Attractive, lightweight design; Good performance and graphics; Swift boot times; Runs cool
Subpar battery life; Loud tinny audio lacks bass
An attractive design, good performance and quick boot times make the Dell Inspiron 15z a good, but expensive Windows 8 Ultrabook.
Dell 's new $899 Dell Inspiron 15z notebook combines the slim proportions of an Ultrabook with the jack-of-all-trades features of a mainstream laptop. Outfitted with a Core i5 processor and Intel-integrated graphics, the Inspiron 15z can effortlessly transition from productivity tasks to entertainment. The Windows 8 ultrabook also features a scratch-resistant touchscreen display for an extra layer of interactivity.
The laptop's interior echoes the exterior's color scheme. A large aluminum power button sits flush with the left hinge. Buttons for Windows Mobility Center, Waves Audio and Dell Instant Launch are located near the right hinge. Further down, the backlit keyboard rests in a slightly recessed chamber. A large gray touchpad and a pair of discrete mouse buttons complete the deck. While the Moon Silver finish is lovely, consumers with a flair for the dramatic should check out the 15z in Fire Red. However, you can't swap out the lids on the 15z, as you can with other Inspiron notebooks.
In terms of dimensions, the 5.2-pound, 15 x 9.8 x 0.9-0.91-inch Inspiron 15z is sandwiched between the 5 pound, 14.96 x 10.47 x 0.83-inch ASUS S56CA-DH51 and the 5.4-pound, 15 x 9.96 x 0.96-inch Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499. We had no problems sliding the Inspiron 15z into our backpack, and no shoulder pain after a one-hour subway ride.
Viewing angles were wide enough to accommodate two people comfortably, but the screen was rather dim. At 146 lux, it's far below the 228 mainstream category average, but in the same league as the Aspire V5-571P-6499 (139 lux) and the Asus S56CA-DH51 (159 lux).
Using the 15z's touchscreen display to switch apps and launch menus is swift and fluid. The downside is that the screen quickly picks up fingerprints and smudge marks.
Waves MaxxAudio 4.0 has five presets (Voice, Game, MaxxSense, Movie and Music) but didn't help much. Audio was either muted, blown out or flat. The discovery that we could only switch settings in desktop mode was equal parts infuriating and perplexing.
Keyboard and Touchpad
After 15 minutes of watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" on Netflix, the touchpad measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook measured 87 and 83 degrees. This is well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Powered by a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, the Dell Inspiron 15z is a reliable workhorse. During our testing, we were able to stream a movie from Netflix with 8 open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer, while running a full-system virus scan. There was a tiny bit of lag at some points, but there were no glaring stutters.
The Inspiron 15z earned a score of 4,184 on PCMark 7, easily topping the 2,584 mainstream category average. The ASUS S56CA-DH51 and Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499, which have the same CPU as the Dell, scored 3,130 and 2,377 marks, respectively.
On the File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files), the Inspiron 15z took 2 minutes and 47 seconds, a rate of 30.5 MBps. While that's about 10MBps slower than the category average, it's the same as the S56CA, and about 6MBps faster than the Aspire V5-571P-6499 (24.8MBps).
During the Open Office Spreadsheet Macro test, the Inspiron 15z matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 6 minutes and 36 seconds. That's 42 seconds slower than the 5:45 mainstream average. The S56CA-DH51 and Aspire V5-571P-6499 finished in 5:58 and 5:56, respectively.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the Inspiron 15z delivered an average frame rate of 33 fps at 1366 x 768 with the graphics on Good. That's 35 frames slower than the 68 fps mainstream average. However it was still on a par with the S56CA-DH51 and the Aspire V5-571P-6499, which notched 32 and 31 fps. On maximum, the Inspiron 15z's frame rate dropped to 17 fps, half of the 35 fps average. The S56CA-DH51 scored 16 while the Aspire V5-571P-6499 delivered a dismal 12 fps.
Swiping from the right side of the screen displays the Charms menu. It provides quick access to search, share, devices and settings, and easy switching between the tiles and desktop interfaces. The Charms menu can be accessed at all times, and also displays a box on the lower left of the screen with the time, date, Wi-Fi strength and battery levels. Swiping from the left let us cycle through recent applications.
The Desktop Live Tile at the bottom left opens a Windows 7-like interface. The main difference between the Windows 8 desktop screen and Windows 7 is the lack of a Start button. Instead, mousing over the bottom left corner of the screen will reveal an icon that brings up the Modern UI Start screen.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
Apps and Warranty
Third-party apps include Amazon, eBay, Skype, Amazon Kindle and a 30-day free trial of McAfee Security Center.
Our $899 review unit features a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD, an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU and a 15.6-inch touchscreen display. A $1,099 model adds a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, 8GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce GT 630M with 2GB of VRAM.
|CPU||1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||500GB + 32GB mSATA SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive + mSATA SSD|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.3 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||security lock slot|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Card Slots||7-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||90 Days Premium Phone Support + 1 Year In-Home Service after Remote Diagnosis|
|Size||15 x 9.8 x 0.9-0.91 inches|