Dell Inspiron 23 review: A slim all-in-one with gaming chops

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The Good The Dell Inspiron 23 all-in-one has a very thin display, optional discrete graphics, an HDMI input, and a screen that folds all the way down like a tabletop PC.

The Bad It's expensive for something from Dell's mainstream Inspiron line and the lie-flat hinge just reminds one how inconvenient it can be to have a tabletop display permanently tethered to a power cord.

The Bottom Line A handful of worthwhile unique features help the Dell Inspiron 23 all-in-one stand out among 23-inch desktops.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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
Price $1,399 $2,099 $949 $1,349
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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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