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.
Click to EnlargeThe Inspiron 15z is beautiful in its simplicity. We love the Moon Silver brushed-aluminum lid with the chrome Dell logo in the center. The rounded corners and light gray border of the plastic lid enhance the Ultrabook's overall handsomeness. We especially like the way the band gently flows onto the interior, which plays up the obsidian bezel of the display. The lid and deck are held together by a pair of stately, sturdy hinges.
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.
MORE: Laptop Buying Guide 2013: 8 Essential Tips
Click to EnlargeDell made the wise decision to use Corning Gorilla glass for the Inspiron 15z's glossy, 1366 x 768 display. The tempered glass can take a serious beating and still look beautiful. Text on sites such as Joystiq and Jezebel was nice and sharp. The display really impressed during the 1080p trailer of "The Hobbit," showing -- in rather disturbing detail -- the moles and fine hair on Gollum's body. However, colors weren't as vivid as we'd like; the fallen elf's eyes were somewhat listless.
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.
Click to EnlargeA pair of bottom-mounted SkullCandy speakers delivered loud audio, but loud doesn't necessarily mean good. Kanye West's "Clique" was neutered by the lack of bass, and Jhene Aiko's ethereal soprano was grating and tinny on "3:16."
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
Click to EnlargeThe Inspiron 15z's black matte, spill-resistant keyboard has good spacing and nice, bright backlighting. The keys are fairly large, and we scored 53 words per minute with a 1percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, close to our personal average. However, we wish the keys had stronger feedback, and that the space bar was slightly larger.
Click to EnlargeOur fingers skated effortlessly over the 3.9 x 2.3-inch Dell Touchpad. Windows 8 gestures, such as one-finger swipe, responded quickly as we scrolled through open applications and summoned the Charms menu. Traditional, multitouch gestures, such as two-finger swipe, three-finger swipe and four-finger swipe, were just as responsive. We did encounter some stuttering when it came to two-finger rotation. Both discrete mouse buttons were fairly mushy.
MORE: 5 Ways to Supercharge Your Laptop For Under $100
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.
Click to EnlargeThe right side of the Inspiron 15z houses a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a 7-in-1 card reader and a DVD burner. Another pair of USB 3.0 ports sits on the left side of the laptop with HDMI, Ethernet, a secure lock slot and jacks for a headset and power.
Click to EnlargeThe Inspiron 15 comes with a 720p webcam that's handy when using Skype. However, we noticed that an image we took of our face under flourescent light was rife with noise and made our red sweater look washed out.
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.
Click to EnlargeThe Inspiron 15z booted Windows 8 in a speedy 21 seconds, which put it in a virtual dead heat with the S56CA-DH51 (500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with 24GB SSD) and the Aspire V5-571P-6499 (19 seconds ). All were more than twice as fast as the 49-second average.
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.
Click to EnlargeThe Dell Inspiron 15z uses an Intel HD 4000 Graphics GPU, as does the Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499 and the ASUS S56CA-DH51. On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the Inspiron 15z notched 641, well below the 1,109 average. Neither the S56CA-DH51 nor the Aspire V5-571P-6499 fared any better, scoring 627 and 536, 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.
Click to EnlargeBooting the Dell Inspiron 15z launches the tile-based Modern user interface, the main environment of the new Windows 8 operating system. These Live Tiles are spread across the screen horizontally, and are separated into three categories: Windows default apps, Acer's apps and user-installed applications.
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
Click to EnlargeOut of the two Dell-branded Live Tiles, we found only the Dell Support Center to be of any use. The app allows users to run diagnostics on their notebook and keep the software up to date. The Dell Store only serves as a portal to purchase more Dell products, including projectors and other accessories.
Third-party apps include Amazon, eBay, Skype, Amazon Kindle and a 30-day free trial of McAfee Security Center.
Click to EnlargeDuring the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Dell Inspiron 15z lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes. That's 1 hour and 1 minute below the mainstream category average, but on a par with the ASUS S56CA-DH51 (4:39). The Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499 clocked in at an even more anemic 4:09.
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.
Click to EnlargeWith the Inspiron 15z, Dell delivers a lightweight (for its size) notebook with a handsome aluminum chassis and a 15.6-inch Gorilla Glass touchscreen display. Aditionally, its Core i5 CPU and 32GB cache deliver above-average performance, which should appeal to students and families alike. For $899, though, we would prefer a higher-resolution display and longer battery life. Consumers looking to save a few more pennies might want to consider the $649 ASUS S56CA-DH51, which offers a better audio experience and comparable endurance. Overall, the Inspiron 15z is a solid, but unimpressive choice for a 15-inch Windows 8 Ultrabook.