Dell Inspiron 1520 Review

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$1807
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Modern design with multiple color options; Useful DataSafe backup utility; Mobile broadband option; Good endurance with nine-cell battery

The Cons

A bit heavy; Speakers lack high volume; No HDMI port for optional Blu-ray drive

Verdict

Featuring a fresh new design, solid performance, and free online backup, Dell's latest mainstream notebook is a winner.

If you fancy a notebook that will keep you connected, productive, and entertained on the go, the Dell Inspiron 1520 is quite a compelling option. Featuring a more attractive design than the E1505, with rounded edges and your choice of eight colors, this notebook packs a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 802.11n and Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A connectivity, as well as discrete graphics. Dell also goes the extra mile by offering 3GB of free online backup, the choice of ordering your system free of trialware, and--for the first time ever on a Dell consumer notebook--3G mobile broadband. We just wish it were more travel-friendly.
With the 1520, Dell ditches the familiar (but heavily aged) silver-with-white-trim look for one that has more flash. Our model came with a colorful soft-touch Ruby Red lid, but you can also get it in Jet Black, Alpine White, Espresso Brown, Flamingo Pink, Midnight Blue, Spring Green, and Sunshine Yellow. We were disappointed that the interior didn't offer as much flair as the exterior, but removing the white plastic bumpers found on the E1505was a step in the right direction. We would like to have seen a sleeker chassis; at 6.7 pounds and measuring 14.1 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches, the 1520 is hefty compared with other 15.4-inch notebooks. But with that heftiness comes a solid build that feels like it can take a few bumps (view photo gallery).
The 15.4-inch (1680 x 1050-pixel resolution) display looked good from a variety of angles, whether we were surfing the Web, viewing photos, or working in Word docs. We noticed that flesh tones were a bit muted when we watched DVDs, however. Beneath the LCD sits a full-sized, flex-free keyboard that was comfortable to use even for extended periods. The touchpad is plenty big nd features firm, quiet mouse buttons.
The very edge of the front bezel houses handy multimedia controls, but we were disappointed to discover that the stereo speakers are angled upward from the bottom of the system's base, resulting in weak volume. An optional two-megapixel webcam is included, but its picture quality was no better than that of the typical 1.3-MP cameras found in most notebooks. Recorded video was jerky as well.
Powered by a 2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB), and a 5,400-rpm 160GB hard drive, the 1520 delivered a solid PCMark05 score of 3,579. (If you're looking to save money, the 1521 comes with an AMD Turion Dual-Core TL-50 processor for about $100 less than the 1520's starting price.) Nvidia's GeForce Go 8600 graphics processor churned out a 4,233 3DMark03 score that was capable of handling Vista'stransparencies and Windows Flip 3D without a hitch.
In our F.E.A.R. test, the Inspiron 1520 notched a pretty good score of 48 frames per second on the autodetect settings, but maxing out settings saw the game chug along at an unplayable 12 fps. On our DVD rundown test, the nine-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes before needing a charge. That's a good 20 minutes above average for a mainstream notebook, but most of those come with six-cell batteries. Either way, you can expect to see closer to four hours of runtime with standard use and Wi-Fi off.
Our configured unit came with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, which moved data along at an excellent 16.7 Mbps and 15.1 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet away from our access point, respectively. Dell's Wi-Fi Catcher is included so that users can search for available signals without powering on the notebook. When outside of hotspot range, the embedded Sprint EV-DO Rev. A mobile broadband connection (a $150 option) kept us surfing at a brisk pace; we were able to download Firefox, a 5.7MB download, in only a minute. Uploading a 1MB photo to our FTP server was also swift; we were able to post the file in just under 30 seconds.
On the expansion front, the 1520 offers an ExpressCard slot, as well as FireWire, VGA, S-Video, and four USB 2.0 ports. Dell allows users to select an optional Blu-ray drive ($700) instead of the standard 8X DVD+/-RW drive, but with the lack of an HDMI port, there's no way to export video to a big screen. With only a 15.4-inch screen, you might as well skip high-def.
Photos, music, and video are always just a button press away with Dell MediaDirect with Instant Office, which let us swiftly access multimedia content--as well as view contacts, appointments, and PowerPoint presentations--without booting into Windows. Bundled with our system is Dell's Travel Remote Control ($15) and noise-isolation earbuds that come paired with the webcam for a total of $30. The handy remote, which slides easily into the ExpressCard slot, allowed us to kick back and control our media in comfort. The earbuds were loud and clear, with sufficient bass.
Dell tosses in two convenient services designed to make your computing life easier: DellConnect, a remote diagnostic and repair service, and Dell DataSafe backup solution, which lets users save up to 3GB of data on Dell's secure servers. If you're in need of more storage, you can upgrade to 10GB ($10), 20GB ($20), or 30GB ($30). Dell backs the 1520 with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.
Although it's a bit bulky, Dell has crafted a fine machine in the Inspiron 1520. Priced at a reasonable $1,807, our configuration is a stylish and powerful notebook. But with a starting price of $869, less souped-up versions of the this system, without bells and whistles like mobile broadband, should appeal to a wide audience.
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CPU 2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Display Size 15.4
Native Resolution 1680x1050
Optical Drive DVDRW
Optical Drive Speed 4X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce Go 8600/256MB
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Mobile Broadband Sprint EV-DO
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) S-Video
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 4
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 8-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year parts and labor/24/7 phone, in-home service and next business-day available for $70
Size 14.1 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches
Weight 6.7 pounds (with nine-cell battery)
Company Website www.dell.com