Just because you're getting something affordable, that doesn't mean you should have to make a lot of trade-offs. With its 8th-Gen Intel Core i5 processor, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ($549) is a fine workhorse, but it falls behind the competition in several ways. Its poor screen, short battery life and plain design should have you looking at better alternatives in this price range.
Those competitors include the Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-576-392H), our favorite laptop under $500. Not only is this 15-inch notebook a mere $379, but it packs a solid 8th Gen Core i3 processor and a ton of ports, including USB Type-C. Also its keyboard is quite comfortable and this machine includes a DVD writer, something of a rarity these days. If you're looking for something smaller or for kids, the HP Stream 11, which lasts over 8 hours on a charge, is a solid option.
Dell's 15.6-inch, midrange notebook is a bland, chunky block. It has long been the case that the Inspiron lineup lacks any sort of aesthetic muse, and the Inspiron 15 5000 follows this trend. It's a plastic, silver slab bearing Dell's logo in a mirror sheen.
Lifting the lid reveals the 15.6-inch, 1080p screen surrounded by an almost offensively thick bezel and a plastic deck with a faux brushed-metal look. There's a fingerprint reader on the power button, and the keyboard is a black collection of island-style keys.
At 4.9 pounds and 15 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches, the Inspiron 15 5000 is just a bit slimmer than the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576G-5762, which is the same weight, width and height but measures 1.2 inches thick.
The Inspiron has its fair share of ports, including an HDMI output, Ethernet jack, headphone jack and three USB 3.0 ports, as well as an SD card reader and (for those who still need one) a disc drive.
The display on the Inspiron 15 5000 is truly horrendous. Sure, it's 15.6 inches and has a 1080p resolution, but it's also blurry and dim. When I watched the trailer for Avengers: Infinity war, Gamora's green skin had a sickly white tint, it was hard to make out the spiderweb patterns in Spider-Man's suit, and there was no hint of red in Star-Lord's jacket; instead, it appeared brown. The blue skies over Wakanda appeared gray, and Thanos had a blue tint on his purple flesh.
The screen on this laptop covers just 67 percent of the sRGB color gamut, falling below the mainstream laptop average (89 percent) and the Aspire's result (74 percent).
The Dell's panel measured an average of 175 nits, dimmer than both the Aspire (200 nits) and the average (230 nits). This Inspiron is also much dimmer than the older Inspiron 15 5000 with touch screen that we reviewed in 2017 (213 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Inspiron measures 1.4 millimeters of travel and requires 73 grams of force to press, but the keys feel cheap and loose, making them seem shallower than they are. This keyboard is just not very comfortable.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 104 words per minute, which is below my usual minimum of 107 words per minute; I got my usual error rate of 2 percent.
The 4.1 x 3.1-inch touchpad is nice and spacious, though the plastic is a little bouncy. I felt it quivering under my fingers when I was performing gestures like tapping three fingers to invoke Cortana quickly or two-finger scrolling (but the gestures, to Dell's credit, do work).
The speakers on the Inspiron are plenty loud and easily filled up a small conference room when I listened to Charli XCX's "Boom Clap." The song's vocals and drums were clear, though an underlying bass line didn't stand out from the rest of the mix. The preinstalled Waves MaxxAudio Pro has a bunch of preset equalizers and some dials to adjust the music, but I found that the default options were the best.
While our configuration of the Inspiron has an Intel Core i5-8250U and 8GB of RAM, which are poised for multitasking, its 1TB, 5,400-rpm HDD is slow compared to the SSDs you get in a lot of computers (you can pay extra to configure the Inspiron with an SSD). I had 15 tabs open in Google Chrome (one of which was streaming a 1080p episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers) when the laptop paused and showed the loading icon before I could open more tabs.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Inspiron earned a score of 11,791, beating both the Aspire (9,278, also with a Core i5-8250U) and the mainstream laptop average (8,231).
The Inspiron took 39 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of files (what you'd get on a full DVD), which comes out to a rate of 130.5MBps. That's slower than both the average (152.5MBps) and the Aspire (149.7Mbps).
The Inspiron took 1 minute and 11 seconds to complete our Excel spreadsheet macro, which pairs 65,000 names and addresses. That's faster than both the Aspire (1:30) and the average (1:49). The Inspiron was also faster on our HandBrake video-editing test, transcoding a 4K video to 1080p in 17 minutes and 11 seconds, beating both the Aspire (25:15) and the average (21:39).
But on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, the Inspiron earned a score of 69,943, falling below both the Aspire's 122,144 and the average (72,506). While the Inspiron uses Intel's integrated UHD 620 graphics, the Aspire, which costs $50 more, has a dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX150 with 2GB of VRAM. That's nothing to game on, but it will give you a boost in Photoshop.
The brief battery life on the Inspiron will basically chain you to your desk. The system ran for a paltry 5 hours and 8 minutes on Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which continuously browses the web, runs videos and plays through graphics benchmarks over Wi-Fi. The mainstream laptop average is 8 hours and 23 minutes, and the Aspire ran for an even-longer 9:26.
Dell's 720p webcam takes dark photos that have little detail. In a selfie I took with the camera at my desk, I was covered in shadow, with my eyes darkened and my beard appearing darker than usual.
My brown shirt looked black, but the background was all properly lit.
The Inspiron stays cool under pressure, keeping under our 95-degree Fahrenheit comfort threshold. After the Inspiron streamed 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, our heat gun measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 94 degrees between the G and H keys, and 90.5 degrees on the laptop's bottom.
Software and Warranty
Dell's software includes Mobile Connect, which lets you send texts and make calls from your iPhone or Android phone. On the latter, you can control the whole phone from your laptop. You also get Dell Power Manager, to help you manage how fast your battery drains, and Support Assist, to help with any technical issues.
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Of course, you also get a bunch of junk that's built in to every copy of Windows 10, like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords and Netflix, among others.
What Does the Inspiron 15 5000 Cost?
The Inspiron we tested cost $549 and came with an Intel Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB, 5,400-rpm HDD.
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For $649, you can keep the same specs but update the display to a touch screen or swap out the hard drive with a 256GB SSD. At $749, you move to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD, but no touch screen.
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is an affordable 15-inch laptop with solid 8th Gen Core performance, but it's hindered by a horrible display and brief battery life.
In this case, an extra $50 can make a big difference. We suggest bumping up to $599 for the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576G-5762, which has almost 9 and a half hours of battery life, an SSD and dedicated graphics. And if it's a disc drive you're after, the Aspire has that, too. The Acer's display is also on the dim side, but it isn't as bad as the one on the Inspiron.
If you can't afford the extra $50, you'll still get solid performance on the Dell, but as an overall experience, it's just not as good as the Aspire.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag