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The line between Dell's more budget-friendly consumer Inspiron line and its high-end XPS line has been blurring for some time. Of course, expecting these two disparate brands to stay cleanly separated is too much to ask, considering Dell's consumer lineup a few years ago included a confusing array of Inspiron, Dimension, Studio, XPS, and Studio XPS PCs (and briefly, Adamo).
That leaves us with a product like the new Inspiron 23. It's a sharp-looking 23-inch all-in-one with a 1080p touch screen, and in our review configuration, it includes a high-end fourth-gen Core i7 processor, 12GB of RAM, 1TB hybrid hard drive, and discrete AMD graphics. The look and feel is not identical to the very high-end XPS 27 we reviewed (and loved) recently, but it's very close. In fact, the Inspiron 23 even has a more useful and flexible hinge that can fold the screen down flat, almost like a tabletop PC.
Of course, it also comes with an XPS-like $1,399 price, not the first number that jumps to mind when one thinks of Dell's Inspiron brand. A stripped-down version with a fourth-gen Intel Core i3 processor starts at a still-pricey $999.
Alongside this all-in-one, Dell is also introducing a couple of other new Inspiron systems for the Fall 2013 season: the ultraportable Inspiron 11 and a big revamp of its mainstream laptop line, now called theInspiron 7000 series, available in 14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch models.
Dell claims this is the thinnest 23-inch all-in-one you can buy, and it's certainly very space-conscious, from the slim display to the small but heavy base, with ports and connections dotting three of its sides. It's almost unusual to spend time with a 23-inch all-in-one these days, as most of our recent AIO experience has been with 27-inch systems, such as Dell's excellent XPS 27(or 27-inch models from Asus, Vizio, and others), or else slightly smaller 20-inch models that double as mega-tablets, including HP's Rove 20 and Sony's Tap 20. Dell also have a player in that market, the slim 18-inch XPS 18.
If I were spending $1,399 on the Inspiron 23, I'd be tempted to add $200 and get the low-end XPS 27 all-in-one for $1,599. With that, you get a larger screen, more importantly with a 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution. But that's for a slower Core i5 processor, less RAM, and no discrete graphics.
Getting decent casual gaming performance from the AMD GPU in the Inspiron 23 is what puts it over the edge here, helping it stand out from the 23-inch all-in-one crowd. I also like the hefty arm/hinge that allows you to tilt the display back and down until it's lying flat, like a tabletop PC (although it still sits several inches above the table). That's great for board games, maps, and other living room activities.
Much like the also-new Inspiron 7000 series laptops, this looks and feels much nicer (and costs a bit more) than one might expect from the Inspiron brand. As much as I hate to even suggest that a company add layers of complication to its product lines, perhaps Dell needs to find a new brand designation somewhere between the budget Inspiron and high-end XPS where well-made semipremium products such as this can live.
|Dell Inspiron 23||Dell XPS 27||HP Pavilion Rove||Dell XPS 18|
|Display size/resolution||23-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen||27-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 touch screen||20-inch, 1,620x 900 touch screen||18-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Corei7-4700MQ||3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4770S||1.7GHz Intel Core i3-4010U||1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U|
|PC Memory||12GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||2GB AMD 8690A Graphics||2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Storage||1TB, 5,400rpm hard drive||2TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive||1TB, SSHD hard drive||1TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive|
|Optical drive||None||Blu-Ray/DVD/DVD RW combo||DVD/RW||None|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 Pro (64-bit)|
Design and features
The Dell Inspiron 23 doesn't particularly stand out from the crowd at first glance. It has an edge-to-edge glass display connected to an adjustable arm and compact metal base, just as you'd find on many other all-in-one models. The rear view shows the back of the display is matte gray with a simple Dell logo, again not really a standout.
Dig a little deeper, however, and some highlights shine through. Viewed from the side, the display is especially thin. Dell claims it's the thinnest-ever 23-inch all-in-one, and that certainly doesn't seem unreasonable, although like the iMac, the screen bows out toward the center, so the very thin view at the edge is a bit of an optical illusion, and the screen goes from 12mm at the edge to 27mm in the center.
The biggest design leap here is the arm that slim screen sits on. The wide arm is hinged at the base and display, giving you extra flexibility for moving the screen up and down, and tilting the viewing angle. You can bring the screen all the way down in front of the base, if you like that view, as seen in all-in-one systems with kickstands.
More importantly, the screen tilts all the way back, folding the stand arm underneath as it goes, so that it ends up pointing straight up from the table. That makes it a close cousin to the series of tabletop PCs we've reviewed this year, including systems such as HP Rove 20 or Dell's own XPS 18. Because of the base and arm, the screen floats several inches above your tabletop, not flush on the table like a tabletop PC or mega-tablet.
And unlike those PCs, the Inspiron 23 doesn't have a built-in battery, so moving it between, for example, a desk and a coffee table requires you to shut the system down, unplug it, and lug the entire thing, including the A/C adaptor, to its new location, then plug it in and boot it up.
As a tabletop, it's much less flexible than the new generation of battery powered all-in-ones, but you can still sit around the screen when its facing up from a table or desk and, for example, play a board game or consult a full-screen map. If you're looking for a full-time face-up PC, I'd consider one of the tabletop models with a built-in battery that can sit closer to the table's surface.
The included keyboard and mouse are the same as found on Dell's XPS 27, XPS 18, and other systems. A small USB dongle plugs into one of the ports on the base and controls both accessories. The mouse and keyboard are primarily made of plastic and won't win any design awards, but the compact keyboard makes good use of limited space, including full-size keys and a full number pad.
Multimedia functions on the keyboard are still mapped to the F-keys in an old-fashioned manner, requiring you to hold the Fn key down to, for example, raise and lower the volume. Other PC makers, such as HP, reverse those function-mapped keys so you can adjust volume and screen brightness more easily from the keyboard, although the Inspiron 23 does have screen brightness touch controls below the right side of the screen.
The 23-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is standard for a 23-inch all-in-one. Some larger models, such as Dell's own XPS 27 (which starts at only $200 more than this $1,399 configuration) trade up to better-than-HD 2,560x1,440 screens.
Covered by edge-to-edge Gorilla glass, the capacitive touch screen is responsive and looks clear and bright from any angle you'd swivel the screen to. One nice extra we sometimes see in larger all-in-ones, but not often in 23-inch models is an HDMI input, allowing you to use the display as an external display for a game console or media player.
|Dell Inspiron 23|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
There are plenty of USB ports on the base of the Inspiron 23, which gives it an advantage in this category over tabletop-style all-in-one systems, which have to fit any ports into the outer rim of the display itself.
The different configurations of the Inspiron 23 start at $999, and for that you'll get a still usable Intel Core i3 CPU, but miss out on the discrete AMD graphics, big 12GB of RAM, and the hybrid hard drive that combines 1TB of HDD space with a 32GB mSATA SSD.
Our $1,399 includes those upgrades, and a powerful 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ CPU, which is part of Intel's latest fourth-generation Core processor series. Because this system doesn't have an internal battery, it misses out on the biggest advantages of those new CPUs (also known by the code name Haswell), but modest performance gains over last year's Intel CPUs can be expected.
A family friendly 23-inch all-in-one desktop probably doesn't need a high-end Core i7 processor, but the Inspiron 23 made excellent use of it in our benchmark tests, scoring very close to Dell's much more expensive XPS 27, which used an even faster version of Intel's latest Core i7.
One unexpected bonus is that our Inspiron 23 includes an optional discrete graphics card from AMD, the Radeon 8690. It's not a high-end gamer-centric card, but performed nicely at casual gaming if you keep your expectations modest. In our tough Metro: Last Light test, it ran at 4.9 frames per second, but turn the detail levels down to low and you'll get 15.9 frames per second in the same test, both at full 1,920x1,080 resolution. Skyrim ran well at medium settings, as did a host of casual games downloaded from the Windows 8 app store, including the new Halo: Spartan Assault. This ain't going to be a gamer's machine, but at least you don't have to give up gaming entirely.
Without its two standout features, it would be easy to dismiss the Dell Inspiron 23 as just another upscale all-in-one. But the lie-flat screen makes it a system that can fit into use cases (including group activities) that other desktops can't, and the optional AMD graphics mean you can take advantage of our current renaissance in PC gaming, as long as you're not expecting to run games at their higher detail levels.
With those two features, plus the slim display and not-inexpensive as-configured price, this really does feel more like a product from Dell's XPS line than its overly broad mainstream Inspiron line.
|iTunes and Handbrake|
Dell Inspiron 23
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 12GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB AMD 8690A Graphics; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive
Dell XPS 27
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Dell XPS 18
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive
HP Envy Rove 20
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4010U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip;1TB SSHD hard drive