You don't need to pay a lot of money for a large, touch-screen Windows laptop, but if you buy the wrong budget notebook, you've got a dud on your hands. The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 ($400) offers an accurate 15.6-inch touch-screen display, solid audio and a full-size keyboard, but its AMD A6 processor isn't powerful enough for modest demands. We can't recommend this notebook when other affordable models demonstrated faster performance and longer battery life in our tests.
The black plastic Dell Inspiron 15 3000 has curved edges, a ripple-textured lid and glossy sides. Those shiny edges look cheap, but this laptop has a solid, sturdy build. The notebook's microphone and 0.3-megapixel webcam sit in the middle of the bezel above its screen.
Measuring 15 x 10.5 x 1.0 inches and weighing 5.3 pounds, the Inspiron 15 3000 is thicker and heavier than the Toshiba Satellite Radius 14 (0.83 inches, 4.5 pounds), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (0.94 inches, 5.11 pounds), and the HP 15t Touch (0.96 inches, 4.73 pounds). The Acer Aspire E15 (1.1 inches, 5.29 pounds) is slightly thicker and lighter.
The security lock slot, headphone jack and ports for HDMI, Ethernet, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 live on the left edge of the notebook's deck. Dell placed the notebook's SD Card reader, USB 2.0 port and DVD-RW drive on the Inspiron 3000's right edge.
When I watched the 1080p trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens on the Latitude 15 3000's HD (1366 x 768) display, I could see the stitching on Rey's mask, but shadows and dark voids looked pixelated and unsaturated. The colors in the trailer for Finding Dory appeared accurate on the Latitude 3000's display, with Nemo and Dory rendered in accurate shades of orange and blue.
When we measured the Inspiron 15 3000's display, it registered 221 nits of brightness. That's dimmer than the average mainstream notebook (253 nits) and the Aspire E15 (230), but brighter than the HP 15t Touch (162 nits), Inspiron 15 5000 (177 nits) and Satellite Radius 14 (182 nits), all of which have 1366 x 768 displays.
According to our colorimeter, the Inspiron 15 3000 reproduces 62.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is wider than the HP 15t Touch (61.5 percent). The displays on the Aspire E15 (64 percent), Inspiron 15 5000 (71 percent) and Satellite Radius 14 (64 percent) can all render more colors.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Touch Screen
When I took the 10FastFingers typing test with the Inspiron 15 3000's full-size keyboard, I clicked my way to 68 words per minute with 96 percent accuracy. That performance was just shy of my average (69 wpm, 99 percent), but my fingers were hurting after the fourth time I took the test.
I experienced that discomfort because the Inspiron 15 3000's keys have only 1.4 millimeters of travel and require just 50 grams of force to be activated, which means I kept "bottoming out" and mushing my fingers against the base. Our ideal ranges for laptop keys are 1.5 to 2.0 mm of travel and 55 to 60 grams of force to be activated. By contrast, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000's keys are slightly less shallow (1.5 mm), and its keyboard deck has a soft-touch covering that's easy on the wrists.
While the Inspiron 15 3000's 2.5 x 4.25-inch touchpad feels good to click, the notebook struggled to keep up with my input. When moving my finger across its touchpad, I noticed that the cursor lagged and couldn't quite keep up with me. The Inspiron 15 3000 also slowed and stuttered as I used two-finger gestures to pull, pinch and scroll.
The Inspiron 3000's touch-screen display was also slow to recognize my fingers as I scrolled through Web pages in Chrome and doodled in MS Paint.
Powered by a 1.8-GHz AMD A6-6310 processor; 4GB of RAM; and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Inspiron 15 3000 had difficulty keeping up with a light amount of activity. With a dozen Chrome tabs open -- including streaming music and Google Docs -- the cursor repeatedly froze, and the system would often stall.
The Geekbench 3 benchmark test for overall performance awarded the Inspiron 15 3000 a score of 3,577, which is better than the Intel Core i3-powered Aspire E15 (3,380) and 15t Touch (3,420), but worse than the average mainstream notebook (8,531) and the Intel Core i3-powered Inspiron 15 5000 (4,432) and Satellite Radius 14 (4,671).
The Inspiron 3000's 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive completed our file-transfer test (duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files) in 3 minutes and 42 seconds, for a rate of 22.9 MBps. That's slower than the 5,400-rpm hard drives on the Aspire E15 (26.8 MBps), 15t Touch (25.6 MBps), Inspiron 15 5000 (28.9 MBps) and Satellite Radius 14 (29.93 MBps).
When we used OpenOffice to match 20,000 names and addresses, the Inspiron 3000 finished the task in 12 minutes and 55 seconds, which is longer than the Aspire E15 (8:02), the HP 15t Touch (7:59), the Inspiron 5000 (7:06) and the Satellite Radius 14 (6:31).
We tested the Inspiron 15 3000's integrated AMD Radeon R4 GPU by playing World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 and automatic settings. The game ran at 29 frames per second, which is just below our 30-fps standard for smoothness. The Inspiron 15 5000 (37 fps) and the Satellite Radius 14 (43 fps) achieved acceptable frame rates, while the Aspire E15 (26.9 fps) and HP 15t Touch (27.7 fps) delivered unplayable results. All of those laptops have integrated Intel HD graphics.
The 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited synthetic benchmark for gaming performance gave the Inspiron 15 3000 a score of 31,541. That's near the HP 15t Touch (31,921) but below the Aspire E15 (32,725), Inspiron 15 5000 (46,683), Satellite Radius 14 (51,738) and mainstream notebook average (68,357).
As the Inspiron 15 3000 filled a large conference room with Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," I was impressed by its speakers, which feature the Waves MaxxAudio sound enhancement technology. The mids and lows in the song's dense, layered percussion came through clearly, and the highs of Eddie Van Halen's guitar solos were strong and juicy.
After the Inspiron 15 3000 streamed 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the top of the machine stayed cool, with its touchpad and keyboard registering temperatures of 82 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Those measurements are under our 95-degree threshold for comfort, but the notebook's underside (97 degrees) was a little bit higher.
When I took selfies in our well-lit office, the notebook's 0.3-MP webcam shot very noisy photos that captured little detail. The camera was also unable to handle color accurately, producing images that rendered a cherry-red wall in tones ranging from light red to gray.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits of brightness, the Inspiron 15 3000 lasted only 5 hours and 13 minutes.
Although that's longer than the Inspiron 15 5000 (4:46), it's shorter than the mainstream notebook average (5:43), HP 15t Touch (5:24), Satellite Radius 14 (6:22) and Aspire E 15 (5:49).
Software and Warranty
Dell has preloaded the Inspiron 15 3000 with some useful utilities and a small amount of bloatware. Many standard Windows system settings, such as controls for display and power, are also found in the AMD Catalyst Control Center. This panel of settings offers a video demo mode for enhanced quality, but enabling it provided no visible benefit. The app can be found in the Start menu alongside other redundant apps like "Air Traveller," which enables airplane mode.
Dell also included CyberLink Media Suite apps for video editing and DVD production, as well as a 30-day free trial of the McAfee Central antivirus software. The Inspiron 15 3000's Start menu is littered with spammy ads for apps like Candy Crush Saga, iHeart Radio and Kindle.
Our $400 version of the Inspiron 15 3000 came with a 1.8-GHz AMD A6-6310 processor; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; and an HD (1366 x 768) touch screen.
Dell offers a version of the Inspiron 15 3000 with a 2.16-GHz Intel Celeron N3050 processor; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; and an HD (1366 x 768) nontouch screen for $300.
Another model of the Inspiron 15 3000 has a 2.40-GHz Intel Pentium N3700 processor; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; and an HD (1366 x 768) nontouch screen. That version costs $330.
For only $50 more, Dell offers models of the Celeron- and Pentium-powered machines that substitute the 5,400-rpm hard drives for 128GB SSDs.
While we appreciated the Dell Inspiron 15 3000's ($400) solid speakers, this laptop suffers where it truly counts. Below-average battery life, poor performance, a weak touchpad and an uncomfortable keyboard make this a less-than-compelling option, particularly when there are better Dell laptops in the same price range. With the Inspiron 15 3000, you're paying an unnecessary premium for a touch screen on a clamshell-only device and getting a laptop that's poor in every other way.
The less-expensive Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ($350) may have slightly less battery life and no touch screen (a touch-screen version costs $499), but it's much faster, offers a better screen and has a premium design with a wrist-friendly soft-touch finish.