Dell's lightest laptop yet is shrouded in secrecy - what's it hiding?

The XPS range is by far Dell’s most succesful range of laptops. A trailblazer launched more than one decade ago, it is considered by many as the Windows laptop most likely to rival Apple’s iconic MacBook Air for looks and aesthetics. 

© Provided by TechRadar The Dell Vostro 5301

As a halo product range, its influence on other Dell products is noticeable, many of them more affordable – and one newcomer embodies this probably more than any laptop from the Austin-based tech giant. 

Meet the Vostro 5301, the business version of the Inspiron 5301 and probably the lightest 13-inch laptop ever launched by Dell. At 1.06Kg (2.35lb), it weighs less than its Inspiron brethren (1.08Kg, 2.38lb) and the XPS 13 11th gen (1.16Kg, 2.55lb).

 Hello Vostro

Vostro may be the least known of Dell’s laptop ranges and for a good reason; it targets the relatively bland small and medium businesses (SMB) market with affordable business laptops. As such, margins are relatively thin, and the rationale for Vostro’s very existence is getting market share, volume rather than profitability, with a price-sensitive audience in mind.

Adopting this strategy though means that Dell will not want the Vostro range to eat into more lucrative segments occupied by the XPS and Latitude range. This historically explained why Vostro laptops were aesthetically and, from a hardware point of view, inferior to the aforementioned product line.

The Vostro 5301 breaks away from this; it is cheap, good looking and a potent alternative to its more expensive counterparts, in other words, a real bargain, an anomaly. Available for as little as $679 in the US and £694.80 in the UK, even its entry level version should be nippy as it uses the same core components as the XPS 13 or the Latitude 3320.

There’s a 11th generation Intel Core processor (i5-1135G7) with an Intel Iris Xe graphics processor, 8GB of LPDDR4x and a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD. Surprisingly, its full HD, 13.3-inch display, is rated as 20% brighter than that of the more expensive Latitude model.

It includes some nifty addons like a privacy shutter, a redesigned hinge that lifts the laptop, video conferencing bandwidth prioritization, Dell Mobile Connect, a fingerprint reader and backlit keyboard. 

Despite being launched a few months ago already, you won’t find a real review of the 5301 online (at the time of writing) which is why we have called one in for a proper evaluation.

The new budget king?

We scoured the web but could not find a Windows 10 Pro device with a similar configuration and form factor for cheaper (at least not one that’s new or on clearance), even more so when you factor in the 12-month subscription to McAfee Small Business Security and the seamless upgrade path to Windows 11 Pro.

Dell has a “winner” on its hand but one that it doesn’t seemingly want to promote with fanfare. It doesn’t mean that the Vostro 5301 is perfect though; its 40WHr battery/45W charger are small/underpowered by most standards which may not matter too much for businesses embracing hybrid working

There’s no option for embedded WWAN/Mobile Broadband, no Thunderbolt connector, it is likely to use less “noble” materials for the chassis and the wireless connectivity is limited to Wi-Fi 5 rather than the more recent and faster Wi-Fi 6. 

For those who want to get something more powerful – and significantly more bulky – the Dell G15 Ryzen, a gaming workstation laptop that comes with Windows 10 Pro and an 8K-capable Geforce RTX3050 GPU chip, is worthy of consideration. More on that in another column.

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