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Display, Keyboard and Trackpad
The Alienware 13 we received for review came with a 13.3-inch IPS TFT LCD display (1920 x 1080), which is one step above the 1366 x 768 TN entry-level display. Just on resolution alone, I'd highly recommend upgrading to the 1080p display because frankly no premium product should come with such a last-generation resolution in 2015. An upgrade to 1080p will set you back $150 and it's well worth it.
The next step up will get you a QHD (2560 x 1440) display, which is a $300 upgrade from the base model. This could be a worthy option if you plan on picking up the Amplifier as well, but keep in mind that the GTX 860M in the laptop may struggle in some games at this resolution.
The matte-finish display is rated at 350 nits of brightness and you'll certainly have no issue viewing this display in bright conditions. The higher than usual level of brightness has been achieved thanks to the lack of a touchscreen, which for a gaming machine isn't a critical feature.
Although this panel does feature IPS technology, it's certainly not in the same league as a high-end IPS desktop monitor. Viewing angles are good, but color quality is average (though not as terrible as some laptop TN panels), and contrast suffers from relatively poor black level performance. This can lead to some detail loss when darker images are on screen, such as when you're in a dungeon in a game. The backlight also isn't perfect, with a noticeable grey tinge on the left and right side of the panel.
Where the Alienware 13's 1080p display may fall behind in contrast and color quality, it makes up for in gamer-friendly features. As I mentioned earlier the brightness is great, but you also get a low-latency panel with no discernible ghosting in the games I tested, which can be tricky to achieve on an IPS panel.
The keyboard is one of my favorite aspects of the Alienware 13. It's not a chiclet keyboard, so each key uses the maximum amount of space possible, and travel for each key exceeded my expectations. The rubber dome keys are a little muddy for my liking, but that's probably because I usually game on a mechanical keyboard. Compared to other laptop keyboards I've used over the years, this is one of the better ones that I found to be good for typing and gaming.
The layout of the keyboard is also gamer-friendly, with a large spacebar, shift and control keys that aren't cramped by excess function keys. There's also a full-sized set of arrow keys and the entire array of F-keys implemented as half-height keys, complete with dedicated home, end and delete buttons. It took me a bit of time to adjust to the keyboard having a smaller escape key than tilde key, which led to some errant key presses at times, but this is a minor complaint.
All extra functionality that can be accessed through the function key is mapped to the F-keys and only the F-keys. Here you can adjust the brightness of the display, the volume, and toggle things on and off like the trackpad, wireless radios and keyboard backlighting.
I wasn't as impressed by the trackpad, which has a coarse plastic feel. Tracking was generally okay, as was tapping-to-click, though two finger scrolling felt a bit like dragging pages through honey. The physical click zones aren't separated from the touchpad itself, which can make it a bit difficult to find them, especially when trying to right-click.