Dell Studio 17: When Gaming Isn't Enoughby Dustin Sklavos on August 26, 2010 12:10 AM EST
A Closer Examination of the Studio 17
If you caught my review of the Dell Studio 14 recently, the build of the Studio 17 is going to be old-hat to you: in that review, I said the Studio 14 looked like someone took the 17 and chainsawed off the 10-key. Now I get to say that Dell's engineers grew the Studio 14 into a larger machine...with a 10-key. But really, they do look strikingly similar.
While you can custom configure the Studio 17 with all kinds of pretty colors for the lid, mine came with the uniform glossy "black chainlink" design. The "chainlink" pattern is hard to see, but that's due in no small part to what a fingerprint magnet the glossy lid is. We understand glossy plastics can look good on the shelf, but in practice the notebook just looks dirty half the time because every little thing that gets on the lid makes its presence known. It's not like you can just avoid touching the lid.
When you flip the lid open, you find the large 17" screen with a glossy black plastic bezel. The bezel doesn't have the same pattern but is instead a solid black. At the center of the top is where the expected webcam is embedded, drawing as little attention to itself as possible. If you look even closer you'll see the tiny holes for the built-in microphone on either side.
Moving down to the body, at the top between the hinges we find touch-sensitive controls and a JBL logo promising "SRS Premium Sound." The touch-sensitive controls are illuminated with tasteful white LEDs like the one that brightens the power button on the right-hand hinge, and Dell wisely opts not to include any controls that aren't needed. Touching the gear icon opens the Windows Mobility Center, and the remaining controls are media keys along with an eject button (since the slot-loading drive doesn't have a physical one).
The keyboard itself is black matte plastic with a fairly intuitive layout. Dell ships the unit with the function keys set to default to their system shortcuts rather than used as actual function keys; I can see this being useful for some people but it drives me up the wall: I would rather F5 refresh a window than raise brightness. Thankfully, you can toggle them back to being proper function keys in the BIOS. Typing on the keyboard takes some getting used to, though: there's a bit of flex and the keys can feel mushy; the arrow keys also feel smallish. I have to be honest here, too: with the sheer size of this notebook, I don't see any reason why the navigation keys (Home, End, etc.) can't be given their own column between the 10-key and the keyboard proper. Their placement above the 10-key is useful, but not ideal. My suggestion is not the norm, however, and if the norm is what you're used to you'll be happy with the keyboard on the Studio 17.
Surrounding the keyboard is the glossy gray plastic used for the palmrest and touchpad. The glossy finish isn't used for the massive touchpad, giving it a slight bevel inward. I found using the touchpad to be less than enjoyable, but thankfully the palm rest is wide enough that you can use a small wireless notebook mouse on it without trouble.
Where you might get concerned is in the unusual speaker placement at the bottom left and right corners of the inside surface. It seems, at least initially, like these are ideal places to get the speakers covered up with your wrists, but it doesn't work out this way in practice. And that premium sound the JBL logo promises? Very present. The speakers and built-in subwoofer on the bottom of the Studio 17 produce hands down the best audio I have ever heard from a notebook. While it's never going to beat out a good pair of desktop speakers, surprisingly it will beat the crap out of cheaper ones. Everyone I've shown the Studio 17 to has been blown away by the body of the sound the speaker system produces. Even the 4.1 system the Clevo W880CU has installed pales in comparison.