Dell's Inspiron notebooks have long offered a solid computing experience at a good price, and the $599 Inspiron 15R is no exception to the rule. Pulling together an appealing and customizable design, a third-gen Core i5 processor and a robust collection of applications, the 15R is a well-rounded mainstream computer. Still, does the Inspiron 15R offer enough at this price?
With its high-radius rounded corners, glossy plastic lid and brushed aluminum deck, the Dell Inspiron 15R has a premium look and style for a mainstream notebook. The space between the keys on the keyboard is a glossy black, contrasting nicely with the dark gray brushed deck. The Dell logo on the lid and "Inspiron" insignia below the screen shine a reflective chrome.
Design customization comes in the form of SWITCH lid options, which provide six different color options for the top lid of the notebook (additional lids cost $29.99 each). The default dark gray lid can be removed and replaced with Moon Silver, Fire Red, Peacock Blue, Lotus Pink, Bronze Orange and Ivy White. Despite the glossy finish on the lid, it remained mostly fingerprint-free.
On the top right of the deck, above the keyboard, are dashboard buttons for the Windows Mobility Center, Dell Audio and Dell Instant Launch, providing quick access to system settings, audio and a program or link of the user's choosing.
The Inspiron 15R measures 14.9 x 9.9 x 1.2 - 1.3 inches and weighs 6 pounds, making this notebook larger and heavier than the Sony VAIO E Series 15 (14.7 x 10 x 1 - 1.3 inches and 5.4 pounds) and the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (14.8 x 9.8 x 1.3 inches, 5.2 pounds).
Display and Audio
This Inspiron 15R has a 15.6-inch WLED display with a standard resolution of 1366 x 768. The screen delivered rich colors, but the high-gloss finish proved distracting. We used the notebook with open window blinds behind us and could see the reflection of the buildings almost as clearly as the Windows desktop. It took some screen tilting and seat turning before the glare became manageable.
When we watched the trailer for "The Great Gatsby," details were crisp and clear. We could see the subtle details on Daisy Buchanan's dress, party scenes were bright and vivid, and individual pieces of confetti and glitter stood out against the background. The screen measured 198 lux, besting the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (181 lux) and the Sony VAIO E15 (141 lux) but falling short of the 247 average.
Unfortunately, viewing angles were limited: the screen contrast was quick to darken as soon as we moved to either side of the display. When we looked down from a higher viewing angle, the screen quickly washed out.
Listening to music on the 15R was a pleasant experience, as long as the notebook remained on our desk. Since the speakers are on the bottom, sound bounced off the flat surface of the countertop and easily filled our testing room. The downside of downward-facing speakers, however, is the audio becomes muffled when the 15R is set on a lap, severely lowering the sound volume and quality.
With the notebook set on the desk, we listened to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," and the vocals were crisp and clear, even at the highest volume. Bass sounded good on this notebook as well; we listened to "No Church in the Wild" by Kanye West and were impressed by the rich lower notes.
The Inspiron 15R uses Waves MaxxAudio 3.0 technology to improve sound quality, and this makes a big difference. We turned Waves MaxxAudio off while listening to music and the sound immediately became muted and flat. There are four preset audio settings within Waves MaxxAudio: Game, Movie, Music and Voice. We found that no matter what media we played, the Game audio setting provided the richest audio experience.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The spacious island-style keyboard on the Inspiron 15R allows for quick, comfortable typing. At first, the keys felt small, and the spacing between the keys too wide, but we easily scored 72 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing test, which is the same as on our main computer.
The Inspiron 15R has a comfortably sized 4 x 2.25-inch touchpad. Although it's made by Elan, the touchpad control panel interface is made by Dell. We easily performed multi-touch gestures, including pinch-to-zoom, rotate and two- and three-finger swiping. There are two discrete mouse buttons on the 15R, which offered just the right amount of give without being mushy.
During our heat test, where we run Hulu on full-screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad on the Inspiron 15R measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of the 15R was 85 degrees and the space between the G and H keys was 82 degrees. For the record, we consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
The left side of the Dell Inspiron 15R houses two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, HDMI and VGA video connection. That same side includes the fan vent. The right side includes two more USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and the tray-loading DVD+/-RW drive. The front edge, facing the user, has a 7-in-1 memory card reader.
A 720p HD webcam above the display supports video chats up to 1280 x 720 pixels, and the images looked sharp and clear. Dell Webcam Central is included with this laptop, allowing for easy picture snapping and video recording, as well as a number of video effects and voice-and-movement responsive avatars. If you want to use these features, however, you'll have to lower the quality on the webcam to 640 x 480 or lower; effects and avatars do not work with an HD video stream.
Powered by its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M (Ivy Bridge) processor and 6GB of RAM, the Dell Inspiron 15R offers solid performance. It scored 2,596 on the PCMark7 benchmark test, besting the average of 2,419. Its score also fell in between the Sony Vaio E Series 15 (2,452) and the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (2,695), both of which have the same processor as the 15R. The HP Envy Sleekbook 6z, which has a 2.1-GHz AMD A6-4455M APU, managed a score of only 1,400.
The 15R didn't fare as well in Geekbench, scoring 5,644 to the Z580's 6,949 and the Sony VAIO's 7,090. It did, however, easily beat the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z's score of 2,697.
Performance felt snappy while we were using the Inspiron 15R. We opened 10 tabs in the Google Chrome browser, ran Dell Webcam Central, opened Dell Stage and a few folders, and were still able to seamlessly switch between tabs and applications. Playing a YouTube video while everything was still open proved no issue, either.
This notebook is equipped with a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and comes pre-loaded with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. It took 47 seconds to power on, longer than the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z (43 seconds) and the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (44 seconds), but less than the Sony VAIO E15 (50 seconds) as well as the category average of 54 seconds.
On the file transfer test, where we copy 4.97GB of multimedia files, the 15R took a lengthy 4 minutes and 41 seconds for a transfer rate of 18.1 MBps. That's almost half the average speed of 35.9 MBps. The HP Envy Sleekbook 6z was 10 seconds faster, (4:31), the Sony VAIO E15 was a minute better (3:41) and the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 was even faster at just 3:11.
The Inspiron 15R did better on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, where we match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, completing the task in 5 minutes and 11 seconds. That's a minute faster than the average (6:11), but still slower than the VAIO E15 (4:48) and the IdeaPad Z580 (5:01).
The Dell Inspiron 15R sports an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics processor that provides decent performance, but don't expect to play anything too taxing. This notebook scored a 643 on the 3DMark11 benchmark test, on a par with the Sony VAIO E15 and Z580, higher than the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z (524), but well below the mainstream average of 1,037.
When running "World of Warcraft" set on Good quality at 1366 x 768, we got a frame rate of 52 fps, just shy of the 56 fps average. When we cranked the game to maximum, the frame rate dropped to 26 fps, also short of the 29 fps average.
The Inspiron 15R's 6-cell Lithium Ion battery lasted 4 hours and 52 minutes in the LAPTOP Battery Test, 39 minutes less than the average time of 5 hours and 34 minutes. The 15R did last longer than the Sony VAIO E15, whose battery drained after 4 hours and 24 minutes, but fell short of the Z580 (5:17).
Dell bundles the Inspiron 15R with a great suite of applications, including the premium Adobe applications Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9. The ad-supported Microsoft Office Starter is here as well.
Dell Stage augments the desktop with tiles linking to commonly (and not-so-commonly) used software, such as MusicStage, PhotoStage, VideoStage and nine other applications and utilities. This application launcher is fully customizable; you can add and remove tiles or set quick-links to your favorite websites. While Dell Stage was useful for quick access to our media, it takes up more desktop space than we liked, and the mouse-over icon animations were distracting.
Complementary to the Dell Stage application is Dell Stage Remote, which allows the 15R to connect to any Dell Stage-enabled PCs or DLNA-certified devices. We ran the Dell Stage Remote setup wizard and were able to easily connect to a Dell Inspiron 17R SE 7720 laptop. We played a video from our 15R, and it immediately streamed to the connected computer. The entire process was painless and easy, and allowed us to access the media on any of the shared devices as long as we were connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
Also included on the Inspiron 15R are Skype, Zinio Reader 4, a trial of McAfee anti-virus SecurityCenter and Dell DataSafe.
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We reviewed the $599 version of the Dell Inspiron 15R, but there are three other configurations from which to choose: one lower-end and two more premium bundles. The starting model costs just $499, and has the same memory and hard drive as our review unit, but a second-generation 2.4-GHz Intel Core i3-2370M processor. The top-of-the-line model ($799) also has 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, but has an upgraded Intel Core i7-3612QM processor for even more power. SWITCH lids, which allow users to easily swap the color of their 15R's lid, range from $29 - $49 each.
The $599 Dell Inspiron 15R is an attractive notebook that delivers a solid computing experience and appealing suite of applications at a great price. The third-generation Core i5 CPU provides plenty of pep, and we appreciate the multiple color and lid options. At this price, we prefer the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 for its lighter weight and longer battery life. But if you're looking for solid performance in a stylish body you can customize, the Dell Inspiron 15R is a good pick.