Dell raises the bar for build quality and design in a budget laptop with the Inspiron 15 5000. This laptop ($449 as configured) sports an eye-catching, colorful chassis that just feels more solid than the value-priced competition. The Dell has the power to back up its looks, too, with impressively loud speakers and an Intel Core i3 processor that handles basic multitasking with ease. The Inspiron 15 offers everything you need to get work done on a budget, though its display could definitely be brighter.
For an affordable notebook, the Inspiron 15 5000 sure doesn't look or feel cheap. The Inspiron 15 5000's exterior is coated in an attractive cherry-red finish, with a nicely textured lid that sports a shiny Dell logo in its center. If red isn't your thing, there are also blue and silver variations.
Opening the notebook reveals its smooth, charcoal keyboard deck, with a soft-touch covering that went easy on my wrists as I typed. The Inspiron's ports are spread across its rosy edges, with an HDMI port, Ethernet port, USB 3.0 and SD card reader on the left, and a Kensington lock, a DVD drive, headphone port and two additional USB 2.0 ports on the right.
The Inspiron 15 5000 feels very sturdy for a budget laptop, but that sturdiness makes it a bit hefty. At 14.9 x 10.25 x 0.94 inches and 5.11 pounds, the Inspiron isn't the easiest notebook to carry in a bag all day. Dell's notebook outweighs some of its 15-inch competitors, including the HP 15t Touch (4.73 pounds) and the 4.6-pound Lenovo G50, but it's just a bit lighter than the 5.29-pound Acer Aspire E5.
Display and Audio
I found the Inspiron's 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display to be a little lackluster. The typically colorful Windows 8.1 Start menu looked somewhat pale, and the blue orbs in the laptop's default background looked pixelated.
The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was watchable on the Inspiron, but not stunning. Larger action scenes such as a TIE Fighter-Millennium Falcon dogfight looked crisp enough to be entertaining, but character close-ups revealed the screen's lack of detail.
The Inspiron also underwhelmed in terms of brightness. The laptop registered 167 nits on our brightness test, a score that pales compared to the Lenovo G50 (238 nits), the Acer Aspire E5 (230 nits) and the 192-nit average of other budget notebooks we recently tested.
The notebook's stereo speakers look tiny, but they were more than powerful enough to fill a small meeting room with music. When jamming The Gaslight Anthem's "Get Hurt," Brian Fallon's soulful croon came through clearly, as did the somber guitar plucks behind him. My only complaints were the weak bass, and the occasional muddiness that I heard when the song's powerful chorus kicked in at max volume.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Webcam
The Inspiron 15's keyboard is serviceable but shallow. Using the Key Hero Typing Test, I chopped away at a brisk 97 words per minute with 97 percent accuracy, but the 1.5-millimeter keys felt too stiff to keep me comfortable during long work sessions.
Fortunately, the notebook's generously sized, 3.6 x 2.2-inch touchpad fared far better in my testing. Its single-click button was snappy and responsive, and a small line on the surface makes it easy to distinguish between left and right clicks. The pad's smooth surface made navigation a breeze, and Windows gestures, such as swiping from the left to switch apps, were easy to perform.
The notebook's HD webcam will get the job done for Skype chats, but don't expect Facebook-worthy selfies. The camera captured my face and clothes with a decent level of detail, but pictures became very blown out by the fluorescent lights behind me.
Powered by a 2-GHz Intel Core i3-5005U processor with 6GB of RAM, the Inspiron 15 handled every job I threw at it without a stutter. Even when hopping among a dozen Chrome tabs, streaming video from Twitch and YouTube, and performing a system scan all at once, the laptop remained fast and responsive.
In benchmarks, the Inspiron is one of the best-performing budget laptops we've tested. The Dell notebook scored a 4,432 on the Geekbench 3 performance test, outdoing the Acer Aspire E5 (1,677), the Lenovo G50 (3,759). To be fair, those systems cost $50 less, and have just 4GB of RAM.
The Inspiron took 7 minutes and 6 seconds to match 20,000 names to their addresses on our spreadsheet test, completing the task about a minute faster than the Aspire E5 (8:02) and 2 minutes ahead of our 9:28 budget average.