchpad doesn’t hold up quite as well as its keyboard. It’s large, doesn’t interfere with typing and offers a pleasant smooth surface, while well-placed individual buttons give a reassuring click. However, there’s a slightly ‘sharp’ edge between the pad and its buttons on which – in rare circumstances – you may catch your finger.
When it comes to audio, this Vostro is competent by business laptop standards. Its speakers distort quite badly at maximum, but keeping the volume down to medium results in okay output, albeit severely lacking in the bass department. It’s adequate for presentations and YouTube, but for movies, music and games we’d recommend some decent headphones like the MEElectronics HT-21.
With a 1,366 x 768 resolution, the 13.3in semi-matt screen holds up better, with even backlighting and no backlight bleed or noticeable artefacts. Its viewing angles are only average, however, and contrast isn’t great either, with deep blacks lacking in subtle dark detailing. In other words, for productivity this screen is more than adequate, but for entertainment it’s not ideal. Still, if you’re not too picky it will serve for either purpose.