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Happily, it isn't all doom and gloom for the Inspiron. As one might expect for a company with a strong foothold in the PC LCD market, the screen on this Inspiron is very impressive. It has a glossy finish which boosts contrast levels, producing pleasing black levels for excellent video viewing. Though this model has a 1,440 x 900 resolution screen, you can also opt for a lower resolution 1,280 x 800 panel or a more expensive 1,680 x 1,050 panel – an option I'd be sorely tempted by.
Another particularly impressive feature of the notebook is the keyboard, which is both nicely arranged and lovely to type on thanks to some crisp and responsive keys. There is very little by way of compromise to be found, with the Page Up/Down, Home and End keys arranged down the right hand side, with a slight gap between these and the Return key to avoid any tedious accidental presses.
In addition Dell bundles a very smart looking Bluetooth headset, which features a convenient fold away design and is charged via mini-USB to USB cable. Pairing the headset is relatively simple and on the right hand cup there are control buttons, allowing you to adjust volume, skip tracks and Play/Pause. Audio quality isn't too bad either with some decent bass production, though things can get a little muddy in the mid-range. All in all though they're quite a nice sweetener to the package, and will doubtless please the great majority who aren't too concerned with audio fidelity.
Still, a pair of headphones doesn't go too far to remedying the fact that the new Inspiron doesn't represent great value. As noted earlier, our review sample sports a somewhat unbalanced specification, but even configuring different options doesn't do much to improve the value of the range. If, for example, you spec something as near as possible to that of Acer's Aspire 5920 you'll be paying around £150 more, and that's without Turbo Memory, HDMI, S/PDIF or Dolby Home Theatre. To be fair to Dell this isn't a straight comparison since its systems are built to the buyers spec, but the Acer is the competition and that competition is fierce.
For me the ace up Dell's sleeve is without a doubt its display options, which are far more varied than those of its competitors. Were one, for example, to take this system and remove the HSDPA but upgrade both the CPU to a Core 2 Duo T7300 and display to a 1,680 x 1,050 panel, you'll still pay slightly less, at around £1,085, and gain greater performance and superior desktop real estate. Obviously options for a Blu-ray drive may also be attractive, though with the format wars still in full swing it would take a brave person to invest in it just yet.