Dell, aiming to provide a laptop for everyone, offers seven lines, each of which emphasizes a particular quality -- compact size, low price, multimedia, computer games and so on. The Inspiron 700m we tested lands in the middle of Dell's price range -- it sold for as low as $899 last week, and our upgraded test unit came in at $1,479. Like most Dell models, it can be a great choice if customized wisely (we'd buy it over Dell's other lighter-weight models); going with a standard configuration; however, may limit its appeal.
The best upgrade on our 700m was a higher-capacity battery, which costs $99 more than the standard unit. It enabled the 700m to run for more than 31/2 hours playing a DVD; when set for maximum battery life, with WiFi shut off, it lasted just shy of six hours.
This long-life battery also added just under half a pound to the 700m's weight, pushing it past 4.6 pounds (a too-hefty power adapter adds almost another pound). The 700m's keyboard is small, at 10 inches across, but comfortable. Its widescreen LCD is also on the compact side but is clear and bright.
Software options include Windows XP Home or Professional, Microsoft Works, Corel WordPerfect and Microsoft Office. Dell also sells three Internet-security suites at prices up to $99 -- but some configurations are offered without any security software.
Our test system included a 15-month subscription to Norton Internet Security 2005, plus a basic photo-album program and a starter version of Intuit's QuickBooks business-accounting program -- not Intuit's consumer-focused Quicken.
Dell has traditionally bundled a CD of Windows, but it now stashes a backup copy of Windows on a hidden hard-drive partition and charges $10 extra for a Windows disc. Although the pre-installed version of Windows XP included Service Pack 2, our CD copy lacked that vital update.
Dell's standard warranty lasts only 90 days, but it will gladly sell you upgrade options such as a $29, one-year warranty or a four-year, all-encompassing care package for $496. The overseas reps we reached were fairly well-informed and very patient, although not always easy to hear. Dell's online support is excellent, with plenty of informative self-help resources. -- Kevin Savetz
Tested hardware: Dell Inspiron 700m, $1,479
4.6 pounds (5.5 pounds with power adapter), 12.1-inch widescreen LCD (1,280 by 800 pixels), 1.6 GHz Intel Pentium M, 512 MB memory (up to 64 MB shared for graphics use), 75.8 GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD+/-RW drive, SD Card slot, Ethernet, WiFi, modem, PC Card slot, FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports.
90-day warranty. 90 days of 24-hour, toll-free phone tech support; $39 per-call fee afterward.