Cockpit options aplenty
The Studio's matte lid cover had me briefly hopeful that Dell eschewed glossy plastics when crafting the 14z. Alas, that's not the case. Opening the system reveals a largely glossy cockpit, complete with a shiny black screen bezel that quickly becomes a mess of smudges.
The Studio's display isn't a touchscreen, so its glossy finish isn't likely to be marred by fingerprints. However, the transreflective coating does suffer from excess reflectivity, even in normal indoor lighting. Reflections are a common problem for this display type, and the solution is easy enough: crank up the LED backlight. The screen has enough brightness to overcome its reflectivity, although I still found reflections in the glossy bezel to be distracting.
Our test system came equipped with a 1366x768 display that Dell oddly refers to as 720p. The 16:9 panel looks to have slightly better color reproduction than the display in Asus' UL80Vt. However, the Dell's viewing angles are just as marginal. I'd rate the screen as decent overall, but certainly nothing special.
Dell does offer a little something special for those who crave additional desktop area: an optional high-res screen that sports 1600x900 pixels. This so-called 900p resolution boasts 37% more pixels than the standard display, and the upgrade only costs an extra $50. Do keep in mind that the higher pixel count will make it more difficult for the integrated GeForce to run games at the native resolution, though.
Everyone and their mother seems to be doing a variation of the chiclet-style keyboard these days. Dell hasn't jumped on that bandwagon with the Studio, whose keyboard looks a little old schoolat least until you hit the backlight button.
A $25 option, the keyboard backlight offers two brightness levels, making it easy to type in a dark lecture hall or next to a sleeping spouse. The backlight is activated with a function key, and it'll turn itself off if the keyboard and touchpad go unused for more than about a minute. Hitting a key or moving the mouse cursor brings the backlight instantly back to life.
Interestingly, you don't have to hold the Fn key to toggle the backlight or to activate other traditionally secondary functions, such as enabling the Wi-Fi, adjusting the screen brightness, or muting the volume. These are the primary functions of the top row of keys, with F1-F12 moved into secondary Fn territory. Makes perfect sense to me, and alt-F4 still closes windows without having to hold the Fn key.
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||307 mm||102 mm||31,314 mm²||172 mm||54 mm||9,288 mm²|
|Versus full size||107%||93%||99%||100%||95%||95%|
A 14" chassis gives the Studio plenty of room for a nearly full-size keyboard. Even my oversized mitts can type comfortably at speed, and the keys feel quite good under finger.
Each key is neatly beveled, preventing one's fingers from inadvertently drifting off the home row. Key travel is nicely weighted, too, with good tactile feedback and none of the vague mushiness we've encountered with some budget notebooks. A little flex is visible if you hit a key with a decent amount of force, but it doesn't seem to affect the overall feel of the keyboard when actually typing.
South of the keyboard lies the Studio's touchpad, which is nicely recessed into the palm rest. The slick surface allows effortlessly smooth tracking and plenty of precision. Dedicated horizontal and vertical scrolling zones are available, and the left-side edge can be configured as a zoom bar, of sorts. Dell's touchpad software also supports a swirly chiral gesture to extend scrolling beyond a single finger swipe. You won't find any multi-touch functionality, though.
I'm a tap-to-click guy, so I don't often find myself using a touchpad's buttons. However, I quite like the ones on the Studio because they offer loads of travel and a surprisingly light feel, making the buttons easy to activate yet difficult to trigger accidentally.