I wonder what the Inspiron 15 5000 Gaming laptop could have been if Dell hadn't made so many compromises. For $849, it's an attractive budget gaming laptop with good overall and graphics performance, thanks to its Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. But thanks to an all-around bad display, uncomfortable keyboard and less than two hours of battery life, it's a technological Icarus that tries to be an epic good deal, but falls to the bottom of the bargain bin.
If not for the shock of red in the middle of the black rubberized soft-touch lid, you could easily mistake the Inspiron 15 5000 Gaming for a business laptop -- or a least a mainstream system. The textured lid is cool to the touch and surprisingly fingerprint resistant. And while I can dig an understated gaming system, I do wish this one was available in Hibiscus Red like the Inspiron 15 7000, which is quite the head turner.
The Inspiron 15's interior serves up more black-and-red goodness, starting with the soft-touch palm rest with the red-lined touchpad. The full-sized keyboard and number pad are in the middle residing in their own recessed deck. The power button sit just above in the right-hand corner below the black and red speaker grille.
Lacking any USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, the system isn't very future-proof. It can, however, handle all of your current-gen needs with a USB 3.0 port, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, 2-in-1 card reader and a Kensington lock slot on the right. You'll find another pair of USB 3.0 ports on the left with jacks for a headset and the power cord.
At 5.4 pounds, the 15.1 x 10.4 x 1-inch Inspiron 15 weighs just as much as the Acer Aspire VX 15 (15.3 x 10.5 x 1.1 inches), but is just a bit slimmer. The Asus ROG Strix GL553VD (15.1 x 10. 1.2 inches) and is only slightly heavier at 5.6 pounds. The Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (15.2 x 10.8 x inch, 5.8 pounds) is also a bit bigger.
In every budget gaming laptop's configs, you'll find some sort of compromise. For the Inspiron 15, it comes in the form of a dim, listless, inaccurate display.
When I watched the Girl's Trip trailer on the 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 panel, I was shocked at how dull the colors looked. Queen Latifah's red mane took on a brownish town and the blues and yellows in Tiffany Haddish's dress looked two shades off. The screen was sharp enough however, to see the slats in a nearby window as well as the white stitching in Jada Pinkett Smith's off-the-shoulder top.
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This panel isn't the brightest crayon in the box as evidenced by the 69.1 percent measured by our colorimeter. That means the screen is way short of our minimum 100 percent threshold as well as the 94-percent mainstream average. It's slightly better than the VX 15's 65 percent and Inspiron 15 7000's 67 percent, but well below the Strix's 122 percent.
The Inspiron 15 is also lacking in color accuracy. It hit 4 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), which is better than the VX 15's 6.8, but not the Strix (1.6) or the category average (2.2). The Inspiron 15 7000 was even less accurate 912)
To add insult to injury, the Inspiron 15's display isn't very bright. I had to crank the brightness settings to maximum to get a passable viewing experience. It averaged 219 nits which is dimmer than the VX 15 (247 nits), Strix (269 nits), Inspiron 15 7000 (253 nits) and the average (276 nits).
The speakers on this laptop are just not good. They're just loud enough to fill our lab with brassy distorted audio. When I listened to Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty," the male vocals were hollow while Rihanna's voice was distractingly tinny. Even worse was the weak bass, which could barely hold its own against the resampled "24K Magic" instrumental.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Inspiron 15's island-style keyboard looks better than it feels. The 1.4 millimeters (1.5-2mm is optimal) of key travel and 70 grams (55 to grams is typical) of actuation force would be fine on many keyboards, but these keys felt shallow and sticky. I also noticed some flex in the center of the keyboard deck as I typed. When I did the 10FastFingers Typing test, my words per minute rate fell to 58 wpm, missing my usual 65-wpm average.
However, the keyboard isn't all bad. Its red backlighting is bright enough to easily read the keys in a dark environment. The keyboard deck is also spill-resistant, which means it can take an accidental soda spill without consequence.
The 4 x 3.1-inch touchpad has plenty of room for me to perform multitouch gestures such as three-finger tap, pinch-zoom and two-finger scroll with ease. The bottom corners of the touchpad delivered springy feedback with a gentle click.
Gaming and Graphics
Equipped with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB of video memory, the Inspiron 15 won't deliver the face-melting frame rates its better specced brethren can. But it can still put on a hell of a show -- provided you keep the settings to medium.
During the budget version of our Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (high at 1080p with SMAA anti-aliasing), the Inspiron 15 hit 43 fps matching the VX 15 (GTX 1050 GPU) and topping the 40-fps average. The Strix and its GTX 1050 GPU was somewhat behind with 38 fps.
When we ran the regular Tomb Raider test (High at 1080p), the Inspiron 15 managed to tough it out and score 36 fps, beating the Strix (18 fps), VX 15 (16 fps) and mainstream average (34 fps).
We also managed to run the Metro: Last Light test, where it achieved 25 fps, which was better than the VX 15 (14 fps) and Strix (13 fps). However, it was still below our 30-fps playability threshold, as well as the Inspiron 15 7000 (29 fps) and the 34-fps average.
When you aren't saving the galaxy or exploring long forgotten tombs, the Inspiron 15's integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU takes over for video or any lighter activities.
The Inspiron 15's 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor with 8GB of RAM makes it a deceptively strong multitasker. The laptop showed no signs of lag when switching between tabs or scrolling despite having 18 tabs open in Google Chrome, some of which were running Tweetdeck, Slack and Twitch.
On Geekbench 4, the synthetic overall performance test, the inspiron 15 notched 10,392, beating the VX 15, which also has a Core i5-7300HQ CPU. It wasn't enough however, to overcome the Strix's 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, which hit 12,253 or the 11,333 mainstream average. The Core i5-7300HQ-powered Inspiron 15 7000 got a similar score of 10,363.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, another performance test, the Inspiron 15 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 44 seconds which is faster than the 3:55 average. The VX 15, Strix and Inspiron 15 7000 were faster at 3:39, 3:31 and 3:37.
The Inspiron 15's 256GB SSD is fairly speedy for a budget gaming system. It duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 44 seconds for a transfer rate of 115.7 megabytes per second. It didn't beat the 200.3 MBps average, but toppled the 94.2 MBps, 103 MBps and 106 MBps put up by the Strix (1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive), VX 15 256GB SSD and Inspiron 15 7000.
How time flies when you're having fun -- at least it does on the Inspiron 15. The laptop only lasted an hour and 53 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi.
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While we don't expect gaming systems to be long-distance runners, this time is well below the 6:59 mainstream average. The Strix held on for 3:41 and the VX 15 stuck around for 7:08 but the Inspiron 15 7000 outlasted them all with an epic time of 11:14.
During one of my Rise of the Tomb Raider playthroughs, I spent 15 minutes trying to fight my way through a battalion of religious fanatics in an old Russian base. At the conclusion of the battle, I checked the notebook's temperature in several spots. The touchpad measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit while the center of the system hit 92 degrees. The laptop's undercarriage reached 104 degrees, which is higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
After letting the system cool down some, we streamed 15 minutes of HD video. The touchpad and space between the G and H keys were nice and cool at 73 and 91 degrees. However, the bottom of the system measured 100 degrees.
Different webcam, same results. The Inspiron 15's 720p integrated webcam offers the same fuzzy details that I've seen from numerous other systems. Depending on where you look in my test shot, you can see splotches of the red, blue and green pixels trying to come together to make a reasonable facsimile of my mustard yellow and brown sweater. The camera had a better time with my purple locs although it washed out my mahogany skin tone.
Software and Warranty
For a gaming laptop, the Inspiron 15 doesn't offer much in the way of gaming software outside of Nvidia GeForce Experience. However, the suite does offer a number of gamer-centric apps including battery boost and game optimization.
There's a bunch of Dell-branded software aimed at keeping the system in tip-top shape including Power Management Lite for adjusting power settings, SupportAssist for running system diagnostics and Update for getting the latest drivers.
The laptop also features a bunch of Windows 10 bloatware such as Sling, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Candy Crush Soda Saga. There are a few helpful add-ons like Dropbox which gives you 20GB of space free for a year and a non-gratis 1-year McAfee LiveSafe subscription.
The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop ships with a 1-year mail-in warranty. See how Dell fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands reports.
The Inspiron 15 I reviewed costs $799 and has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB of VRAM and an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU. The $799 base model swaps out the SSD for a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, which is slower, but has a lot more usable storage which comes in handy for games.
The $1,149 model features a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB of VRAM and an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU.
I never get my hopes up too high for budget gaming laptops. But I have to say, I'm disappointed in the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Gaming laptop. For $799, Dell's giving you a laptop that has a lovely, if unassuming design paired with some respectable components that deliver fast transfer rates and solid performance for productivity and gaming. But the dull, inaccurate display, subpar speakers, uncomfortable keyboard and less than 2 hours of battery life make this laptop one to avoid.
If you've got your heart set on a cheap Dell gaming laptop, go for the Inspiron 15 7000. It also has a questionable screen, but for $799, it has a better keyboard, a more attractive design and lasts a lot longer on a charge . It even comes in two colors. But if your budget can handle the increase, I highly recommend the $1,017 Asus ROG GL553VD, which has a better display and performance -- it even has a customizable RGB keyboard.
As for the Inspiron 15 5000 Gaming laptop, Dell's going to have to take this one back to the lab and reevaluate where it makes its compromises.