With a brushed aluminium look in either red or black, Dell's Inspiron 14z is not an ultrabook. It is reasonably thin, though, and the keyboard and screen are reasonably nice. Being a 14-inch laptop, it's quite comfortable to use as well, the 1366x768 display, wrist rest and everything else just feel perfectly in proportion.
The mouse buttons do have the accolade of being one of the worst we've used, however — horrifically mushy and far too difficult to get a response out of. The ports along the side are also hidden under annoying flaps, one of the major sins committed by laptop makers. Accessibility drops massively as they simply get in the way, making connections more of a chore than they already are. Really, we don't mind a bit of dust, Dell.
The ports they obscure and frustrate are quite standard for the size: USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, a headset jack, HDMI and mini-DisplayPorts, and under its own dedicated flap from hell, a gigabit Ethernet port on the back.
Dell's included its Stage software here, too. It's essentially a dock and thumping great weather widget that launches various applications for music, photos and video. It's not a bad front end at all, but the individual apps do take quite some time to load, and it's all much better suited to a touchscreen. For us it's all a little "Yo dawg, we heard you liked operating systems so we put an operating system in your operating system", but it may appeal to some.
Inside is a Core i5 2430, 4GB RAM, a 750GB hard drive and Intel HD Graphics. Firing up 3DMark06 scored a decent 3709, considering the Intel HD Graphics inside. PCMark05 showed a bigger impact at 7546, and with all power-saving settings turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and a video played back, the battery lasted a good two hours and 49 minutes.
Walking finely down the portability/performance line, the 14z shows some chops. Unfortunately, the usability is significantly impacted by the choice to cover all the ports with pointless, obstructing flaps and the inclusion of simply terrible mouse buttons. Hopefully, Dell will take another shot at refining the formula once the ultrabooks start wheeling out.
At the time of writing, the reviewed configuration of the Inspiron 14z was exclusively available at JB Hi-Fi.