Dell's Inspiron 14z packs serious power into a travel-friendly aluminum package. With its Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a backlit keyboard, the laptop is more than capable of handling your day-to-day computing needs. And, starting at $599 ($829 as configured), it's easy on your wallet. But the thin-and-light notebook market is bursting at the seams with great choices, so where does the Inspiron 14z stand?
Simple but elegant, the Inspiron 14z has a sleek 13.6 x 9.7 x 0.94-inch aluminum chassis and weighs 4.6 pounds. The notebook is available in a standard Diamond Black color, or, for an extra $29, Fire Red. We say go with the latter; we like how the red contrasted with the system's black base.
The only markings on the outside of the 14z are a chrome-colored Dell logo situated in the center of the lid and a single Inspiron logo stamped in the bottom left corner. The Fire Red continues onto the deck, where it again contrasts nicely with the 14z's black chiclet style keyboard and bezel.
Dell gave the 14z several chrome treatments, from the power button and the Dell Logo located on the bottom of the display bezel to a sliver of chrome encircling the keyboard. Thankfully, none of this feels like overkill and serves to make the 14z feel more expensive than its $799 price tag would suggest.
At the top right of the keyboard you'll find Dell's Instant Launch button, which you can program to perform any number of tasks or launch a program or website. There's also a Dell Support Center button and Windows Mobility Center button. To the far left of those, you'll find the 14z's power button. The 14z's speakers are located at the front of the system just below the deck.
During our heat test, which involves streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the 14z kept its cool. In the center of the keyboard--between the H and G keys--the 14z only reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature we measured in the center of the system's underside. The touchpad stayed even cooler than that, reaching just 80 degrees. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Inspiron 14z's backlit, chiclet-style keyboard offered excellent responsiveness and tactile feedback. Using the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor, we scored an average of 70 words per minute with an error rate of 3 percent, which is comparable to our performance on our desktop keyboard. However, the layout exhibited a bit of flex.
The 14z's Synaptics touchpad had its ups and downs. Navigating around the screen was smooth and accurate, but the pad had trouble with multitouch gestures. Two-finger and three-finger scrolling worked fairly well, but pinch-to-zoom and rotate were inconsistent at best.
Display and Sound
The 14z's 14-inch 1366 x 768 glossy display provided great image quality when viewed head-on. Colors were vibrant and text appeared sharp. While watching a trailer for The Hunger Games, we noted plenty of contrast, and a DVD of the movie Bobby looked crisp and clear. The display's glossy coating, however, kicked back reflections. Images also washed out significantly when viewed from a modest angle.
As with all Intel Sandy Bridge notebooks, the Dell has built-in support for Intel's Wireless Display (Wi-Di), which allows you to send video and audio content wirelessly to a compatible media adapter and display it on an HD TV.
The Inspiron's SRS premium Audio HD speakers produced decent sound quality with just enough power to fill a small room. Jay Z's "Run This Town" sounded clear, and while bass hits were a bit on the soft side, they didn't sound dull. Above all, nothing we listened to sounded too harsh or overly tinny.
On the right side of the Inspiron 14z you'll find the tray-loading DVD+RW drive, as well as two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone input, and a security lock slot. On the left is a standard USB 2.0 port, as well HDMI and mini-Display Port. The left side is also where you'll find the 14z's 3-in-1 card reader. Around back is the power connector and Ethernet port, which features a port cover.
In fact, all of the ports are protected by flap covers. While this helps prevents dust from entering your system, these covers just got in the way and slowed us down.
The Inspiron 14z's 1-megapixel webcam provided fair video quality. We didn't notice any pixelation or artifacts when viewing recorded clips. In low-light situations, images became more pixelated, but the picture was still clear enough to make out the thin white stripes on our blue shirt. Dell's Webcam Central software provides users with a wide array of a effects, including avatars and animated frames.
Powered by a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor and packing 8GB of RAM, the Inspiron 14z has more than enough power for most users. When we ran it through the PCMark Vantage test, a synthetic benchmark that measures a notebook's overall performance, the 14z scored a solid 7,743. That's well above the category average of 5,596 and higher than the 6,322 scored by the Gateway ID47H02u, as well as the 6,348 posted by the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-6847, both of which pack the same 2.3-GHz Core i5 as the Dell. The Inspiron does, however, have 4GB more RAM that both the Gateway and Acer.
The Inspiron 14z's 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 Home Premium in 53 seconds. That's faster than the thin-and-light category average of 1 minute and 5 seconds, but slower than the 48 seconds it took to boot the Gateway ID47H02u.
When it came to the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files, the 14z buried the competition, completing the test in 2 minutes and 13 seconds at a rate of 38.3 MBps. That's much faster than the category average of 3 minutes and 23 seconds and well over a minute faster than the nearest competitor, the TimelineX, which completed the test in 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
Thanks to the Core i5's QuickSync technology, which allows for quick video editing, the 14z transcoded a 5-minute HD video in 25 seconds using Cyberlink Media Espresso. The Gateway ID47H02u, which includes the same 2.3-GHz Core i5 as the 14z, took a similar 26 seconds.
The Inspiron 14z's integrated Intel HD 3000 GPU certainly won't break any graphics performance records, but it managed to hold its own in our testing. In the 3DMark06 benchmark, the 14z notched 4,759, which is better than the category average of 4,006, as well as the 4,076 scored by the Gateway ID47H02u. By comparison, the Nvidia GeForce GT 425M-equipped ASUS U41Jf-A1 pulled 5,510, while the the Aspire TimelineX and its AMD Radeon HD 6550M earned 7,844 on the same test.
While playing World of Warcraft with the graphics set to autodetect, the 14z managed 45 frames per second. That's better than the 35 fps turned in by the Gateway ID47H02u, but nowhere near category average of 86 fps. The ASUS U41Jf-A1 and the Aspire TimelineX were able to run the game at 89 fps and 106 fps, respectively. Turning up the graphics resulted in a choppy 20 fps.
With an endurance of 6 hours and 18 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, the Inspiron 14z's six-cell battery has enough juice to get you through a good part of your day before you have to reach for the charger. The average thin-and-light notebook only lasts about 5 hours and 15 minutes, and the Acer Aspire TimelineX hit a wall at 5 hours and 41 minutes. The ASUS U41JF-A1, meanwhile, managed to outlast the 14z by more than 20 minutes. The Gateway ID47H02u reigned supreme on this test, lasting a herculean 7 hours and 8 minutes before giving up the ghost.
As is the case with most Dell notebooks, the Inspiron 14z is available in a variety of configurations. Our $829 model, which has a 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M processor, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, and a Intel 3000 HD graphics chip, is just shy of being top of the line. The only thing it's missing is a $25 Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Hi Def Audio Software upgrade.
For true road warriors, Dell offers a similar system packed with the same Core i5 processor as our unit (although with only 6GB of RAM and a 640GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive) with the addition of a dual Wi-Fi and WiMAX mobile wireless card for $749.
If you're looking for a more basic setup, the 14z can be equipped with a 2.2-GHz Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive for $599. You'll save more than $200, but you'll also take a hit in performance compared to our unit.
Software & Warranty
Dell included a 15-month subscription to McAfee's SecurityCenter software suite, as well as Roxio's Creator Starter CD burning software. The 14z also features the usual suite of Dell software utilities, such as Dell DataSafe backup software and Dell Webcam Central.
Dell's Stage software is a widget that sits at the bottom of the screen and serves as a shortcut for accessing your photos, videos, music, movies, eBooks, and more. Stage Remote allows you to access each of these features from any Anrdoid-powered Dell device. The 14z also includes SyncUp powered by Nero, which allows you to sync your files across multiple devices using your home Wi-Fi network or via the cloud from your Nero account.
Dell offers a standard one-year limited hardware warranty, which covers defects in materials and workmanship. You'll also receive a basic one-year service plan that includes remote diagnosis and in-home service if remote diagnosis is unsuccessful. You can also opt for a three-year service package that covers accidental damage, but that will run you an additional $323. See how Dell fared in this year's Tech Support Showdown and where the carrier landed in the Best & Worst Brands.
In this category and price range, we really like the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-6847, which offers discrete AMD grapchis in an equally slim 4.6-pound package, though it costs you an hour of endurance. The Gateway ID47H02u is another strong choice because it costs $100 less and lasts a longer 7 hours on a charge. However, the Gateway's glossy touchpad isn't for everyone.
At $829, the Inspiron 14z is a powerful notebook with close to all-day battery life. The aluminum chassis is sleek and sexy--especially in Fire Red--and we like the backlit keyboard. We're just not fans of the port covers or the way the laptop's touchpad handles multitouch gestures. Other than those minor issues, the Dell Inspiron 14z is a very good choice.