If you're looking for a 14-inch screen in a basic laptop mainly to surf the web, then the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 sounds like a good bet, theoretically. After all, this Windows 10 device offers 9 hours of battery life, a fast 32GB flash drive, and speakers that are tunable with the Waves MaxxAudio Pro software, all for $180 ($230 with Office 365 Personal).
So how does it stack up with other sub-$200 laptops, like the 14-inch Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 and the HP Stream 11? Not well. This Dell is saddled with one of the worst displays we've tested, a shallow keyboard and a cheap overall feel.
The Dell Inspiron 14 3000's plastic chassis simply feels cheap. Both its matte black cover and its palm rest have the same, finely textured material that only adds to its down-market look. Even its touchpad feels rougher than others in its class. At least its minimalist design looks just as appropriate in a business meeting as it does in a classroom.
Although the laptop feels solid in-hand, its cover bounces way too much for me to feel comfortable slipping it into my suitcase for international flights. Its hinges allow the screen to tilt to about 135 degrees, but the screen wobbled and flexed when I poked the bezel with just my finger. Good thing this is not a touch screen.
The Inspiron 14 3000 comes with a solid lineup of ports and slots. On the left side, you'll find a power port for your charger, an air vent, a full-size HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and a full-size SD card slot. On the right, there's a Kensington laptop lock slot, two USB 2.0 ports and a combination audio/microphone jack.
For a 14-inch laptop, the Inspiron 14 3000 is relatively svelte and light, measuring 13.6 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches and weighing 3.5 pounds. However, it is a touch bigger and heavier than its rival, the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (13.3 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches, 3.2 pounds).
Size isn't everything when it comes to a laptop screen. Sure, the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 has a 14-inch HD, 1366 x 768 Truelife LED-backlit panel, but it's easily one of the worst displays we've seen in this price range. The display is so distractingly glossy that it I felt like I was staring into a mirror. I found it hard to see dim content, like Vulture's first appearance in the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer. It was far easier to see colorful material, like the Despicable Me 3 trailer, even from 90 degrees on each side of the panel.
It's no surprise that the Inspiron 14 has one of the dimmest panels among sub-$200 laptops, at just 135 nits. It is a far cry from the best screen in this group, which can be found on the 11-inch Samsung Chromebook 3 (259 nits), or the best 14-inch panel in this category, which is the one on the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (188 nits). Even the HP Stream 11's washed-out display is better, at 188 nits.
In terms of color range, the Dell laptop can reproduce 81.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is nearly on a par with the 14-inch Ideapad 100S-14 (83.5 percent). The smaller 11-inch screens on the Stream 11 (77.5 percent) and the Chromebook 3 (63.1 percent) have more limited color ranges.
The Inspiron 14 actually does a fair job of reproducing colors accurately, earning a Delta-E rating of 3.5 (the closer to 0, the better). It's only marginally better than the Stream 11 (3.7) and the Ideapad 100S-14 (3.9). However, none of these screens can challenge the near-color-perfect Chromebook 3 (0.2).
The speakers on the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 are serviceable. They're good enough for movies but not very nuanced at handling different types of music. What really differentiates the Inspiron 14's speakers from the Chromebook 3's is the Waves MaxxAudio Pro tuning dashboard. The software enhances the speakers so the audio sounds more true to the genre. (Too bad I had to dig deep into Windows 10 to find the software installer, and then manually install the audio dashboard. This is one program that should have been preloaded with the laptop.)
When I listened to the La La Land soundtrack's jazzy "Summer Montage" without the MaxxAudio Pro software, the trumpets sounded distorted whenever they hit the high notes, while the cymbals sounded as if they were synthesized. However, after tuning the software to the Jazz preset, the track sounded less bombastic and closer in quality to the sound on the HP Stream 11.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like its plastic chassis, the Dell Inspiron 14 3000's spill-resistant keyboard doesn't feel particularly luxurious, and its hard plastic keys don't exactly inspire all-day typing. They feel nice and loose to tap out a quick email, but the lack of vertical depth made my fingers more easily tired and error prone.
The Inspiron 14's keys are shallower than its competitors', with just 0.8 millimeters of key travel (1.5 to 2 mm is ideal), and require a force of 78 grams to register a keypress (we prefer at least 60 grams). That is less than half of the key travel on the best-in-class Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 keyboard (1.9 mm, 79 grams), and still worse than the keyboards on the Stream 11 (1.2 mm, 69 grams of force) and the Chromebook 3 (1.2 mm, 63 grams of force).
I typed just 64 words per minute on this keyboard, with an error rate of 10.4 percent, on the 10FastFingers.com typing test. That is far below my usual 80-wpm pace on my Microsoft Surface Pro 4, where my error rate is just 7 percent. When I typed quickly on the Dell keyboard, I felt the keys bottom out; they just didn't provide enough feedback on each keystroke.
If you're looking for the biggest touchpad you can find on a sub-$200 laptop, then the Inspiron 14 will make you happy. At 4.1 x 2.5 inches, the Dell touchpad is bigger than the one on the similarly sized Ideapad 100S-14 (3.7 x 1.9 inches) because it has no discrete buttons. The Inspiron 14's touchpad recognizes all the gesture controls, but you do need to push a tad harder to highlight a block of text or swipe your finger deliberately to move the cursor.
Performance and Graphics
Despite having most of the same components as its competitors -- including a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU, 2GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 400 GPU and 32GB of eMMc flash storage -- the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 is outclassed on almost every benchmark. It just takes a few extra seconds longer to do everything on the Dell, including to open the Start menu or a large spreadsheet, or to fire up YouTube. Its sluggish performance is bewildering, especially when the Ideapad 100S-14 (also with 2GB of RAM) has better overall performance.
The Dell Inspiron 14 3000 earned a score of 1,824 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall performance. That's close to the score from the Ideapad 100S-14 (1,880, 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU), but the Stream 11 (1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU) hit a much higher 2,023.
According to our File Transfer test, the Inspiron 14's 32GB eMMc drive copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 1 minute and 13 seconds, at a transfer rate of 69.7 MBps. That is faster than the Ideapad 100S-14 (43.5 MBps) and the Stream 11 (50.38 MBps).
In our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, where each laptop had to match 20,000 names with addresses, the Inspiron 14 took a leisurely 22 minutes and 2 seconds to complete the task. The Ideapad 100S-14 needed 14 minutes and 33 seconds, while the Stream 11 got it done in 13 minutes and 42 seconds.
The Inspiron 14's integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 GPU handles videos better than games. I played a bit of Candy Crush Soda Saga on the laptop, but its animation crawled at times. Plus, the casual title took far too long to load. It's no surprise that the laptop scored just 11,967 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, which is much lower than the scores from the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (13,568) and the HP Stream 11 (16,230).
Compared with the other Windows 10 laptops in this group, the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 leaves the least amount of free space for the user. Out of 32GB of onboard storage, only 29.1GB is actually accessible to the user. With Windows 10 taking up 16.8GB and preloaded software occupying 5.31GB on the Inspiron 14, that leaves the user with only about 7GB for system updates or personal files.
The Ideapad 100S-14 is a tad more generous by offering the user 9.68GB, while the Stream 11 provides 9.54GB. Even our lab had to juggle the meager free space just to install and run benchmarks like 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which tests for graphics prowess.
For a system with such limited free space, you'll have to rely on cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive, as well as invest in an SD card to back up your files and store your media collection.
The Dell Inspiron 14 3000 lasted for a very good 9 hours and 1 minute on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, where it continuously surfed the web via Wi-Fi.
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That's better than the runtimes from other sub-$200 laptops. The HP Stream 11 endured for 8:23, while the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 ran out of juice pretty quickly, in 5:51. However, the Samsung Chromebook 3 lasted 9:44.
One thing Dell got right with the Inspiron 14 3000 is heat management. The budget laptop never felt even remotely warm (not even by the air vent), no matter how long the Inspiron 14 had been running. The middle of the Inspiron 14's keyboard reached just 81 degrees Fahrenheit after streaming a video for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered 80 degrees and its underside stayed a cool 79 degrees. Our comfort threshold is 95 degrees.
The webcam on the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 is technically 720p, but its image quality looks far worse than that. My test photo was noisy and oddly pixelated along my face and the strands of my hair, but it captured some details, like the red flowers on my shirt. While the image looked a bit washed out, at least it got the primary colors in the background correct.
Software and Warranty
For such a cheap system, the Inspiron 14 is jam-packed with helpful software, including nine different apps from Dell alone. For instance, there's Dell Power Manager Lite, which helps optimize your battery, as well as Dell Customer Connect, which sends surveys to users. There are also some third-party software programs, ranging from useful tools to entertainment apps such as Dropbox (20GB of free storage for one year), McAfee LiveSafe (a one-year free subscription), Candy Crush Soda Saga, and the Sling TV app.
Dell backs the Inspiron 14 with a one-year limited hardware warranty that includes free shipping, remote diagnosis, and mail-in service for defects in materials and workmanship. See how Dell fared in our 2017 Best and Worst Brands special report.
Dell offers four versions of the Inspiron 14 3000 on its website, but the $179 base laptop is the same as our review unit. It has a 14-inch nontouch screen, a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU, an integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 32GB eMMc flash drive, in an all-black package.
Paying $179 gets you just the laptop, and forking over $190 gives you a wireless mouse. Students who want a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal and the laptop should budget for $230. Finally, if you want the Inspiron 14 but feel safer with Premium Support (one year of Premium Support and one year of Accidental Damage Service), then be prepared to drop $240.
Unlike other sub-$200 laptops that include the most current AC Wi-Fi antenna available, Dell totally skimped by using the older, single-band 802.11bgn (2.4 GHz) Wi-Fi antenna on the Inspiron 14 3000. At least you can use the latest Bluetooth 4.0 peripherals with this device.
No matter how you slice it, the $180 Dell Inspiron 14 3000 is simply not a smart sub-$200 laptop choice. While it has some redeeming qualities -- like 9 hours of battery life, decent speakers and a relatively fast flash drive -- the laptop is not outstanding in any way. Its outdated Wi-Fi is annoying, and its lack of RAM impedes its performance, among other issues. Worst of all, the Inspiron 14 3000 is overpriced compared to its Windows 10 rivals. Both the HP Stream 11 and the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 include a free subscription to Office 365 in a machine that's $200 or less, but you'd have to drop $230 to get the same from Dell.
If you're looking for the best 14-inch screen or keyboard on a laptop in this price range, then the $195 Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 is a no-brainer. For the best performance and sound quality, you can't go wrong with the $200 HP Stream 11. And if you want to save some money and don't mind the simplicity of Chrome OS, the $179 Samsung Chromebook 3 is the way to go. No matter which system you choose, just avoid the $180 Dell Inspiron 14 3000.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag