An attractive, portable laptop at a good price
Netbooks are great for web browsing and other simple tasks, but their slow performance and miniature keyboards can be frustrating.
A 13.3in laptops such as Dell's Inspiron M301z will usually offer better performance while still remaining reasonably small and portable.
The M301z comes with 4GB of memory and uses a dual-core AMD Turion II Neo K625 processor. The K625 comes from AMD's low-voltage range, which means it's less of a drain on the battery but also slightly less powerful than mainstream processors.
However, because the M301z has only a physically small battery it struggled to do well in our lab test, with a battery life of just one hour and 41 minutes. This test runs the laptop at full steam and is basically a worst-case scenario, but even under general day-to-day use you will be lucky to get more than three hours out of it, which isn't great.
However, the processor and memory allow Windows 7 Home Premium to run smoothly and it even coped well with a bit of basic video editing. Graphics are also given a boost thanks to the ATI Radeon HD4225 graphics card. This is a step up from the integrated graphics found in many laptops, but it still struggled to play games – our test games were all but unplayable.
The 13.3in widescreen display was impressively bright. It has a glossy coating, which boosts contrast and colour vibrancy but attracted reflections from nearby light sources, which is a problem if you're using it under bright lights or bright sunshine.
The laptop is able to connect to wired and wireless networks as well as Bluetooth devices such as mobile phones, and there's an SD memory card reader and three USB ports. One of the USB ports accepts eSata devices such as external hard drives, though the M301z is already home to a 500GB hard disk which is enough for a big collection of documents, music and videos.
There's no DVD drive, so installing software from disc or watching DVD movies will require an external model. Dell sells one as a £60 optional extra, but you will find much cheaper alternatives such as the Samsung SE-084D. On the plus side, the lack of a DVD drive means the laptop is reasonably light, weighing in at 1.8kg.
The low-profile keyboard has large, responsive keys, but we found it all too easy to bash our thumbs against the edge running along the bottom of the keyboard.
Multi-touch gestures are supported by the touchpad, and thanks to its larger-than-average size pinching to zoom in and out of photos is a pleasure.
We'd have liked a longer battery life, but this is an otherwise solid and portable laptop at a good price.
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The compact chassis and lightweight design impressed, but battery life was disappointing
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