In the middle of Dell's family of notebooks lies the Inspiron 15 5000 Series. Boasting an attractive design, and good -- but not great -- specs, the Inspiron 15 starts at $649, just higher than the average notebook. As configured, our $1,049 review unit has a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 15-inch 1080p touch screen, which will suit most needs well. But does this seemingly average notebook surprise in any way?
While Dell's high-end Inspiron 15 7000 series bears a striking resemblance to a Macbook, the company went a different direction with the mid-tier Inspiron 15 5000. The metal lid has a brushed finish, and the inside features a smooth matte black finish versus the 7000's all-aluminum case. The overall vibe is attractive and comfortable.
The only area that looks somewhat cheap is the bezel around the display. There is an additional plastic strip on the 5000 series, between the lid and the edge of the touch screen, which gives the display a clunkier appearance.
The Inspiron 15 5000 measures 14.9 x 10 x 0.9 inches and weighs 5.4 pounds, barely smaller and lighter than the ASUS N550JV (15.08 x 10 x 1.09 inches and 5.6 pounds) and the same size as the Inspiron 15 7000 (14.9 x 10 x 0.8 inches and 5.6 pounds).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell includes a full 104-key chiclet-style keyboard on the Inspiron 15, although the keys on the number pad are slightly shrunken. Keys are backlit in a soft, white glow with two levels of brightness that can be toggled using a function key.
The Inspiron 15 5000 has a key travel of 1.55 mm, smack in the middle of the typical 1-2mm of travel found on most keyboards, with an actuation force of 65 grams. Although there was more keyboard flex than we prefer, we managed 70 words per minute, similar to our desktop keyboard average.
The touchpad is a spacious 4.1 x 3.1 inches, with the left and right mouse buttons integrated Macbook-style. However, getting clicks to register at the top of the touchpad was significantly more difficult. Sometimes, the notebook had trouble distinguishing between left and right clicks when we pressed in the middle of the pad. Multi-touch gestures like two-finger pan-and-scroll in Windows 8.1 were snappy and easy to use.
Display and Touch Screen
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 features a 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS touch screen. We watched Valve's "Free to Play" documentary and loved how both the gameplay graphics and players looked sharp even in the dimly lit arena. We did notice that in a dark room, there is a little light bleed that occurs across the top and bottom edges of the screen.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000's screen averaged 244 lux of brightness using our light meter. That's behind the 275 lux of the ASUS N550JV, but ahead of the Inspiron 15 7000's 212 lux and the category average of 232 lux.
Based on our readings, the Inspiron 15 5000's screen is capable of displaying 94.7 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's much better than the 80.3-percent category average, but behind the Inspiron 15 7000's 103 percent. Color accuracy was good, as the Inspiron 15 5000's Delta-E of 6.3 (closer to 0 is better) was better than the Inspiron 15 7000's 11.9 and the category average of 7.1.
The touch screen is responsive, as even our untrained fingers had no trouble doodling in Paint. The Inspiron 15 5000 also did a good job of recognizing various Windows 8 touch gestures. However, swiping in from the right to summon the Charms menu was a little more cumbersome due to the layered bezel.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 features stereo speakers located on the front edge of the laptop. Audio was generally crisp and clear. When we listened to Ferry Corsten's "Fire," the laptop delivered well-defined highs, but bass sounded a little hollow.
On the Laptop Mag Audio Test, the Inspiron 15 5000 produced 87 dB of volume measured from 23 inches away. This was better than the 84 dB of the Inspiron 15 7000 and on a par with the category average of 87 dB, but softer than the 94 dB produced by the ASUS N550JV.
Dell includes its own MAXX Audio Pro utility, which allows users to save custom settings; adjust the EQ; and boost treble, bass, dialog and other audio categories.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ran a little hotter than we prefer. We generally consider anything about 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to be uncomfortable, and on the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming video from Hulu), the bottom of the laptop reached 101 degrees. The hottest section was the long vent on the bottom of the unit, which will go across both legs if you use the notebook on your lap.
Thankfully, the topside of the laptop stayed cooler. The space between the G and H keys hit 85 degrees, while the touchpad was a chillier 83 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
The port spread on the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is pretty standard for a 15-inch system. There are three USB ports in total. The first is a lone USB 2.0 port next to the power jack and SD/Memory Stick card reader on the left side. On the right are two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI and a headset jack.
The no-frills HD Webcam on the Inspiron 15 5000 takes adequate 1280 x 720 photos, although they looked on the dark side. Videos also tend to be slightly dark, but both modes are fine for video calls or a quick self-portrait.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 features a 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7-4510U processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1 TB 5400 rpm hard drive. We were able to smoothly stream 1080p video from YouTube and Twitch at the same time, with five tabs open in Internet Explorer and Chrome, while running a system scan in the background.
On PCMark7, which measures overall system performance, the Inspiron 15 5000 scored 2,094, which was behind the Inspiron 15 7000's score of 4,075 (1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4500), the ASUS N550JV's score of 3,546 (2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ) and the mainstream category average of 4,093.
On the Laptop Mag Transfer Test, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000's hard drive moved 4.97 GB of media files in 2:55, for a transfer rate of 29 MBps. This was slightly faster than the ASUS N550JV's mark of 27.7 MBps but slower than the Inspiron 15 7000's 73.8 MBps and the category average of 85.9 MBps.
On our spreadsheet test, in which we match 20,000 names and addresses in Open Office, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 finished in 4 minutes and 28 seconds. This is just ahead of the Inspiron 15 7000's mark of 4:39 but behind the ASUS N550JV's time of 3:58. The category average is 5:32.
While Dell didn't build the Inspiron 15 5000 specifically with graphics performance in mind, the integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics does a decent job of handling less graphically intense games. In anecdotal testing, we were able to achieve 60 fps in "League of Legends" at 1080p with medium settings but shadows turned off.
The Inspiron 15 5000 managed 39 fps in World of Warcraft at 1080p and automatic settings. That's playable, but -- not surprisingly -- lower than competing systems with discrete graphics. This Dell Inspiron 15 7000 and the ASUS N550Jv, both of which sport Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPUs, scored 93 fps and 86 fps, respectively.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 scored 47,270 in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, behind the Inspiron 15 7000's mark of 65,934 and the category average of 65,293.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 lasted a somewhat disappointing 5 hours and 4 minutes. While that's longer than the ASUS 550JV (4:52), it's about an hour shorter than the category average of 6:19, as well as the Inspiron 15 7000's time of 6:13.
Dell offers five configurations of the Inspiron 15 5000. The notebook starts at $649 and includes a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-4210U, 6GB of RAM, 1 TB hard drive and a 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 non-touch screen.
Our test system, the top-end model, has an Intel Core i7-4510U CPU, 16 GB of RAM and a 1920 x 1080 touch screen, all for $1,049. Sadly, this configuration is the only one available that has a 1080p display.
Software and Warranty
Dell bundles a 12-month subscription to McAfee LiveSafe with the Inspiron 15 5000, along with a trial for Microsoft Office. Overall, the system was refreshingly devoid of any other bloatware.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 comes with a one-year warranty with in-home service in addition to 90 days of premium phone support. Users can opt to purchase up to a four-year warranty for an additional $169.99.
Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 is a solid mid-range machine in an attractive aluminum and soft-touch package. The available 1080p touch screen is another plus. However, the machine seems overpriced for what you get. For around $100 more, the Inspiron 15 7000 features discrete graphics and longer battery life in an all-aluminum package. And, for the same price as the Inspiron 15 5000, you can get an HP Envy 15 with the same processor, RAM and hard drive, as well as Nvidia GeForce 840M graphics. So while the Inspiron 15 5000 is a good notebook, we'd recommend a lower-end configuration to get more bang for your buck.