Hardware: day-to-day tasks
Dell has done a pretty good job building the Inspiron 14z, which is housed in a plastic and aluminium casing (the hood and keyboard surround are finished in aluminium). All the various parts of the product sit together well and the only real flaw is that the keyboard bends down a bit when you push the keys.
The keyboard is pleasant to type with and the keys are a nice size. Typing feels instinctive, although the keys are a little noisier than average.
The touchpad has multitouch technology allowing basic smartphone-style controls such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom. Although we prefer the larger touchpad in the XPS 14z, this one is still accurate and doesn't stick to your finger or inhibit glide.
The webcam is decent enough. While the image does speckle with digital noise, it's still reasonably detailed—black parts of the image aren't flooded and movement is reproduced well. It's perfectly fine for face-to-face chat and video-conferencing, so you won't need to buy a separate webcam.
Connections cover all the bases for day-to-day computing, with three USB ports (2 x 3.0 and 1 x 2.0), an Ethernet port (hidden behind a cover around the back of the notebook), a DVD rewriter drive, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort video outputs, a headphones socket and a memory card reader.
Although it doesn't get too hot (after all, there's no graphics card to keep cool), the Inspiron 14z does get a little bit noisy when you work its components hard. It'll be noticeable in a very quiet place (like a library), but in a room with even low levels of background noise it won't be a problem.
Temperature readings for the Dell Inspiron 14z with the components working hard.
Readings taken with a Fluke Ti25 camera
Ethernet and power ports
Mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 2.0, SD card reader
DVD drive, headphones, USB 3.0 (X 2)
Processing Power: good performances
The Inspiron 14z we tested had an Intel Core i5-2430M processor. Note that Dell also sells a cheaper version of this laptop with a i3-2330M CPU. Performances in the entry-level laptop therefore won't be quite as good as in the model we tested, but they'll still be perfectly adequate for the same kind activities. The slower CPU means that processing times will be longer, but in turn means that battery life is likely to be a bit better than in this more powerful model.
The Inspiron 14z has a Core i5-2430M CPU—a new Intel Core i5 processor that seems to be popular at the moment, and which we first saw in the Samsung NP3009E7A. Our tests have shown this CPU to be a great all-rounder. Office computing and web browsing are a walk in the park for this processor, and it's still reasonably fast with more power-hungry programs like video editing, encoding and 3D modelling software.
The Inspiron 14z launches Windows 7 in 44 seconds. It then takes between 5 and 10 seconds to start up various the programs and connect to a Wi-Fi network. Switching the laptop off fully takes 15 seconds.
Gaming: soon out of its depthWith no separate graphics card, this laptop has to make do with the video capabilities of its integrated chipset. While this is great for playing HD video (720p or 1080p), it's soon out of its depth in more recent games. You're limited to older, less powerful games like Left for Dead, otherwise you'll have to turn the graphics detail and resolution down a fair bit.
Audio: decent enoughAlthough this laptop doesn't deliver amazing audio, it does a decent enough job. The speakers and audio processing system give a clear, clean output even if it lacks power. That's already more than can be said for many laptop speakers!
The audio connection is a bit more disappointing—first of all it's only a headphones out socket, and it doesn't double up as a microphone entry. The connection is clean and clear, but you'll have to buy a USB headset if you want to use a microphone.