Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Keyboard –This is one of the better keyboard layout designs out there, as the function and page up/page down/home/end are all located in a logical and ergonomically sound places. Of course, we should note that while the home/end/page up/page down keys are situated well, like using a desktop keyboard you will have to stretch your fingers to use them. This has nothing to do with spacing the keyboard, which Dell has done just right; rather this is something you even need to do on desktop keyboards for the most part. Either way, this is technically the correct placement, and better/more intuitive than the aligning these keys on the right side in a single column.
The large profile of the XPS G2 can take the keyboard design two different ways: larger/more desktop like or the same typical notebook keyboard size. Dell has chosen to go with the latter. These two design approaches are for the most part mutually exclusive. So the feel of the keyboard will be natural for those used to notebooks, but if you are making the transition from a desktop, you will probably feel that Dell can take advantage of the large notebook size to increase the keyboard size and or spread out the keys.
LEDs –There are two LED strips: one above the keyboard and one on the right hinge for the display. The LED strip above the keyboard includes LEDs for (left to right): num lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), scroll lock (green when active), wireless connectivity (green when active), and Bluetooth status (blue when active). The LED strip on the right hinge of the notebook include LEDs for (left to right): power status (green when active), hard drive activity (blinking green when active), and battery charge status (solid green when charging, blinking green when charging- roughly when battery is equal to or above 90%, blinking orange when low - roughly when battery is equal to or less than 8%, solid orange when very low - roughly when battery is equal to or less than 1%).
Notice that the front buttons light up in aesthetically appealing neon blue hue, which are very reminiscent of the LEDs for the buttons on Dell's Digital Jukebox MP3 players. In all likelihood, Dell just migrated the idea over. The LEDs themselves are fairly bright (as bright as those on the Dell DJ MP3 players) and do make it easier to find that right button when you are watching a movie in the dark. The only problem is that these buttons only turn on once you press them, and then they have a three second delay until they turn off. Dell should have left a BIOS setting available to leave these LEDs on all the time, as that makes more sense. Having the LEDs light up after you press them in order to identify them somewhat defeats the purpose. Of course, we also want to see the same BIOS function give the ability to turn off the LEDs to conserve more power and a few other preset delay settings, i.e. 5, 7, etc... Other than that the buttons themselves feel natural and are similar to that of those on the Dell DJ MP3 players.
The other LEDs; those for speakers, intake vents, and backpanel are all user configurable via the system BIOS. You have a choice of independently selecting between 16 colors. Via the system BIOS, you have the option of choosing LED colors such as Ruby, Citrine, Amber, Peridot, Emerald, Jade, Topaz, Tanzanite, Aquamarine, Sapphire, Iolite, Amethyst, Kunzite, Rhodolite, Coral, and Diamond. For the gamer, these may prove to be distractions after all, which thankfully Dell has considered by offering an "Off" option as well.
TouchPad & Buttons –The keyboard is spaced appropriately, but we feel like the touchpad should be moved north roughly 1 cm. If feels like switching between the keyboard and the touchpad was slightly less than natural because of the spacing. However, it wasn't to the point that we feel like it took away from the experience. Even though gamers will rely on an external mouse, we feel that Dell should change the spacing component to make the experience better.
The touchpad's texture is what we have come to expect from Dell: a micro-fine grain texture. This texture has a good mix between a grain and smooth texture, which gives cursor tracking a natural feel.
Note that a portion of the touchpad is reserved for horizontal or vertical scrolling. This space can be used like a normal touchpad once the scroll function is disabled via the touchpad software suite. Personally, we prefer a scroll space on the touchpad over a scroll toggle, so long as there is still plenty of space on the touchpad allotted to "normal" touchpad use. This preference is mainly because there are so many ways to design a scroll toggle wrong.
The touchpad is like the rest of the notebook in the sense that it has a similar texture as the rest of the silver part of the chassis. The only note we should make is that there is a slight impressed horizontal channel in each of the touchpad buttons that are there to give you a better feel. We wished Dell took this one step further and placed a smooth rubber strip in the depression, like the X300.
Microphone –Unfortunately, there is no integrated microphone on the XPS G2, which is too bad for those that like audio messaging and the like. The only way to get a microphone up and running is to hook up one via the microphone port.
Speakers - The stereo speakers (2 watts per channel) on the XPS Gen2 are some of the best around considering their use for multimedia and or gaming. The inclusion of a subwoofer (5 watt, class D) is definitely one of the key points in making or breaking the audio experience.
At max the speakers are loud enough to keep the person in the next room wide awake a night. The person down the hall will probably be able to hear what is piping through the speakers too. When we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," the audio clarity was above average for what we see in many of the high end notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly less than crystal clear above roughly 70%. Above 70% we could start to make out the less than crystal clear quality of audio. The sound doesn't become distorted if that is what you are worried about, but you want get that same audio clarity. When it comes to movies, you probably won't have to strain to distinguish the quality threshold, unless there is an audio track also playing during a segment of video.