There's clearly a surfeit of last generation Core ULV processors, as vendors are using the second generation parts to offer lower priced SKUs. We saw it with HP's Envy 6, and now we see it again with Dell's Inspiron 13z.
You can get a third generation processor if you're willing to pay for it — at the time of writing, there's three SKUs available — one with a second generation Core processor, and two with third generation. Our particular review sample came with a Core i3 2367M and clocked in at a very modest AU$699.
The laptop itself feels reasonably well built for something that can be generally found for under AU$1000. The industrial design feels a bit toy-like with its huge power buttons, large screen bezel and large radius curves, but nothing truly offends. While the review sample we received had a faux brushed aluminium lid, this can, in theory, be swapped out to any lid you like, courtesy of Dell's Switch program. We say in theory, because at the time of writing Dell, was not offering any lids for sale for the 13z on its website.
Well, except for the port flaps that cover truly every port on the entire machine. We're down on port flaps at the best of times, but these things are heinous — enough to make you grimace every time you need to plug something in. Some flip out, yet are still attached by rubber tags that ensure the cover never gets lost, but also ensure that it always gets in the way; others flip down, but flip immediately back up three quarters of the way, meaning you have to perform some sort of origami jujitsu with your fingers, just to get a USB drive in. Vendors, for the love of all that is holy, port covers are a bad idea.
The amount of ports hidden behind these flaps is slightly above average for the size of the laptop: three USB 3.0, HDMI, 100Mbit Ethernet, a headset jack and an SD card reader.
The screen is a middle-of-the-road TN-based affair, clocking in at 1366x768. It's an LG display, which seems to have better saturation than its Chimei-sourced brother on the Inspiron 14z.
Dell is still persisting with its "Stage" software, the dock and weather portions, in particular, getting in the way of usual Windows 7 operation. One of the things we're hoping Windows 8 will decimate is all the vendor software that simply duplicates already existing Windows functions, but in a different wrapper. While there is a decent whack of crapware here, none of it, apart from Dell Stage, really gets in your face and can be uninstalled quietly and easily.
At the top right, under the screen, there are three hardware buttons: one customisable, one to load laptop settings and one to change the audio profile. We had to install updated audio drivers in order for the audio mode button to do anything. The Dell Audio control panel does help set up custom sound profiles, but the 13z never manages to get beyond sounding like an old FM radio. Bring your headphones.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Technically, the 13z isn't an ultrabook, but it's certainly specced like one. The Core i3 in our review model though, puts it at quite the disadvantage performance-wise, compared to the rest of the pool. Another AU$100 would see a Core i5 3317U inside, which should put it near the Vaio T in performance.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Inspiron 13z only includes a 4-cell, 49WHr battery, which sees it trip to the bottom of the pack.
In its Core i3 incarnation, the Inspiron 13z nicely slots into the role of throw-about, entry level laptop, perfect for those who really just want to do a bit of web browsing, watch movies and do office-like tasks. This is reflected in its price and performance. If you need more grunt, you can always choose a faster processor, as well — but if this sounds like an appealing path to you, we'd suggesting spending a bit more again to grab something with longer battery life.