The Inspiron 15R is a middle-of-the-range laptop, but Dell certainly didn't skimp on the finish. The brushed aluminium lid and chassis don't pick up many smudges or dust, but the glossy plastic of the keyboard panel does.
Unlike the Inspiron 15R Special Edition, Dell managed the space better this year and was able to include a numeric keypad. The chiclet keys feel good to type on. The travel is a bit long, but they rebound just right. We only wish Dell had made them backlit. The Fn key activates shortcuts for managing connected external monitors, airplane mode, the screen brightness and multimedia playback controls (play/pause, next, previous, volume).
The touchpad offers a nice surface for tapping and swiping and recognises all the usual commands such as two-finger scrolling and zooming and the Windows 8 touch gestures. Physical left- and right-clicks are located just below the pad.
The touchscreen may not be the most responsive on the market, but it does what you tell it to. It's precise enough for navigating through the Windows 8 Start Screen, but on the standard desktop it takes some effort to successfully select links and folders.
While the optional touchscreen is an upgrade from last year's model, the connectivity has been downgraded. The Special Edition had four USB 3.0 ports and this one has two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports. Last year's model had VGA and HDMI outputs, whereas this year's has only HDMI, and the separate microphone and headphone jacks have been merged into a single combo jack. Both years' models also have an Ethernet port, an SD card reader and a DVD drive.
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
The Inspiron 15R manages its heat quite well, expelling the hot air (max. 40°C) through the left side so your lap doesn't get too hot when you have the computer sitting on it. The fan produces 37 dB(A) of noise at most, so with just a small amount of background noise the computer becomes unnoticeable.
No surprises here. The speakers have okay volume that's purposely limited below a certain level in order to allow the audio treatment software to do its job without creating saturation. Only thing is, the treatment doesn't do all that much, so what you're left with is just a big laptop with disproportionately low volume.
The audio in/out, however, is clean, tidy and loud enough to enjoy music and movies with. Again, there's space for Dell to have put a separate in and out, but for some reason they decided to fuse them into one combo jack.
Configuration:The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i5-4200U with 6 GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset, a screen with 1366 x 768 resolution and a 750 GB hard drive. The comments above refer to all versions of the Inspiron 15R (2013), but the Display Quality, Processor Power, Gaming and Battery Life sections below apply only to the model we tested. Available models may also differ depending on the country/region you live in (see inset below).
The screen is the low point. None of our measurements on this 1366 x 768-pixel display turned out worthwhile. The brightness maxes out at 200 cd/m², so any ambient light causes reflections and glare. The menial 250:1 contrast ratio only makes the TN screen's narrow viewing angles feel more cramped than they already are.
It's the exact opposite story with the processor. The Intel Core i5-4200U is the same excellent CPU Sony used in the Vaio Pro 13. It allows the Inspiron 15R to undertake any task at more than reasonable speeds—10% faster, in fact, than the Vaio Pro 13. Here it actually performs similarly to the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A's higher-performance Core i7-3517U.
The Inspiron 15R takes 25 seconds to start up and 13 seconds to shut down. Instead of (or even better, in addition to) the 750 GB hard drive, Dell should have used a solid-state drive, which would have easily halved the startup and shutdown times.
The Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset (3DMark06: 6422) isn't powerful enough for any major gaming. It can run smaller games like FIFA 13, but not bigger ones like StarCraft II, Medal of Honor: Warfighter or BioShock Infinite. To get fluid gameplay you would have to turn all the quality settings down, and even then...
The upside is that the Inspiron 15R plays HD videos without a hitch.
Mobility / Battery Life
The Inspiron 15R has satisfactory battery life for a 15.6-inch laptop: five hours of movie watching (in airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in so as not to use the speakers). That puts this computer's battery in the upper average of laptops we've reviewed, although, like every other laptop on the market, it's miles behind the big daddy—the new 13" MacBook Air decimates all the others with 14 hours and 25 minutes. Normally, five hours would be great for people who carry their laptop around with them during the day, but unfortunately it weighs 2.32 kg and is 3 cm thick, which is less than ideal for mobile lifestyles.
- Nice finish
- Five-hour battery life
- Processing power
- Low heat and noise
- Low quality display
- Low gaming capabilities
This year's Dell Inspiron 15R is an inconsistent product. It has great processor performance, a very nice body and good battery life, but the screen and sound quality are so bad it would be hard for us to recommend it full-heartedly.