For mainstream laptop owners, the Dell Inspiron is one of the most common products on the market. Traditionally available in a huge number of configurations with many optional features and flexible pricing, the Inspiron serves as a jack-of-all-trades among laptops, but isn't a master of anything in particular.
The Inspiron R is a slightly new design iteration to the regular Inspiron series, with slightly sleeker colors and touches that make it look a bit more like a Studio series laptop. While those changes are largely cosmetic, the overall feel of the new Inspiron is a bit better than what came before.
Available in a variety of configurations ranging from 14 inches to 17 inches and at prices from low to somewhat high-end, the landscape of Inspiron R laptops looks ready to cover users across a wide middle scale. Our Inspiron 14R, a 14-inch laptop with an Intel Core i3 processor and dedicated ATI Radeon HD 5470 graphics, is a good all-around machine for a mainstream user, at a relatively reasonable cost about $800. We've seen slightly better values from manufacturers such as Samsung, but at least the Inspiron is not overpriced.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$780 / $479|
|Processor||2.27 GHz Intel Core i3 M350|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1,333 MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.0 x 9.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.1/5.8 pounds|
Like Dell's previous Inspirons, plastic is the dominate construction materials 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. The R comes in a metallic Mars Black, and for $40 extra, you can get it in Peacock Blue, Tomato Red, and Promise Pink. The glossy material doesn't attract fingerprints as much as we expected, but the lid's plastic flexes slightly.
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 like on Apple's MacBooks--you can directly raise and lower volume without simultaneously pressing the "FN" button. 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. Overall, the Inspiron R's keyboard-touch pad experience is better than average.
The LED-backlit 14.1-inch glossy screen has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution that matches most laptop displays around 13 inch 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. The "SRS premium sound" label on lower-right corner of the screen initially made us shrug, but at least the audio experience had enough oomph to encourage watching TV shows and movies using the speakers.
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 and 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 is a 1.3-megapixel Webcam for video conferencing and taking pictures. The camera has a decent frame rate and an 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.
|Dell Inspiron 14R||Average for category [Midsize]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI-out||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The 14R has a good number of ports and I/O connections, including HDMI, eSATA, and an internal Bluetooth antenna. However, because of its thick-bottomed design, the Inspiron's ports are scattered around the sides and back of the laptop. One USB and the VGA port along with the power plug are located on the backside, which could be convenient for laptops used as desktop replacements, but tends to be awkward for travel and more casual use.
Dell includes 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive in the Inspiron 14R we reviewed, which are above-average specs for a mainstream laptop. With our configuration, the laptop's cost came to $780 on Dell's Web site after instant savings, plus an extra $40 for the red color, bringing it to $820. Inspiron 14R laptops start as low as $479, but you can forget about Core i-series CPUs at that price: the entry-level models have a puny Pentium P6000 processor.
Most Intel Core i3 laptops use the same CPU, so it's not a surprise that most Core i3 laptops we've seen have similar performance. It's a great affordable processor, capable of better-than-the-average-Core 2 Duo multitasking and video streaming performance. The Inspiron 14R configurations top out with a Core i5 option for those who crave increased speed.
Even better, this particular Inspiron 14R configuration has a dedicated graphics in the form of a ATI Radeon HD 5670 GPU. When playing Unreal Tournament III, its video performed at 72.3 frames per second at 1,200x768-pixel resolution, or 55.9fps in its 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, both are very respectable numbers. We also tried the recently-released Transformers: War for Cybertron and found it playable, though somewhat prone to choppiness. This graphics setup is perfect for casual and mainstream users, and is more than capable of playing most mainstream games. Hardcore gamers, of course, should consider another option. Slightly less expensive 14R options are available with only Intel integrated HD graphics for those who prefer to eschew gaming for savings.