Dell Inspiron 15R £629
21st Jun 2010 | 15:00
Dell's entry-level Inspiron range gets a comprehensive overhaul
Dell Inspiron 15R: Introduction
Dell's Inspiron range is made up of the company's entry-level consumer laptops.
In the past the series has played second-fiddle to its more illustrious brothers, the Dell Studio and Studio XPS ranges, which have tended to feature snazzier designs and meatier specifications for those after the next level of not only style and sophistication, but also power, usability and performance.
The new Inspiron 15R
But all that has now changed as the refreshed Inspiron 15R comes out fighting.
Not only has a brand new chassis design been implemented, but a whole raft of powerful components – including an Intel Core i5 processor – makes this a very powerful laptop whether you're simply after everyday use, or looking to run more resource intensive multimedia programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
Dell Inspiron 15R: Features
The thing you notice out of the box is the brand new chassis design, making the Dell 15R the most desirable Inspiron to date. Gone is the stolid black box design that used to plague Dell's lower-priced machines, and instead a shiny red lid with a gunmetal finish is complemented by a fake brushed aluminium chassis design.
Impressively, unlike many shiny laptops, the Inspiron 15R doesn't collect dust and fingerprints too quickly, and the odd wipe with a cloth maintains its smart look. More importantly, the Inspiron 15R is very well put together, and will provide good durability for the components when you're on the road with it.
Dotted around the Inspiron 15R's chassis are a number of ports for connecting up to various devices. Four USB ports is fairly generous, letting you attach an external mouse and charge your MP3 player, for example, and still leaving you with two ports to play with.
Two of the USB ports are placed either side of the chassis, while the other two are positioned at the rear of the Inspiron 15R, which makes them a little inaccessible.
An HDMI out allows you to easily hook the Inspiron 15R up to a high definition (HD) external monitor or TV, which is great if you want to share your videos and pictures on a big screen, while there's also the standard VGA out included if you have an older analogue monitor you're keen to connect to.
A Gigabit Ethernet port sits next to the very noisy DVD optical drive on the right-hand side of the chassis, and provides the latest and fastest wired connection to a network, which will come in handy if you're going to spend a lot of time at your desk.
It seems that until the arrival of the Asus NX90 later in the year, the audiophile will have to put up with suspect sound quality from a laptop. The Inspiron 15R does produce quite a racket, but it's not a good one.
The poor quality speakers are positioned at the front of the chassis and face out towards the user. Compounding the issue, we found that when typing our arms semi-blocked the speakers, distorting sound quality even further. If you're planning on using the Inspiron 15R to regularly play music then you'll want to buy a set of desktop speakers, or simply listen through the headphone jack.
Embedded in the Inspiron 15R's chassis is the keyboard. Dell has steered clear of the isolated key style the Apple MacBook Pro uses, instead plumping for a more traditional design. The action is a little stiff for our liking, and there's quite a bit of give in the centre of the keyboard.
You're not likely to notice this flex unless you have a heavy typing action, in which case you'll detect a certain sponginess about the board, which is a little unfortunate. A dedicated number pad sits to the right of the main keyboard, and will appeal to those who regularly enter data into spreadsheets, for example. Positioned right at the edge of the chassis, it suffers from none of the sponginess issues the main board does.
A touchpad sits centre left of the Inspiron 15R's spacious palm rest. It's large and responsive, but far too easy to brush while typing. When this happens you jog the cursor, which relocates the place you're typing and constantly requires you to shift bits of text back to their original position in the document.
Fortunately, Dell has combated this by including a hot key next to the F12 button to disable the touchpad, and as a result it's not a big issue, but worth noting.
Dell deserves a slap on the back for the Inspiron 15R's fantastic 15.6-inch screen. The 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution is more than detailed enough for everyday work, including word processing and even editing detailed spreadsheets.
What really impresses, however, is the brightness and colour reproduction of the Inspiron 15R's display. We tested the laptop outside in near direct sunlight with the brightness cranked up full and had very little problem reading the screen – in darker light conditions the panel is borderline painful to view when on max brightness.
Colour reproduction is decent for the money. It's not as vibrant as the excellent Sony VAIO VPC-Z11Z9EB, and doesn't provide the intensity of Lenovo's W701 workstation, but at this price it'd be unfair to compare the Inspiron 15R with these machines.
DVD's and photos look fantastic, and if you're simply looking to edit your holiday photos you'll have absolutely no problems. The vibrancy of the Inspiron 15R's screen is largely thanks to the shiny Super-TFT screen coating, the negative effect of which is irritating reflections in bright light. This is a common symptom of the technology, and ultimately can't be held specifically against the Inspiron 15R in particular.
Dell Inspiron 15R: Performance
Down to business with components. Gone are Intel's Celeron, Pentium and Core 2 Duo processors, with the Inspiron 15R featuring a powerful Intel Core i5 430M chip. Boasting Intel's hyper-threading and overclocking technologies, this is a seriously powerful chip.
By way of a quick explanation, hyper-threading allows you to multi-task a much greater variety of tasks than older chip technologies, while the processor can also overclock itself from a speed of 2.26GHz to 2.533GHz.
This allows for better power consumption, and also enhanced performance exactly when and where you need it. The Inspiron 15R also features 4GB of memory, and the combination of this and the Core i5 processor means excellent performance.
The Inspiron 15R took a little while to start-up, but once it got going applications ran swiftly with no problems. We loaded powerful audio-editing software onto the laptop, as well as photo-editing software, all of which it ran concurrently without a problem.
As a result the Inspiron 15R is an incredibly versatile laptop that's great for the whole family, or simply someone after a machine with a great deal of futureproofing, as the components ensure the notebook will boast cutting edge power for quite a while to come.
Even the odd bit of gaming is possible courtesy of the mid-range ATi Mobility Radeon HD 5470 graphics card, supported by 1GB of dedicated video memory. Realistically the Inspiron15R isn't going to dispatch with Crysis in the same flawless style an Alienware M17x will, but we ran Assasins Creed 2 with settings as high as the display would take and were extremely impressed by the performance the Inspiron 15R offered.
Naturally, this also means the laptop is suited to video editing, with benchmarking and our own trials confirming the Inspiron 15R will have no problem editing HD movies. It's a shame there isn't a Firewire port to rapidly import data from a video camera, therefore.
All this power does come at a price. The high-powered Intel Core i5 processor creates quite a bit of heat, and the fan system Dell has implemented to deal with this creates a significant amount of noise. So much so that if you're unfortunate enough to be listening to music through the Inspiron 15R's speakers, the sound will be drowned out every time you launch a resource intensive application.
Nonetheless, the system does work, as the Inspiron 15R stays cool to the touch even after hours of working with it, unlike the HP Envy 15 – which you could happily fry an egg on.
Another negative impact of the Inspiron 15R's power is a relatively poor battery life of only 186 minutes. The processor and bright screen suck the life out of the battery fairly quickly, and while there's enough for the crawl into work, regular travellers might want something that provides a little more in the way of portability, the incredible Asus UL30A for example offers nearly 13 hours of power between charges.
Having said that, at 2.7Kg the Inspiron 15R's weight is definitely manageable, and the machine is only 37mm at its thickest, so you won't have any problems slipping it into a bag or rucksack.
A 500GB hard drive, spinning at the standard 5400rpm, offers comprehensive storage for your files, folders and multimedia libraries.
The sheer size of the drive will also provide a good deal of future-proofing, and unless you have the most ferocious appetite for data you won't fill it up for a good few years.
As mentioned above, a DVD drive means that you can burn data to (dual-layer) discs as well as read them and provides another back-up option should you not favour an external hard drive.
Dell Inspiron 15R: Verdict
The Inspiron 15R is the first example of the new Inspiron range. Benefitting from a complete overhaul both internally and externally, the laptop now features a brand new look and a set of specifications to challenge the other big guns in the market.
And that – we get the impression – is exactly what Dell is doing. Its been a rocky few years for the company, and with HP and Acer doing so well its clearly making aggressive moves in a bid to snatch back the initiative.
This is a great laptop at a very competitive price, it's great to see the Inspiron range taken to the next level.
The new look is great, and belies the price point of the Inspiron 15R. The brushed aluminium palm rest is a particular favourite, making this laptop a pleasure to own.
The quality of the components used is impressive. The fantastic screen, powerful processor and graphics card, quantity of memory and storage all sell themselves – you're unlikely to find a combination this good elsewhere for drastically cheaper.
It's hard to pick faults with such a decent laptop, so we're going to have to get picky. The sound quality produced by the speakers is disappointing, as is the noise the fan makes when the computer needs cooling down.
Portability is a bit lacking, thanks to the 187-minute battery life, and usability wise the keyboard could provider a firmer typing experience.
Finally, the rear-facing USB ports and touchpad proved to be a bit of an irritant.
For the money, the Dell Inspiron 15R is a great machine. There are few niggles, but these are more than compensated for by the power and usability on offer from the laptop. The net result is this one of the best machines around.
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