Review Price to be confirmed
Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook – Hands-on
Unlike the premium XPS 14z, the Inspiron 14z is at the more affordable end of Dell’s laptop range. However, you do still get a mostly metal chassis to make it look like a premium machine. Unfortunately we weren’t overly impressed with the current Dell Inspiron 14z when we reviewed it, so will its refresh fare better?
First off, let us just mention that we wish Dell weren’t pulling an Apple New iPad on us in keeping the name of this laptop the same as its predecessor, but at least both models won’t be on sale simultaneously to avoid confusion. Anyway, the New Inspiron 14z has seen a major design overhaul compared to its predecessor. Most importantly, it sheds some thickness and weight to gain Ultrabook status, though this will depend on the specs you go for when configuring one (an Ultrabook requires SSD or hybrid SSD storage). Mind you, with Ultrabook specs loosening up this machine is quite weighty even for a 14in laptop, coming in at just over 1.7kg.
The second change is that its visual appearance has altered noticeably and there’s now more metal. Rather than the humped-hinge design of its predecessor, the 2012 Inspiron 14z goes for a more symmetric, traditional look. Frankly, we must say we preferred the previous design, but that’s not to say the current one is unattractive. The gunmetal brushed aluminium lid is offset by a lighter silver edge, and this pattern is replicated when you open the laptop up. It all contrasts quite nicely with the matt black plastic screen bezel and matt/glossy keyboard.
Build quality is decent enough, though nowhere near as solid as the Dell XPS 13 or even its predecessor due to some noticeable flex. The brushed metal does a good job rejecting fingerprints, and though it’s initially a little cold to rest your hands on the metal palm-rest (the old Dell Inspiron 14z used plastic here), we have no complaints with this laptop’s ergonomics.
Connectivity is not great considering USB 3.0 seems to be standard even on cheaper Ivy Bridge-generation laptops. On the other hand, Dell does provide well for all the basics. On the left we have a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI and USB 3.0, all covered by awkward and frankly unnecessary flaps.
We imagine the recessed USB port will be an obstacle to ‘fat’ memory sticks just like those on the old Inspiron 14z were, but at least there’s a ‘normal’ USB 3.0 port on the laptop’s other side to alleviate this issue, where it’s joined by an SDXC card slot, headphone/microphone combi jack, and tray-loading optical drive.
Like with the 2011 Inspiron 14z, the chiclet keyboard on its Ultrabook successor is easy on the fingers, though backlighting is still not invited to the party. Layout is spacious and logical, while the large, matt keys give good travel and feedback. Unfortunately the experience is marred by serious flex, a problem we didn’t encounter on the older model. We have no complaints with the touchpad though, which is responsive and pleasant to the touch, while its physical buttons offer a nice click.
Like with the previous Inspiron, the 14.4in screen is not great, though again it’s important to remember we’re dealing with an affordable Ultrabook here. It’s a TN panel affair with the usual 1,366 x 768 resolution and a super-glossy finish that helps to improve perceived contrast and vibrancy but also causes lots of annoying reflections.
As with most Dell laptops, specifications are somewhat flexible. As standard you’ll get a Sandy Bridge (that’s previous generation) Core i3 processor, though this can be upgraded to Ivy Bridge with its superior performance and way better HD 4000 graphics. Speaking of, you can even opt for dedicated graphics with a Radeon HD 5770M. Up to 8GB of RAM and your choice of mechanical or hybrid storage round out the selection, and the battery should give you up 7hrs away from the mains.
Based on our first impressions, the Dell Inspiron 14z could make for a decent ‘budget’ laptop with a starting price of around $700 (that’s under £450, though we reckon prices on this side of the pond will likely be closer to £500). There’s not exactly much choice in affordable Ultrabooks that are also customisable at the moment, but we’ll have to wait and see if this is enough to get the latest Inspiron ultraportable past its flaws.
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