When laptops became mainstream in India, Dell Inc was one of the most trustworthy names around. They had devices across a wide range of prices and functionality. They were one of the first who offered their products and service without the need of a physical retail outlet. And they continue to expand along the same lines.

The range of products now seems to encompass more than just your usual Vostro or Inspiron. Take for example the new Special Editions they’ve recently launched. I picked up the Inspiron 17R Special Edition laptop to see the goodies Dell seems to have packed in the device.

In the age of Ultrabooks, it’s neither often nor comforting to see a mammoth laptop landing on my test bench. Yes, there a lot of models which feature the massive 17-inch screen display. But at close to 3.5 kgs, the Inspiron 17R Special Edition is definitely not portable.

The island-style keyboard is expansive to say the least. And the body sports an old-school two-click buttons along with a dedicated trackpad. While the travel on most keys was decent, the tap feedback from the spacebar was confusing at times. It didn’t recess deep enough for me to know that the spacebar function had registered. Two two-finger scroll on the trackpad turned out to be slightly jerky at times. The keyboard is well laid out, a little too much so, and has a dedicated number pad on the right.

Dell also manages to house three exclusive buttons at the top for quick access to various functions. The first launches Windows Mobility Centre and gives you the option to tweak a bunch of settings such as battery status, volume, wireless connectivity, touchpad options and enabling Facial Recognition to log in to the laptop.

The Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition features Waves MaxxAudio 4 technology to enhance the overall audio quality. You have a one-touch equaliser button that lets you swap between audio presets such as Movie, Voice (for chats and video-conferences) and Gaming. The third is a customisable button by default tagged as ‘Dell Instant Launch’. You can assign one of the various functions, which range from refreshing your Web browser, launching a specific program or turning off your display.

The unit also features Dell Stage, a proprietary user interface element that we could have easily done without. Although it serves as a quick launch pad for a couple of apps such as Music, Documents and the like, it looks rather dowdy on the home screen.

Competitors such as ASUS and HP have partnered with Bang & Olufsen and Beats by Dr. Dre respectively to offer quality acoustics that the OEMs themselves haven’t been able to in the past. Dell Inc. has taken a cue, and hopefully not too late, in integrating Skullcandy speakers in the Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition. What’s special about this set of speakers is the fact that they comes with a dedicated sub-woofer built in to the device.

The design swings somewhere between mediocre and stylish. While the anodised aluminium body lends the device a certain amount of classiness, the rest of the plastic body feels like a bit of a letdown. The lid is designed with an etched honeycomb pattern which seems to be a distinguishing factor with the Inspiron 17R Special Edition.

One of the USPs of the Inspiron, like the name indicates, is its massive 17-inch widescreen display. The screen is pretty high-res with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and is 3D capable as well.

The Inspiron 17R Special Edition is one of the few laptops which feature an optical drive. Although most content has now gone digital, there’s no harm in including a physical drive. Plus, Dell gives you the option to customise it while you place an order and upgrade it to a Blu-ray Disc drive.

The huge form factor of the Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition allows it to house a bunch of ports and connectors along its body. So, you have two USB 3.0 ports flanking the optical drive on the right, along with an Ethernet port. On the left you have plug-ins for the headphone and audio jack, a HDMI port, two more USB ports (2.0 and 3.0) and the power source.

The unit we reviewed housed a 3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3610QM processor. For video demands, the unit includes an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics card. We ran the usual NovaBench benchmarking tests on the Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition and it scored an average of 625 points. This was a higher score than the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 we reviewed recently but almost 1000 points behind the Dell XPS 14z a colleague had reviewed a couple of months ago.

The massive screen being a huge power drain, we could use the laptop unplugged for a little more than 4 hours at a stretch. This involved a constant Wi-Fi connection with email, IMs and streaming HD videos online.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition is not exactly feather-light and consequently is not designed to be very portable. The maximum I could lug it around was just from one room to another. The Special Edition, with its widescreen 17-inch display and superior acoustics is clearly designed to entertain. The only fit it finds in your home would be as a replacement for a traditional desktop. And, here too, it competes with all-in-ones, touchscreen devices as well as Ultrabooks which can be used at home and during travel.

Rs 63,999 onwards

Love – Decent screen, good sound quality

Hate – Feels bulky, low battery life

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 31, 2012)
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