- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2008

For about $1,000 - before the $50 discount offered online - Dell Inc. will send you a Vostro 1310 notebook. It runs Microsoft Windows Vista, has a 160-gigabyte hard drive that’s supposed to resist damage in a fall, a DVD-burning optical drive and 2 gigabytes of memory, though it’s now shipping with 3 GB.

It’s a nice-looking but not superflashy machine. There’s something to be said for that - especially among people who work in business or perhaps in school. You don’t want something that’s too flashy. You want something that will stay operational.

The Vostro shows every sign of durability. It’s a solidly built portable computer. It doesn’t weigh too much - I could easily carry it around an office setting - and the 13.3-inch screen is large enough to open while seated in coach on an airplane. The keyboard is very solid, reminiscent of the ones IBM used to put on their laptops, back when IBM made laptops. All around, it’s a good-looking machine.

That’s important, because Dell remains one of the dominant brands in business computing. Companies everywhere have contracts with the firm, and legions of road warriors (and even desk jockeys) use Dell notebooks every day.

I also was impressed with the number and kinds of options Dell offered for the Vostro at its Web site, www.dell.com. You can up the processor speed and hard-disk type, upgrade the operating system, go to 4 GB of RAM and get more battery options. All these cost money, of course, but the customization aspect of online ordering from Dell is something that will appeal to many people.

My demo unit came with Wi-Fi built in, although Bluetooth wasn’t; it’s a $20 option. I’m guessing there’s some “business” reason for this, that the bean counters in corporate offices or the information-technology minions don’t like seeing Bluetooth on all their machines for some odd reason. Unless there’s a security concern - say you’re the Pentagon or the National Security Agency - I would guess that not having Bluetooth will be more and more of a liability than an asset. Spend the $20. Trust me.

Other than the MIA situation for Bluetooth, however, the Vostro 1310 is a solid system, as I’ve said. Though there doesn’t seem to be a “downgrade” option to Microsoft’s Windows XP, a far less vexatious operating system than Vista, I imagine many users can either make their peace with the newer system or grab a copy of XP somewhere and restore greater sanity to their lives.

In testing the computer, I relied on OpenOffice.org’s 3.0 release of its productivity suite, and everything ran well. Ditto for Google Chrome, my new favorite Web browser for Windows machines. The computer didn’t balk, it performed its tasks well, and I could see myself traveling with and working with this computer if the need arose.

Other than the Bluetooth conundrum, I found little to dislike here. The sound is not stereo, but that’s why headphones are sold everywhere, I guess.

Nope, this isn’t a flashy computer. It won’t have people running up to you as you walk down the street. It will, however, help you get your work done, and at a reasonable price. That’s not bad at all, you know.

What are you using? E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.