Dell: Best and Worst Laptop Brands
Dell saw a meteoric rise this year, going from fifth place to second. Despite being the third-most popular brand — with 12.8 percent market share, according to Gartner — the company hasn't always fared so well on our evaluations. But 2015 looks different. Dell took first place in the innovation category, value and selection, as well as audio. And the company fared well in reviews and tech support.
Dell offered a strong showing in the reviews category, delivering excellent and innovative notebooks such as the new XPS 13. The company offers a good portfolio of budget systems such as the Chromebook 11, as well as business and ruggedized systems. The only notebook that received a not-recommended rating of 2.5 stars was the Dell Inspiron 14 5000, which didn’t deliver enough for the money.
Tech Support (13/20)
Dell kept us on the phone longer than any other company during our undercover Tech Support Showdown, with an average of 27 minutes and 20 seconds. However, we found the company's website and online chat system much improved. A helpful Twitter account was also a plus, especially since two of the brand’s phone reps couldn't help us.
The new XPS 13 (2015) is the first laptop we recommend over the MacBook Air, thanks to a barely there bezel and more compact design. The Alienware 13 and upcoming Alienware 15 also bring the sexy, with their trademark customizable backlighting and out-of-this world aesthetic.
As pretty as Dell's notebooks can be, the company also knows how to build them tough. The Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme is a prime example.
Keyboard & Touchpad (13/15)
Dell's keyboards usually have good tactile feedback and large, accurate touchpads, but this year the company really stepped up its game. For example, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (2.2mm travel) and Precision m2800 (2.5mm travel) offer good key feel and snappy actuation force.
The company's input device excellence cuts across all of its segments, from business Ultrabooks to gaming behemoths. Its Alienware brand is particularly impressive with keyboards that have 3mm of travel, huge touchpads and colorful custom backlighting. In addition to their comfy key feel, Dell’s business laptops feature highly accurate touchpads with discrete buttons and pointing sticks that let you navigate without moving your hands off the home row.
Dell offers brighter-than-average displays at 274 nits, but the range of colors (average 74 percent gamut) on some of its machines is not quite up to snuff. In terms of resolution, Dell offers some models with quad HD panels, such as the sharp and rich screen on the XPS 13 (3200 x 1800 pixels). The other Dell models with exceptional visuals tend to be its line of gamer-specific Alienware machines. On almost every other Dell were viewed, the verdict was the same: The screens look good, but not great.
If you need proof that Dell is committed to staying on the cutting edge, look no further than the Alienware 13. It looks and acts like a typical gaming laptop, but you can add a GPU amplifier that lets you experience beefy, desktop-grade graphics on a notebook. The XPS 13 has a striking bezel-free design that makes it look like an 11-incher.
The company's Inspiron 15 keeps up with rivals like Acer and Asus by integrating Intel's RealSense 3D camera.
Although sometimes suffering from harshness, overall Dell's notebooks produced quality audio with a brand average of 86 decibels. While it could fill a small room, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 produced strained audio with harsh midtones, measuring 82dB. Alienware laptops were the best of Dell's bunch. The boisterous $1,499 Alienware 17's Klipsch speakers notched 99dB, but also pumped out sound that was true and clear.
Value & Selection (5/5)
Dell has been a leader in price and selection for a while now, and this year is no different. Its website is streamlined, so finding the type of laptop you want is a cinch. With the ability to customize components directly, it's easy to make sure you get the specs you want at a good price. Dell's range of computers is among the best, ranging from inexpensive Chromebooks to its sleek XPS lines. It even has some of the toughest laptops on the market with its Rugged Extreme series.
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For value, Dell usually offers equal or lower prices than its cheapest competitor, with systems such as new XPS 13 leading the way. It features a gorgeous full HD, 13.3-inch Infinity display, 5th-Gen Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for just $799. Dell's Alienware gaming notebooks offer stylish looks and great performance without the markup of many other boutique notebook makers.
Just like last year, Dell's software offerings are underwhelming. There are no upgrades to its consumer programs this year -- you'll still get My Dell for tech support, Dell Audio to select sound profiles for music and movies and PocketCloud for storage and remote access. Business laptops do get a new set of programs in the Software and Client Command suites that keep your computers up to date with the latest programs and security features. The new Dell Data Protection (Cloud Edition) integrates with Dropbox to guard your work and personal data against security threats, while keeping your private and professional accounts separate.