Dell has plenty of experience designing chiclet keyboards and the typing experience offered by the Inspiron 14z is nice for what is still a fairly modestly priced machine. Keyboard layout is good, with just the right amount of spacing between the matt keys. Feedback is also decent, with adequate travel and a nicely defined click. While it’s no match for the desktop-like quality of Lenovo’s ThinkPad range, we’d happily use it for hours of word-processing. Our only real complaint is that the spacebar can be a little difficult to hit as it’s recessed and very close to the palm rests’ edge.
The touchpad is a little small but not so much as to affect usability. What’s more the surface is really nice under your fingers and it’s accurate and sensitive. However, the otherwise responsive and well positioned buttons are incredibly stiff. This doesn’t make them difficult to use per se but they’re not quite as effortless to tap as we’d like. It’s a real shame to see a flaw this obvious slipping into what should be a well-worn design (with it sharing many elements with the long-running XPS range).
Unfortunately, we found the Inspiron 14z’s 14in screen to be significantly worse than that found on the XPS 14z, despite sharing what appears to be the same DNA and 1,366 x 768 resolution. Viewing angles are equally mediocre, but we came across artefacts and banding here. Black levels were the worst offender, with subtle shadow details simply invisible – in fact, the display nearly failed to distinguish the fourth-darkest shade on our greyscale test, which is the poorest performance we’ve seen in years. Then again, this machine is at least following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the 13z, in this regard.
Combined with annoying reflections from the glossy panel finish, this is quite frankly a laptop display to avoid if you care about visual entertainment rather than merely productivity. We strongly suggest you you try before you buy if possible.
Audio isn’t quite as disappointing, with this Inspiron’s stereo speakers managing clear trebles and a bit of detail if the volume is kept low. However, turn things up and you’re looking at (or rather, hearing) some noticeable distortion, while bass rarely progresses far past tinny. In other words, headphones are not necessary but still strongly recommended.