Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 Touch is proof that you can get a decent, all-round laptop for all your Netflix and PowerPoint needs for $650 ($550 starting). Though it's not the cheapest 15-incher on the market, the Inspiron offers a best-in-class 1920 x 1080 screen with awesome viewing angles and an infrared camera for logging in with just your face. Its unassuming looks may not turn heads at the cafe -- and you'll probably have to bring the charger with you -- but overall, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Touch is worth considering.
Minimalistic and understated, the Inspiron 15 5000 Touch has smooth, rounded corners and no-nonsense lines. Its gray cover and black bezel mean the device looks professional enough to take to a client meeting, and modern enough to blend into your home decor. Despite its highly glossy cover, the coating is surprisingly fingerprint-resistant.
Although it has a mostly plastic body (more on that later), this notebook felt very sturdy in my hands. You don't see any of the flexing or creaking around the keyboard or the body that are typical of other budget laptops. I was pleasantly surprised that its palm rest and surrounding area are covered in brushed aluminum, as the silky-smooth material kept my wrists cool and made me a happy camper. The subtle use of metal in the Inspiron was an unexpected touch of luxury in an otherwise midrange device.
If you're not too concerned about future-proofing your laptop for next-generation peripherals, then the Inspiron 15 5000 has all the ports and slots you need right now. On the left side, you'll find the power plug, Ethernet port, full-size HDMI for easy connection to your TV, two USB 3.0s and a combo audio-mic jack. While the right side is dominated mostly by a rewritable DVD drive, Dell still managed to squeeze in a device lock, a USB 2.0 port and a full-size SD card slot to keep things balanced. What you won't find is a USB Type-C port.
At 15.4 x 10.2 x 0.92 inches, the 5.2-pound Inspiron 15 5000 is not overly large or heavy for its class. In fact, it's nearly identical to the 15 x 10.2 x 1.2-inch Acer Aspire E5-575G-53VG (5.2 pounds, 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches), which has almost the same dimensions and weight. While the Inspiron is just as thick as the 15-inch HP Envy x360 m6 (4.6 pounds), the 14-inch Asus VivoBook E403SA is still the smallest and lightest of the bunch (13.4 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches; 3.2 pounds).
No doubt the crown jewel of the Inspiron 15 5000 Touch is its beautiful 15.6-inch full-HD screen. Given this machine's $650 price tag, I was totally expecting a dim but respectable display with poor viewing angles, but boy was I wrong.
The Inspiron's 1920 x 1080 display looked just as vibrant and sharp whether I was sitting on either side of the screen for a movie night or standing up mid-movie for a stretch. When I was sitting directly in front of the Inspiron's screen, I was floored by the 3D-like depths I could see in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 HD trailer. Little details, like the glimmers of metal from Nebula's armor, really popped. The Inspiron's panel was also able to do justice to La La Land's colorful dream sequence, where the hand-painted sets and rainbow-hued costumes looked as saturated as they did on the big screen.
According to our colorimeter result, the Inspiron's screen can produce 72 percent of the sRBG color gamut. Though the Inspiron can display more colors than both the HP Envy x360 (62 percent) and the Asus E403SA (69 percent), it cannot touch the 143 percent standard set by the Acer Aspire E5.
The Inspiron's screen also earned a near-perfect color accuracy score of 0.16 (the closer to 0, the better), typically known as the Delta-E number. The next best screen at displaying color accurately was the Asus E403SA (2.3).
Given the Inspiron's wide viewing angles, I was fully expecting its screen brightness score to be high. While its 213-nit panel is the brightest of its class, that number is only marginally better than the ones for the Acer Aspire E5, the HP Envy x360 and the Asus E403SA (which had scores ranging from 195 to 201 nits).
As much as I enjoyed the Inspiron 15 5000's screen, I was not too impressed with its spotty touch sensitivity. I sometimes had to poke at the screen very deliberately and multiple times to tap a button, or swipe the screen a couple of times, before the Action Center menu would open. Considering this model commands a $100 premium for the touch screen, you can't help but question whether you're better off going for the nontouch, $550 configuration.
Keyboard and Touchpad
It's easy to get used to typing on the Inspiron's island-style backlit keyboard and dedicated number pad, but I would not want to write a novel with it. The keys themselves are well spaced and have a satisfying depth, even though the actual key travel is just 1.3 millimeters (our preferred depth is 1.5 millimeters).
The Inspiron's relatively stiff keys, however,made typing on the Inspiron less than enjoyable. The keys required a whopping 71 grams of force to press, compared with the category average of 59 grams. I had to really push down on each key for the key press to register, which is not conducive to touch typing or a long workday. The difference in my typing speed between the Inspiron and my own Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (76 wpm) was negligible, but my fingers were definitely more strained when I used the Inspiron's keyboard than when I used the Microsoft Type Cover.
Stiffness also seems to affect the Inspiron's 4.1 x 3.1-inch touchpad, which makes it a pain to drag and drop files or resize photos. I really had to press down hard on the touchpad to do anything more advanced than access the right-click menu. Otherwise, the touchpad is sensitive enough for moving the cursor around and is reasonably sized for a 15-inch laptop.
The good news is that you can easily improve the Inspiron's sound quality by plugging in a pair of quality headphones. The bad news is that the laptop's built-in speakers produce just what you'd expect from a $650 laptop: poor audio. Although its dual speakers (located at the bottom of the laptop) are loud enough to fill a room, they make music sound buzzy.
When I listened to the La La Land soundtrack on CD, the iconic piano-only version of "City of Stars" sounded muffled through the speakers. However, when I plugged in Harman's AKG wired earbuds (the ones bundled with the Samsung Galaxy S8), I could hear crystal-clear notes, and even the tapping of piano keys, on the same track. While the laptop can certainly play "Epilogue," a track that jumps from a full 100-piece orchestra and choir to a melancholic jazz trumpet solo, it just can't make you feel the vibrations from the strings or bass.
With a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7200U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 1TB SATA hard drive (5,400-rpm) powering the Inspiron 15 5000 Touch, I didn't notice any lag when using the laptop for work. I was simultaneously running at least 14 browser tabs, a separate window to stream a 45-minute YouTube video, email, Microsoft Word and Google Drive, as well as previewing photos in Photos. The Inspiron handled the workload without any hiccups, which helped me stay productive.
So how does the Inspiron's performance really stack up against its peers? In the Geekbench 3 test that measures overall performance, the Inspiron scored a respectable 6,668, which is better than the Acer Aspire E5 with similar specs and the previous-gen i5 CPU (5,664). Considering that the HP Envy x360 is powered by the i7-7500U processor, it makes sense that it would outperform the Inspiron (8,069), while the Asus VivoBook with the Pentium N3700 chip was still the slowest, scoring 3,341.
For a midrange laptop with a slower SATA hard drive than its peers (especially those with solid-state drives), you'd assume the Inspiron would be the slowest at transferring files. It turns out, however, that the Inspiron was actually the fastest at duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files, completing the test in 1 minute and 1 second, for a transfer rate of 83 megabytes per second. That score beats all of the Inspiron's closest competitors.
In the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro productivity test, which measures how long it takes each notebook to match 20,000 names to addresses, the Inspiron took 4 minutes and 3 seconds. It's worth noting that the i5-powered Inspiron is almost within 30 seconds of catching the HP's winning time (3 minutes and 35 seconds), despite the latter's i7 CPU. The Acer with last year's i5 chip was slightly slower at completing this test, finishing in 5 minutes and 57 seconds.
Because the configuration of the Inspiron 15 5000 Touch we tested has integrated Intel HD 620 graphics (the configuration with a discrete GPU starts at $750), it really can't play many modern games. But the system did deliver a solid 45 frames per second on the Dirt 3 racing game, which at least passes our 30-fps playability threshold.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, the Inspiron earned 60,475, a score that is in the middle of the pack. Its graphics capability is nowhere near the mainstream-laptop average (88,704). The HP Envy x360, which has the same GPU, notched 74,705, while the Nvidia GeForce GTX 940 MX-powered Acer Aspire E5 hit 76,892. The Asus VivoBook and its Intel HD Graphics managed to achieve only 26,224.
I would not leave home without the Inspiron 15 5000's power brick. In my use, this Dell lasted only 4 hours and 30 minutes before it automatically shut down. And that was after I reduced the laptop's screen brightness to 50 percent.
My experience was corroborated by the results of our Laptop Mag Battery Test, where the Inspiron died after 4:25 of continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi. That's well below the 6:57 15-inch laptop average. All of its competitors offer much better battery life: The Acer Aspire E5 lasted the longest (9:43), followed by the Asus VivoBook (9:02) and the HP Envy x360 (6:13).
This Inspiron is one cool cat; it never made my lap or my palms feel anything but lukewarm. Even after we streamed full-screen HD video on the Inspiron for 15 minutes, our heat gun registered just 77 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 89 degrees between the G and H keys and 90 degrees on the bottom of the laptop. These numbers are significantly lower than our 95-degree comfort standard.
Infrared Camera, Webcam
Dell automatically includes an infrared (IR) camera in this touch-screen configuration of the Inspiron 15 5000, making it possible to use your face to log in to the laptop (also known as Windows Hello). The IR camera sits above the middle of the screen and next to the webcam, and turns on automatically to detect your face at boot-up.
For whatever reason, though, it took 19 seconds for the Inspiron to go from recognizing my face to loading Windows desktop. If you need to get into your desktop in a hurry, you may want to just enter your password.
The Inspiron's webcam is technically 720p, but when I snapped a picture facing the camera, my face looked way too pixelated for professional YouTubing. The colors rendered accurately, but that's about it.
The Inspiron 15 5000 is preloaded with software from Dell and its partners. There are some handy ones, like the one-year free trial for 20GB of Dropbox, as well as the Wave MaxxAudio Pro audio tuner, which lets you fine-tune your audio experience and manage your audio equipment.
On the third-party side is the McAfee virus scanner. You may also find software such as CyberLink Media Suite Essentials, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter clogging up your storage.
There are five different configurations of the Inspiron 15 5000 that can be split into three overlapping groups: those with touch screens (plus IR cameras) and those without, those with discrete graphics and those with integrated graphics, and those powered by the 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7200U processor and those with the Intel Core i7-7500U CPU. Otherwise, all five laptops share mostly the same parts, right down to the same 1TB hard drive.
Our review configuration costs $650 and has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7200U processor; 8GB of RAM; a 1TB, 5,400-rpm SATA hard drive; an Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU; and a 1920 x 1080p touch screen. The $550 base model includes a nontouch screen and lacks the IR camera for Windows Hello but is otherwise the same as our review unit.
The top-of-the-line version starts at $950, and features the Intel Core i7-7500U CPU, a dedicated AMD Radeon R7 M445 GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 RAM and 16GB of RAM, on top of its full-HD touch screen and IR camera.
The $650 Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Touch may not be the flashiest laptop on the block, but it has several things going for it, including a colorful full-HD screen, an IR camera and a brushed-aluminum palm rest. Those are some pretty nice amenities for a $650 laptop. The machine's Core i5 performance is pretty strong, too. However, this 15-inch laptop's battery life is much shorter than those of its competitors, and the speakers don't impress.
If you're looking to save a few bucks, the Acer Aspire E5 is your best bet, as it's essentially the Inspiron's better-looking twin. It boasts a much faster 256GB SSD, a dedicated GPU and considerably longer battery life. But if you're looking for a solid middle-of-the-road gaming laptop, the Inspiron 15 5000 Touch is a pretty good choice.