Dell Inspiron 700m
Construction: Field Testing
Charger - For the past couple of years, Dell has stuck with the same power brick (PA-12, 65W). It continues to be one of the better charger designs on the market, particularly with the strap design that allows you to tie up extra cabling and the straight power plug that has thus far always plugged into the back of the notebook.
Display – Dell's 700m has only one display configuration: a 12.1" WXGA crystal clear TFT LCD (native 1280 x 800).
In the past, Dell has referred to glare type displays as "with TrueLife." We are not sure why this is absent from the 700m's description, as it also uses a glare type display. However, it is likely either that Dell chose not to advertise it or that there are different degrees in the quality of glare type displays for which they reserve the name. At the moment, we aren't really sure. However, we need to clear up the glare type issue, as this has been discussed by many people but few really understand its benefits and disadvantages. First, the glare type display does make just about any multimedia experience related to video and viewing better, provided a top notch display panel is used. However, it is not due to the better specs of the LCD display panel. Instead, the glare coating gives us the ability to perceive more vivid colors, sharper text, and crisper background images via an increased contrast ratio, which the glare coating provides.
The down side is that even under normal lighting conditions, there is going to be some glare from lighting sources if you focus your eyes on the reflective spots on the screen. The advantage is pretty visible once you switch to a dark, theater-like setting where a side by side comparison is noticeable in the tone of, say, a person's skin. Under normal lighting conditions, like in an office or library, the advantage of glare type LCDs is still visible, but you are going to have to get used to glare from nearby light sources. As you move to the outdoors, glare type displays are out of their element, as the screen looks duller.
As we have mentioned in the past, a glare type display can and will make the viewing experience worse when it comes to significantly light or dark scenes. What you really need is to have a top notch display paired with the glare coating in order to avoid these problems. After using the 700m for a couple of weeks, we have a few remarks. As far as the quality of the display goes, it is definitely one of the better glare type display LCD panels we have seen on an ultraportable. It has very sharp text and is bright enough to watch dark or bright movie scenes without losing sections of the video to darkness or incorrect color perception.
All of the 8 brightness settings seem to be spaced the same number of lumens apart (the battery and AC levels are the same). If at all possible, you should stick with the highest setting, which makes the images on the display downright excellent. At its lowest setting, the display is still bright enough to use in a dark room without it becoming a strain on the eyes after an hour or two of use.
As it stands, every ultraportable seems to stick with the 12.1" XGA or WXGA display specification. For the most part, the XGA and WXGA resolutions on a 12.1" display feel natural on an ultraportable. 12.1" is a good size to work with, since a larger display panel would probably put the notebook outside of the ultraportable category. The display on our 700m sample had a crisp feel to it and was easy on the eyes. There was no unnatural feel for our eyes to contend with.
Fan - The fan was on about a quarter of the time we had the notebook running. This was while we were doing things like emailing, browsing, word processing, etc. The volume of the lone CPU fan is fairly quiet overall, though it seems to have gradient speed levels.
At a CPU utilization of about 35% (the average while playing a 4 minute 128kbps MP3 file [actual values ranged from 20% to 50%]), we could listen to an entire 4 minute MP3 track without any fan activity. When we got into more demanding applications like playing back a 1080i HDTV file (80% to 90% CPU usage), we experienced about 2 minutes of mid speed fan activity alternating with about 4 minutes of no fan activity. It actually seemed that the fan would first go to max speed quickly than slow down within 10 seconds or less to mid speed (max speed is about 25% louder than mid speed). At mid speed, you should just barely be able to make out the soft whirling noise at a distance of 2 to 3 feet in a quiet room. It's actually about as loud as the hum of the hard drive. At max speed, you should be able to distinctly make out the sound, though neither speeds have a volume level that would be considered annoying. We can say with confidence that, on a flight, you would not bother the person next to you.
Heat – After about five plus hours of straight use, the notebook was still relatively cool overall. The only places that got warm were the bottom of the notebook where the memory access panel and CPU intake vent are situated. The temperature level could be described as somewhere between warm and flinching hot. It's a tolerable temperature, but it is hotter than just warm. If the system is idle, it will simply be a comfortably warm temperature. This laptop should be comfortable in your lap without any need for cooling off periods.