These days, there are solid laptops available for under $400. Unfortunately, the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 ($250 as tested) is not one of them. It may be one of the most affordable 15-inch notebooks available, but in our tests, the Intel Celeron-powered Inspiron struggled to perform everyday tasks like surfing the Web or watching online videos. Add in a set of shallow keys, a dim display and a burning hot bottom, and the Inspiron 15 3000 doesn't seem like much of a bargain.
The Dell Inspiron 15 3000's black plastic chassis looks cheap, with its nail-file texture lid and glossy sides, but it felt well-made in my hands. This is one of the rare consumer laptops with a removable battery, a feature we don't see often enough.
Measuring 14.9 x 10.24 x 0.85 inches, the Dell Inspiron 15 has a similar size as other budget 15-inch notebooks. The Inspiron 15 weighs 5 pounds, which is heavier than the Asus F555LA (4.6 pounds) and the 14-inch Acer Aspire One Cloudbook (3.53 pounds).
Keyboard and touchpad
The Inspiron 15 3000's keys feel stiff and have a shallow 1.19 millimeters of travel (1.5 to 2mm is typical). They require an acceptable 57 grams of force to actuate, but I still "bottomed out," painfully hitting the base with a lot of force as I was typing.
On the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I click-clacked my way to 74 words per minute with 99 percent accuracy, which is below my average of 80 wpm.
The notebook's 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad has a solid feel to each click, and it accurately tracked my fingers. It correctly registered my three-finger swipes, but scrolling wasn't as smooth as I'd like on Web pages.
When I watched a Ghostbusters trailer on the Inspiron 15's 1366 x 768 display, I was disappointed by its dull, lifeless output. Details such as Kate McKinnon's steer skull necklace and the grips of her guns didn't look clear. Green slime appeared too white, the red in the Ghostbusters logo did not pop, and Kristin Wiig's cheeks were so pale, you'd have thought she'd seen a ghost. She had not.
According to our colorimeter, the Inspiron 15 3000 can produce 73.2 percent of the sRGB color spectrum. That's greater than the Asus F555LA (70.4 percent) and the Aspire One (53 percent).
MORE: The Best Laptops for Every Need
We do not expect to find accurate colors from a $250 notebook's display, so the Inspiron 15's 3.9 Delta-E score for accuracy (where closer to zero is best) didn't surprise us. The Aspire One (3.8) is better and the Asus F555LA (6.34) fared worse.
The Inspiron 15's screen emits a low 145 nits of brightness. The Aspire One (244 nits) and the Asus F555LA (198 nits) are both much more luminous. This notebook's dim screen is one of the contributing factors to its limited viewing angles, as I saw colors distort at 35 degrees to the left or right.
The Inspiron 15 filled a medium-size conference room with the sturdy bass drums, sweet high-pitched synths and crisp guitar chords of Charli XCX's "London Queen."
The Dell Audio utility provides presets for sound enhancement, including Gaming, Movies, Music and Voice. We found the best overall sound with the default MaxxSense preset.
Our Inspiron 15 3000 drew poor performance from its Celeron N3050 processor, 4GB of RAM and 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive. I saw stuttering while scrolling in Chrome with only two tabs open, and the notebook did not stream 1080p video smoothly. That stuttering video performance may be connected to its single-band 802.11 b/g/n wireless modem, something of a relic when so many consumer laptops have dual-band 802.11 ac cards. Chrome slowed even further with six tabs open, pausing as I moved between already loaded pages.
The notebook did poorly in the Geekbench 3 general performance test, notching a score of 1,568. That's predictably worse than the Core i3-powered Asus F555LA (2,080) and close to the Celeron-powered Acer Aspire (1,646).
MORE: Best Dell and Alienware Laptops
The Inspiron 15's file-transfer performance is also low, as its 5,400 rpm drive copied 4.97 GB of files in 3 minutes and 16 seconds, for a speed of 25.7 MBps. That's slower than the 5,400 rpm hard drive in the Asus F555LA (32.2 MBps), and the eMMC storage in the Aspire One (48 MBps).
Dell's laptop took its time in the OpenOffice macro test, needing 15 minutes and 3 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses. The Aspire One (15:08) also took a long time, but the Asus F555LA (6:31) finished in less than half the time.
Ports and Webcam
Dell placed a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port and an SD memory reader on the left side of the Inspiron 15. The notebook's two USB 2.0 ports, DVD-RW drive, headphone jack and Kensington lock slot sit on its right side.
The notebook's 0.9-megapixel webcam captured noisy but accurate selfies that did a good job reproducing the color of my purple shirt and the red Purch wall.
The Inspiron 15 3000 lasted 5 hours and 33 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing at 100 nits. That's far less than the Aspire One (14:43) but near the Asus F555LA (5:44) and the mainstream laptop category average (5:57).
MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life
The Inspiron 15's integrated Intel HD graphics processor only ran casual games like Asphalt 8 and the pre-installed Candy Crush Soda Saga. The notebook scored 18,154 in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited gaming benchmark, which is near the Aspire One (18,065) and lower than the category average (72,103) as well as the integrated graphics-powered Asus F555LA (46,285).
The Inspiron 15 stays cool up top, but gets hot down below. After the laptop streamed 15 minutes of full-screen HD video, our heat gun registered acceptable temperatures on its touchpad (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and keyboard (87 degrees). However, its underside (107 degrees) broke our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
Dell's given the Inspiron 15 3000 a fairly clean installation of Windows 10. SupportAssist combines a system-scan utility with information about your laptop that customer service will need in the case of a call, and Power Manager Lite offers Advanced Charge settings it says will prolong the battery's usable lifetime. CyberLink Media Suite Essentials offers media playback and video-editing tools.
The Inspiron 15 3000 comes with Dell's standard 1-year limited warranty, with mail-in service following remote diagnosis.
We tested the entry-level Inspiron 15 3000, which has a Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400 hard drive and costs $250. For $380, you can get the Inspiron 15 with a Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The high-end version of this notebook costs $450 and has a 5th-Generation Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400 rpm hard drive and a 1366 x 768 touch screen. Configuring the laptop with at least a Pentium CPU would probably make a dramatic difference in the performance.
A great example of "you get what you pay for," the Inspiron 15 3000's slow performance, hot temperatures and dull screen make it a poor deal, even at $250. For even less money, the 14-inch Acer Aspire One Cloudbook lasts nearly three times as long on a charge.
However, if you can afford to spend just a little more, the Asus F555LA ($370) offers better performance, a sharp 1080p display and speakers just as strong as the Inspiron's. You may get acceptable performance if you configure the Inspiron 15 3000 with a better processor, but for a higher price, you can get a better laptop overall.