The most notable of a series of pre-Computex updates from Dell is the new Inspiron 11 3000 laptop/tablet hybrid. This budget-priced entry in the workhorse Inspiron line looks similar to previous models, but it in fact adds a very popular new feature: a hinge that folds back a full 360 degrees, allowing you to turn it into a kiosk display, a tablet tent, or a tablet. Note that Dell already has a standard 11-inch ultraportable laptop with the same name, but without the new hybrid hinge, which may cause some confusion.
If that sounds familiar, it's because the same basic design idea started with Lenovo's popular Yoga series (also available in an 11-inch model), and was later adopted by HP, Toshiba, and others, including an oddball flat-keyboard variant in the Dell XPS 11. Like the Yoga and its ilk, the Inspiron 11 is best seen as a good full-time laptop and decent part-time tablet.Dell is also bringing the fold-back hinge to a 13-inch model, called the Inspiron 13 7000. If you need help with your Dell numerology, Inspiron is Dell's budget-to-mainstream brand (below the higher-end XPS line), while the 11, 13, and so on represents the screen size. The second number represents a general low-mid-high configuration, going from the 3000 series to the 5000, and up to the 7000.
We recently got a chance to get our hands on the 11-inch system and gave it a brief test drive. In the hand, it feels solidly built, especially considering the low price, thanks to its part-aluminum body (even if it's on the thick side) and stiff-but-flexible hinge. The 11.6-inch display has only a 1,366x768 resolution, but it's an IPS screen, so it looks good from side angles.Like other hybrids such as the Lenovo Yoga, the Inspiron 11 can fold its display flat, then continue into what we call a kiosk or display mode, with the keyboard facing down toward the table, and the touchscreen pointing out towards the audience. You can then flip that shape around to form a table tent, although I have yet to find a practical use for that, and finally the lid can fold all the way back to form a type of handheld tablet, albeit with the (deactivated) keyboard and touchpad pointing out from the rear side of the slate.
Processor options pull from Intel's Pentium and Atom lines, both of which are good for small-screen systems that will rely heavily on Microsoft's well-optimized Windows 8 tile interface. The default 4GB of RAM is more than a lot of Windows tablets offer, and the hard drive will be a standard 500GB HDD, rather than a smaller SSD.
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 will be available starting June 19, from $449.
Other product updates announced by Dell at the same time include: new Venue 7 ($159) and Venue 8 ($199) tablets, both running Android 4.4 on Intel Atom processors; and an updated Inspiron 20 all-in-one desktop PC with a folding kickstand and Intel Pentium processors ($349). The 13-inch Inspiron 13 7000 hybrid is not expected until September.