Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
The Dell Inspiron R is this year's newly designed iteration of the Dell Inspiron, with slightly sleeker colors and touches that make it look a bit more like a Studio series (another of Dell's brands) laptop. Our Back-to-School retail roundup features one of these new Inspirons, in a configuration that offers a fair amount for its slightly north-of-middle-of-the-road price. At $799--the same price as the 14-inch Core i3 Dell Inspiron 14R with ATI graphics and Intel Wireless Display we reviewed previously--this business-oriented model has a faster Core i5 processor, but loses the dedicated graphics and Intel Wireless Display. It does, however, come with Windows 7 Professional instead of Home Premium, and it also has a built-in WiMax antenna for high-speed mobile broadband.
This isn't the only laptop to feature WiMax in this retail roundup: the Dell Inspiron Mini iM1012-1091OBK, a 10-inch Netbook, also features it. While having WiMax built-in on this Inspiron is an eye-opening perk, it's really too expensive and not widespread enough to be of real use yet. Clearwire and Sprint offer WiMax service currently in the U.S, but the rate plans tend to be high and might be unappealing to anyone other than a small-business user (the service is also not yet available in major markets such as New York City). This laptop is targeted at small business, but we imagine many consumers would rather have a price cut and eliminate the WiMax antenna altogether.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$799|
|Processor||2.4 GHz Intel Core i5 M450|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1,333 MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.5 x 9.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7/5.0 pounds|
Like Inspirons before, plastic is the predominant construction material on the Inspiron R. The outer lid and inner palm-rest area have a distinctly metallic brushed-metal veneer, but it's just that, as they're made of plastic, too. While this glossy material doesn't attract fingerprints as much as we expected, the lid's plastic flexes slightly more than we'd prefer. The silvery-gray color is attractive, though.
The chassis of the Inspiron R series has a "hinge-forward" design introduced on the recent Mini 10 Netbooks. What this means is the top lid connects to the base about an inch in from the rear. The reason for this design might be the lack of battery bulge or a slight shifting of the screen to be closer to the keyboard, but the R's base is decidedly thick at the back end and the rear shelf is still a kind of a bulge--it just doesn't jut from the base.
Dell's nearly edge-to-edge keyboard is a flat design with a bit of raised texture to the keys. It's comfortable to use, and the top media keys are thankfully function-reversed, as on Apple's and HP's laptops. The touch pad below is larger, more matte-surfaced, and generally more comfortable than recent Dell laptops we've used. The discrete buttons below are nothing special, but are well-sized and work nicely. As a total keyboard/touch-pad experience, the Dell i14R-2265MRB is better than average.
The LED-backlit 14.1-inch glossy screen has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, which matches most laptop displays around 13 and 14 inches. Video and Web pages look crisp and text and colors were sharp, but images got a little washed-out-looking at extended viewing angles. We were also impressed by the volume and sound quality on the stereo speakers, located under the palm rests on the bottom base. While this Dell advertises "SRS premium sound," the end result for most users amounts to a slightly better audio playback quality, nothing more.
One of Dell's custom software touches is a conspicuous dock centered on the top edge of the screen. It acts as a launcher to pictures, Webcam, Web browser, e-mail, and movie/music playback modes, acting a little like Apple's own applications dock, but a lot less flexible and more prone to linking to preinstalled promo trial bloatware.
Above the screen, a 1.3-megapixel webcam offers video conferencing and picture-taking capabilities, with a decent frame rate and OK image quality. Videos demonstrated that the microphone had good long-range sensitivity, but the video and picture resolution had some graininess in our normal office lighting.