When it comes to laptops in 2011, "thinner is better" seems to be a consistent trend. The MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9 head the pack in that regard, but laptops such as the Sony Vaio SE and Dell XPS 15z have followed suit. It's no surprise, then, that the mainstream Dell Inspiron line has gotten its own thinned-out model in the Inspiron 14z. Borrowing the "z for thin" convention that Dell's used somewhat confusingly for years (HP uses "z" to indicate an AMD-powered laptop), this Inspiron's undeniably slimmer than its clunkier 2011 Inspiron R counterpart. If the name rings a bell, that's because there was a previous Inspiron 14z released in 2009, with a Core 2 Duo processor, but that "thin" laptop was inferior to this new 14z in nearly every way. Dell's latest 14z is a very good laptop, and one of the best affordable mainstream models we've seen Dell make in a while.
Still, it's "thinner," not "ultraslim." The $599 starting price on the Inspiron 14z represents a reasonable budget price for the Core i3 processor, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM it includes; the highest-end Inspiron 14z tops out at a still-reasonable $829, although it lacks dedicated graphics, which will annoy some. The swappable snap-on back lid, a show-off feature of the new Inspiron R series, is also gone. Consider it a trade for a more compact form.
Its improved battery life, a DVD drive, and USB 3.0 ports could make the most difference for potential buyers. The clean aluminum lid and uncluttered look are also better than we've seen from recent Dell laptops. The Inspiron 14z is a better back-to-school laptop than the Inspiron R; for not much of an extra investment, the overall design is much improved. We'd recommend it, even in its entry-level configuration, wholeheartedly.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$829 / $599|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel HM65 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.6x9.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.6 pounds / 5.3 pounds|
Much like the Inspiron R laptop, the Dell Inspiron 14z has a hinge-forward top lid that results in a back lip on the end of the laptop. Here, however, that added back padding has been much reduced, feeling far more integrated into the overall chassis. The Inspiron 14z has less of a wedge-shaped design and has a universal thickness; the top lid slips down in the rear, tucked into recessed side walls. With the screen lifted up, the laptop feels simple, and somehow intimate because of its hinge-forward display and the side walls, which narrowly enclose the bottom of the screen.
Our review unit came in an attractive metallic Fire Red, which costs an extra $29. The Inspiron 14z otherwise comes standard in Diamond Black. Brushed aluminum on the back of the lid and around the keyboard deck adds a sophisticated touch, while the bottom and sides are black plastic. The back lid is, however, strangely flexible on the top; we could press down on the Dell logo and it would bow. A six-cell battery tucked into the back end bulges from the bottom a little, creating a slight riser.
Does the reduced thickness in the Inspiron 14z matter? The Inspiron 15R (admittedly, with a larger screen) was 1.2 inches thick at the thinnest, and maxed at 1.29 inches. It weighed just a hair under 6 pounds with a six-cell battery. The Inspiron 14z is 0.92 inch to 1 inch thick, and weighs 4.58 pounds. The lighter weight is noticeable, although this laptop weighs nearly the same as other 14-inchers such as the Gateway ID47H02u and Toshiba Satellite P745--or the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro. One inch thick used to be considered ultraslim, but it's now the standard for well-designed mainstream laptops.
So, yes, the reduced size and weight matter, but only in terms of making the Inspiron 14z a more competitive laptop. They don't push this computer into uncharted thin territory.
We're happy to report that the backlit island-style keyboard on the Inspiron 14z is crisp and roomy, and feels great to type on. We appreciated the backlighting, which pooled around the sides of the smooth, concave keys (Note: post-review, Dell revealed that the backlighting isn't initially available for the Inspiron 14z in the U.S., but will eventually be added as a customizable extra on Dell's Web site). The smallish square touch pad below we can't be as bullish about. The cheap-looking discrete buttons beneath and iffy tactile response make the multitouch pad look like a budget component.
A few dedicated buttons above the keyboard launch Dell Support Center and a handy set of commonly used control settings for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and battery, among others. A third button can be customized to quick-launch an application.
The 14-inch glossy display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. The screen brightness and colors were fuller than we expected, making movies and TV shows pop. Viewing at angles eventually caused the picture to wash out, but no more than on most average laptop screens.
The front-firing stereo speakers situated under the Inspiron 14z's palm rest were surprisingly powerful. Listening at half volume, we had enough oomph to enjoy the movie trailer to Steven Spielberg's "War Horse." Music also sounded good, but nowhere near as good as from the XPS 15's speakers.
A 1-megapixel Webcam takes photos and video at resolutions up to 1,280x720 pixels. Audio and picture quality are certainly good enough for Web chat and quick self-made clips.
|Dell Inspiron 14z||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||HDMI, Mini DisplayPort||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WiMax||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Despite being small, the Inspiron 14z comes packed with useful ports. Two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort (no VGA) are tucked behind flip-down port doors on the left and right sides. The doors are an odd touch, and don't affect accessibility much--although the narrow clusters of ports on either side can get a little cramped. A tray-loading DVD burner fits along the right-hand side. Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) 2.0 is also included, which allows wireless HD streaming of audio and video--or anything displayed on the Dell's screen--with the purchase of an additional box that plugs into your TV, made by Netgear or one of several other companies. It's hard to locate the WiDi launcher on the system, and we'd recommend that, if you care, you map WiDi to the quick-launch button above the keyboard.
Like all Dell laptops, the Inspiron R comes in a variety of configurations. Our review configuration comes in at around $830 on Dell's site. Thankfully, the endless levels of customization seem to be dialed back a bit on the Inspiron 14z. The high-end $799 configuration has a locked-in 8GB of RAM, a 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive, and a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M processor. As we mentioned, the Fire Red color cost an extra $29. Alternatively, a less-expensive model has a 650GB hard drive and 6GB of RAM but also includes WiMax. The entry-level $599 version has a 2.2GHz Core i3-2330M processor, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM, pretty respectable specs in their own right. Honestly, if we were shopping for an Inspiron 14z, we'd be tempted to just buy the $599 version, especially since it still has USB 3.0 and Bluetooth.