Attractive design; Comfortable keyboard; Accurate touchpad; Loud audio; Inexpensive
Below-average performance; Annoying port covers
The Dell Inspiron 13z is a compelling ultraportable notebook value, delivering a comfortable typing experience, Core i5 power and loud audio in a customizable design.
There's a very good reason to consider buying the Dell Inspiron 13z: it's one of the most affordable 13-inch ultraportables ever. Although just shy of Ultrabook dimensions, the 13z (starting at $579, $699 as tested) packs a third-generation Core i5 CPU, plenty of RAM and half a terabyte of storage into an attractive, 0.82-inch-thick aluminum frame. To keep the price down, however, Dell had to make some trade-offs. Are the savings worth it, or are you better off paying more for an Ultrabook?
At 13.07 x 9.05 x 0.82 inches and 3.8 pounds, the Inspiron 13z is slightly thicker and heavier than the 0.71-inch thick, 3.4-pound Sony VAIO T13 and the 0.7-inch thick, 3.6-pound Lenovo IdeaPad U310. Still, it's thin and light enough to easily fit into a messenger bag or backpack.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While the 13z's 3.25 x 1.25 touchpad seems tiny compared with the spacious clickpads found on the VAIO T13 (3.9 x 2.2 inches) and the IdeaPad U310 (4.1 x 2.75 inches), we appreciated its responsiveness and accuracy.
Thankfully, the notebook's display is plenty bright. Measuring 215 lux, the 13z falls just short of the ultraportable average (225 lux) but easily outshines both the VAIO T13 (163 lux) and the IdeaPad U310 (148 lux).
Cranked up to the maximum, the two bottom-mounted speakers on the Inspiron 13z pumped out enough volume to easily fill a room. At their loudest, the speakers lack the fidelity of such audio giants as the old Dell XPS 15, but at lower decibels the sound is accurate and smooth. Listening to Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On,", Jimmy Page's whimsical guitar riffs and Robert Plant's lilting tenor almost sounded good enough to make us forget that Dell had replaced their superior JBL speakers with audio from Skullcandy.
Sadly, bass is virtually nonexistent. When listening to "Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z's driving bass sounded as hollow as a lap drum. More frustratingly, turning on Bass Boost in the audio settings reduced the treble rather than enhancing the bass. Pressing the Waves Maxx menu button on the upper right corner of the deck cycled through a number of presets including music and gaming, but we couldn't discern a noticeable difference in sound.
Ports and Webcam
The 720p HD webcam captures video and stills smoothly, even at maximum resolution. Images appeared bright and crisp, and colors were warm (although the default settings gave captured images a slightly blue tinge). Dell Webcam Central lets users fine-tune settings including backlighting, brightness, contrast, color and gamma, and -- for those who want to add a little flair to their pictures and videos -- facial effects and backgrounds.
Despite packing a 1.7-GHz 3rd Generation Core i5-3317U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Inspiron 13z fell short of the ultraportable average on most of our tests.
On PCMark07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the 13z scored 2,474, almost 500 points less than the category average. The VAIO T13 (1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive with 32GB SSD cache) and IdeaPad U310 (1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive with 32GB SSD cache) turned in far superior scores, at 3,334 and 3,480, respectively.
The 13z fared better on the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, copying 4.97GB of files in 2 minutes and 54 seconds, a rate of 29.2 MBps. While this falls far short of the ultraportable average of 57.2 MBps, it beats both the VAIO T13 (18.6 MBps) and IdeaPad U310 (28.6 MBps).
Unfortunately, without an SSD cache, the 13z suffers from a longer boot time than Ultrabooks. The notebook started Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 50 seconds, 7 seconds slower than the category average and far behind the VAIO T13 (25 seconds) and IdeaPad U310 (33 seconds), both of which boast 32GB SSD caches.
The Inspiron 13z completed the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test, which involves matching 20,000 names with their addresses, in 6 minutes and 16 seconds. This beats the ultraportable average by almost two minutes, but falls just shy of the VAIO T13 (5:53) and IdeaPad U310 (6:06).
On 3DMark11, a synthetic benchmark that measures graphics performance, the 13z scored 601 -- more than 200 points less than the ultraportable average, but significantly higher than the VAIO T13 (456) and IdeaPad U310 (486), both of which use the same GPU as the Inspiron.
When playing "World of Warcraft" on Good settings, the notebook turned in a brisk 45 frames per second, beating the VIAO T13 (32 fps) and IdeaPad U310 (39 fps), but falling just a hair short of the ultraportable average (47 fps). When we cranked up the graphics to Ultra, however, the frame rate plummeted to a barely-playable 21 fps -- just below the category average of 23 frames per second.
The $699 configuration of the Inspiron 13z we reviewed includes a 1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. This notebook starts at $579 and comes with a 1.4-GHz 2nd Generation Core i3-2367M CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 320GB, 7,200-rpm SATA hard drive. Upgrades include a 1.9-GHz 3rd Generation Core i7-3517U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD cache.
Software and Warranty
VerdictSony VAIO T13 ($799) or Lenovo IdeaPad U310 ($799), both of which offer an SSD cache. Then again, the Dell offers slightly longer battery life and the ability to pick your lid. If you can live with those pesky port covers, you would be hard-pressed to find a 13-inch ultraportable laptop that offers more value than the Inspiron 13z.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3317M|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||500GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Wireles-N 2230|
|Touchpad Size||3.25 x 1.5 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Card Slots||8-1 card reader|
|Size||13.07 x 9.05 x 0.82 inches|