Dell Inspiron 15z £799
19th Dec 2012 | 11:05
Dell's latest family-friendly Windows 8 Ultrabook
Dell's Inspiron range of laptops is almost a byword for solid, family-friendly machines that strike an entirely reasonable balance between price, performance and construction.
The latest refresh of the line, the Dell Inspiron 15z Ultrabook, continues this trend, and stands alongside the likes of the Acer Aspire S5 and the HP Envy 6 as an example of a middle-of-the-road laptop done right.
One of the main reasons for Dell's refresh is the presence of Windows 8. Unfortunately, the Dell Inspiron 15z doesn't come with a touchscreen as standard - it's an optional upgrade. Despite the update, our gut reaction is that if you have a family laptop less than a year and a half old, there isn't enough that's new here to merit a purchase.
However, if you're fresh to the laptop market or have been waiting for Microsoft's new upgrade to replace that ageing four-year-old laptop, then there's plenty to be said for the Dell Inspiron 15z.
Dell frequently offers different specifications of its laptops and Ultrabooks at different prices, and the Dell Inspiron 15z is no different.
There's the usual Intel Core i3/i5/i7 choices, as well as the option to add extra RAM and a dedicated graphics chip.
Our Dell Inspiron 15z review model came at the higher end of the spectrum, with an i7 processer, 6GB of RAM and a discrete Nvidia GT630M graphics chip (though the Australian and US versions come with 8GB RAM).
Predictably then, performance was a highlight, and certainly adequate for the £799/ AU$1,499/ US$999.99 price tag that comes with this specification.
Build quality is the usual high standard, with no flex on or around the chassis, and a couple of nice touches - such as a backlit keyboard and a DVD drive - thrown in for good measure.
Windows 8 review
In a market now dominated by devices sporting unique and costly USPs, such as the Asus Padfone 2, Sony Vaio Duo 11 or the Macbook Pro with Retina Display, the Dell Inspiron 15z is a reliably standard consumer Ultrabook.
It doesn't blow us away in terms of specifications or design, but for a family computer that needs to handle a range of different applications - office work, light gaming or heavy internet use - it passes the test comfortably without breaking the bank.
The Dell Inspiron 15z isn't trying to fit a specific type of performance such as gaming, multimedia, portability or style - instead it offers a jack-of-all-trades approach to all these options. We see it instead being suited to a modern family where each member can have a separate profile and use this machine for a variety of tasks.
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The chassis on the Dell Inspiron 15z doesn't have the same edge of style as Dell's more premium XPS range or other Ultrabook titans such as the Asus Zenbook UX32A, but it does the job.
The metallic grey finish and the rounded corners are fit to purpose and the interior is refreshingly devoid of stickers. There's a centrally-placed chiclet keyboard that has an attractive white backlight.
Although the Dell Inspiron 15z is an Ultrabook, we wouldn't hold it up as the poster child for portability. Measuring 382 x 250 x 21mm (15.04 x 9.84 x 0.83 inches) and weighing 2.17kg (4.78lbs), this wouldn't trouble you if you threw it into a backpack for a day, but there are much more portable PCs around.
The trouble isn't really the weight or depth of the chassis, but the fact the Dell Inspiron 15z boasts a traditional 15.6-inch screen makes it much more unwieldy than the 13.3-inch or 14-inch Ultrabooks that are beginning to dominate the shelves.
The benefit of choosing a larger 15.6-inch laptop, though, is the extra screen real estate. The Dell Inspiron 15z has a bright, crisp display but the standard 1,366 x 768 resolution will look average if you've grown used to a Full HD laptop or tablet.
And the fact that it isn't a touchscreen does remove a large part of the Windows 8 interface from the equation. Cheaper machines such as the Acer M5 Ultrabook offer touch controls, and we feel the Dell Inspiron 15z would benefit from having one as standard.
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For a family laptop, there's no shortage of power inside the Dell Inspiron 15z. The Intel Core i7-3517U Ivy Bridge processor is clocked at 1.90GHz clock speed and backed by 6GB of RAM.
It's no surprise that Windows 8 runs very well here, and you can multitask with several apps snapped to different sides of the screen without any lag.
Boasting an Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics chip and a discrete Nvidia GT630 GPU, the Dell Inspiron 15z produced a reasonable score in our graphics benchmarking test.
Recent AAA game titles such as FarCry 3 or Black Ops II will only be playable with diminished detail settings and vastly reduced frame rates, but older titles will run without a problem here.
Connectivity and battery life are both about par for the course when it comes to a laptop in this price range. The Dell Inspiron 15z's larger size means there are 4 USB ports rather than the usual two found on an Ultrabook, and there's also a DVD optical drive built in.
Other ports include HDMI, Ethernet and an SD card reader. The lack of a VGA port means this won't connect to older TVs or monitors.
One of the hallmarks of a Dell PC is its usability, and the Dell Inspiron 15z is no different. The keyboard is very comfortable to use, with a decent amount of travel on each key. One surprising factor is that despite a width of 15 inches across the chassis, Dell hasn't included a dedicated numeric keypad.
The centrally-placed touchpad also isn't as wide as it could be, although it was pleasingly responsive. Given that you'll be navigating the Windows 8 user interface with the touchpad rather than the screen, this is a big plus point for the Dell Inspiron 15z.
Unfortunately, one element of the Dell Inspiron 15z's performance that doesn't hold up to scrutiny is the battery life. We ran our Battery Eater benchmark test alongside some looped HD video to simulate high usage, and the battery lasted a mere 108 minutes.
While we don't expect anyone to purchase the Inspion 15z to take out on the road, it would still benefit from a stronger battery performance.
Cinebench 10: 5,995
3D Mark '06: 7,532
Battery Eater '05: 108 minutes
There's a reasonable amount of storage afforded by the 500GB hard drive. And, although we've become accustomed to seeing laptops with 1TB of storage, this does keep the price down.
Because this is an Ultrabook, it also features an internal 32GB SSD, which handles the Intel Rapid Start Technology. It's remarkably sharp when powered up from either sleep or a complete shutdown - helped by the fact there's almost no bloatware pre-installed on this computer.
The Dell Inspiron 15z comes with a DVD RW optical drive that will win it favours with those who prefer physical media. While much content is now downloadable, we still have an extensive back catalogue of programs, movies and music sitting in our CD racks.
Day-to-day performance is very smooth, and even when we had several browser tags open, video playing and three or four programs open in the background, the Dell Inspiron 15z didn't appear to break a sweat.
There's a decent amount of volume to be had from the built-in Skullcandy speakers, but this isn't an audio-focused laptop in the same vein as the HP Envy series.
If you're really into sound clarity then you'll probably want to invest in a decent set of headphones or some external amplification.
It's difficult to find fault with the Dell Inspiron 15z as a standard, everyday laptop. It fulfils all the basic requirements and isn't difficult to use. However, consumer trends are changing. Ultrabooks are, for the most part, more desirable and far more portable than this.
Whether you want a laptop-tablet hybrid, Ultrabook, tablet or laptop comes down to personal preference.
While the Dell Inspiron 15z doesn't offer a full resolution display, masses of portability or an expansive hard drive, it does offer good usability and an attractive price tag. If all you want is a new, Windows 8-running laptop for the family, then Dell has produced another worthy contender.
Windows 8 review
The solid construction and design of the Dell Inspiron 15z, along with its usability, are excellent reasons to consider this laptop. Not only that, but the performance and specifications are both more than reasonable for the price.
There are a couple of bonus features, such as the presence of a RW DVD drive and a backlit keyboard, that also lift this above the budget range.
The Dell Inspiron 15z would benefit a great deal from having a touchscreen as standard. This would enable you to interact better with the Windows 8 UI and go some way towards future-proofing the Ultrabook.
Given the popularity of tablets and the new crop of hybrids arriving at the moment, customers are comfortable with touchscreens on PCs, and the absence of it here makes the Dell Inspiron 15z feel dated. We also would have liked to see a better resolution, more hard drive space and a better battery.
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The Dell Inspiron 15z continues to deliver an accomplished laptop experience without any of the extra bells and whistles that manufacturers use to market new devices.
It's an old-fashioned laptop experience with significant build quality, design and technical power to lift it above the hoardes of budget notebooks.
It doesn't cling to any one discipline - being neither a truly portable device, nor a gaming laptop, nor a hybrid, but manages to successfully cover all the bases.