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We can't put our finger on it, but something about Dell's Inspiron 13Z makes it feel old. It's got a reflective, brushed aluminium interior and exterior, with a black glossy bezel around the 13.3-inch, 1366x768 monitor. It's made of soft curves, and the hinge sits inside the laptop body itself, rather than being external.
Open it up and there's edge-to-edge keys, with the right and left side stepped down to provide tactile feedback on where your fingers are. A large, multi-touch Synaptics pad sits at the bottom, and as usual anything but two-finger scroll is a bit much for it in the multi-touch stakes, and the excess features are best left off. Speakers have better tonal quality than usual, but very little volume, so you'll still be restricted to headphones or a dedicated speaker set when listening to music.
There are three USB ports supplied, one of which is integrated with an eSATA port. An SD card reader is included, as are headphone and microphone jacks and a Realtek 100Mb Ethernet port, which annoyingly disables when you don't have a cable plugged in. While this saves power, the option to tell the computer not to turn it off doesn't work, which could make troubleshooting a pain. HDMI and Mini DisplayPort outs are on the rear hidden by a flap, while wireless communications are offered in the form of Bluetooth and 802.11n, although the latter is 2.4GHz only.
Internally, our sample ran a Core i3 U330 @ 1.2GHz, with 4GB RAM, a 320GB hard drive and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5430 for graphics.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is the selected OS, and includes McAfee for its security software, something that is desperately trying to become the most annoying, nagging security suite on the block. Dell has also bundled in Roxio Burn, Skype and Windows Live Essentials, which means a Windows Live bar has also been inserted into Internet Explorer. Dell has included its vastly annoying dock as well, something we uninstalled immediately.
The 13z sits in the space between entry level and mid-weight, and the benchmarks play this out. A score of 3105 in 3DMark06 tells us that the system can handle older games, but definitely not newer titles. The PCMark05 score of 4099, however, means it should be fine for web browsing and general office productivity work.
As a result of this modest performance though, battery life was excellent, clocking two hours exactly with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum, and an XviD video played back at full screen.
Dell's Inspiron 13z falls in the cheap and cheerful category — if we had the same money to spend though, we feel Acer's Aspire 5 series offers better value, even if they don't come in the same form factor.