Dell :: Inspiron 1525 Better Than Lenovo Thinkpad T500 (display, Keyboard)

Nov 12, 2008

I happened to get both a Dell Inspiron 1525 (for $700) and a Lenovo Thinkpad T500 (for $1800) at the same time. To my amazement, I like the Dell better and may return the Lenovo. Here's why.

1) Display: I'm surprised by how much better the Dell's display is for basic work (word-processing, writing emails, surfing the web); and equally surprised that I haven't seen mention of this in various reviews. Both laptops have a 15" WXGA display. (The Dell happens to have Vista; the Lenovo has XP, but both are brand new.) Are reviewers getting caught up in the technical details, and forgetting to report on what matters most: how easy on the eyes the display is when one works, 8 hours/day? ("Not able to see the display, for the specs"?)

(a) The Lenovo T500's display sucks. Characters look fuzzy, because the dots that comprise them are visible. Diagonal lines, as in the "/" character, have jagged edges (whereas on the Dell they appear more like solid lines, crisp, clear). I almost have to squint to read the Lenovo, whereas characters on the Dell stand out. [UPDATE: Swarmer helpfully points out that ClearType is not the default in XP, one must turn it on, and that doing so vastly improves the legibility of script. See below.]

(b) The Lenovo's background display color is a sickly blue-green off-white (which shows less contrast for the default blue-colored hyperlinks), whereas the Dell has a healthier peach off-white that contrasts well with links.

I don't know if taking screen-shots or taking a digital picture of the two screens side-by-side would show what I'm talking about, but I'm willing to try if anyone wants. I use my laptop for work, so I don't care how they perform on gaming or watching HD videos. I just want to type and read (with an occasional low-def YouTube video), with the best laptop display I can find!

Has anyone else been able to compare both notebooks side-by-side? I'd love to hear some confirmation that I'm not crazy or making this up.

2) Keyboard:

(a) The Inspiron's keyboard is almost an inch wider than the Thinkpad's, even though the two laptops are the same width overall. That's because the Lenovo has 1.5" of wasted space on each side of the keyboard, which makes the keyboard cramped -- how stupid is that? (I'm guessing the Lenovo T500 and T400 use the same size keyboard, whereas the Dell 1525 uses a wider keyboard than the Dell 1420 -- taking advantage of the width, as it should.) Having a 3/4" narrower keyboard on the Lenovo means my fingers touch each other when lined up asdf-jkl; whereas the Dell keyboard is just enough wider that they don't touch, which means less cramping/fatigue/karpal-tunnel.

Small keyboard things:

(b) The Inspiron puts the left Ctrl key on the outside where it belongs, whereas on the Lenovo it is tucked one key in (with Fn on the outside) which makes it hard to find (unless your left little-finger is especially dextrous at curling down and in -- mine isn't, and I have to look every time on the Lenovo).

(c) The Lenovo puts the Esc key on a row above the function keys, rather than on the far-left. I suppose one gets used to it, but I'm constantly hitting the F3 when I reach for F2.

(d) I have no use for a track-point device, so it and the extra mouse-buttons for it are wasted on me, and the Lenovo's track-pad is smaller than the Dell's (although I do like the surface-feel of the Lenovo better -- slightly matte, vs. the too-polished Dell track-pad).

(e) Likewise, I won't ever use the Lenovo's keys for "browser Back" or "browser Forward", located in the cursor-key group. What a waste of keyboard real-estate. Make the darn keyboard bigger and simpler, Lenovo!

3) Battery: I have 3 batteries and swap them on long flights (14 hours non-stop to Asia). The Lenovo's battery is a pain in the butt to remove! It's a struggle every time, turning the unit around, trying not to break a fingernail when I try to pinch and wiggle the battery out. On the Dell, it pops right out easily.

Just so no-one thinks I'm pimping for Dell, the Inspiron's case is shoddily made -- a hinge completely broke in the first month of normal use, rendering it unusable, which is outrageous. Then the left-button on the touchpad broke! (The rubber 'spring' crumbled, necessitating replacing the entire "palm rest" which is 1/2 the case, a major operation.) The Dell's physical parts are less-well made overall -- the hinge, case, etc. -- they have a cheap, WalMart feel to them and I fear they will break again. The Lenovo has a very nice Porsche/Mercedes feel to the workmanship -- tight, well-built. If I could have the Dell's display, keyboard and battery, but the rest from Lenovo, I'd be happy. (Funnily enough, the only complaint I've read about the T500 keyboard is that it is not as "solid" as the older Lenovo models, which I really don't care about.)

I'm sure the Lenovo has better "specs" (by the #s). But if you hate staring at its screen, does it really matter?

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