The anodised aluminium lid has a honeycomb pattern that you also find surrounding the keyboard. The rest of the chassis is made of grey or black plastic, making the whole quite fetching. The body is scratch-resistant and we didn't detect any play or friction between the different sections.
The chiclet keys are set low, but they're quiet and comfortable to type on. We would have preferred to have a numeric keypad, which are pretty common on laptops this size, and they honestly could have made an effort to make the keyboard on the whole come off less plasticky. This is a problem on a lot of Dell laptops, such as the Inspiron 14z.
The multitouch touchpad has a nice surface with matte black coating that doesn't collect smudges. It supports all the most common two- and three-finger commands (you can find the configuration and a demonstration in the touchpad's driver). Add to that its smooth and precise movements, and what you have is a comfortable touchpad.
In the same vein, the connectivity is just right for the average person's needs. The Inspiron 15R has four USB 3.0 ports (two on each side), an RJ45 port, an SD card reader in front, a headphone jack, a microphone jack and two video outputs (VGA and HDMI).
The model we tested (see inset) has a DVD burner, but no Blu-ray player.
The Inspiron 15R SE is quiet at startup (35 dB(A)) and only gets slightly louder when running (41 dB(A)), so much so that with just a little background noise or music in the room, it becomes totally inaudible. And it handles heat just as well. The hottest it gets is 44° C (111° F). However, we would have preferred that the hot air not evacuate right where it hits your knees when you have it sitting on your lap. A better location would have been between the body and the screen.
Delta E (colour accuracy measurement)
Speaking of the screen, it's terrible. First of all, the glossy lining plus the maximum brightness of 230 cd/m² turns the display into a reflection extravaganza. Then there's the colour accuracy, or lack thereof, with an average Delta E of 10.3 (where an ideal figure would be below 3). But let's not forget the ridiculously low contrast ratio of 250:1, when most high-end screens go up to 800:1 or over. This greatly reduces the viewing angles, which were limited in the first place just by it being a TN display.
The 15R Special Edition has a quality headphone output with good dynamics and no signs of distortion. The sound is unsaturated and has good amplitude.
Green section = good / orange section = tolerable / white section = too heavily altered
The speakers, however, are different story. The sound saturates almost immediately. If possible, you're much better off using the headphone output to run the sound straight to an external speaker system.
Our Review ModelThe model we were sent for review features an Intel Core i5-3210M processor, 6 GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon HD 7730M video card and a 1 TB hard drive (5400 RPM). Whereas the comments above refer to all versions of the Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition, the observations below apply only to the configuration we tested, as each model has different specifications. Individual components may vary depending on the country/region you live in (see inset).
Our version of the Inspiron 15R Special Edition has an Intel Core i5-3210M processor. Giving similar results to the i5-2450M, it executes everyday tasks such as word processing, music and web browsing flawlessly. But it also has enough computing power to quickly run more complex tasks such as photo editing, 3D modelling and video encoding.
The 1 TB hard drive (5400 RPM) provides a comfortable amount of storage, but doesn't do much to up the computer's responsiveness. A solid-state drive would have helped increase the 15R SE's response times, and you can see the difference during startup, which takes almost a minute and fifteen seconds (including time to connect to Wi-Fi). Shutdown, however, is much quicker at only 10 seconds or so.
AMD takes care of the graphics with a Radeon HD 7730M. This is a mid-range video card that makes a good combination with the screen's resolution. With 1366 x 768 pixels it can run any video game at medium to high detail without suffering lags. Of course, if you export the image to a Full HD screen, you'll have to make much greater concessions with the quality levels to play a smooth-running game.
When you start decoding video the Intel HD 4000 chipset—which consumes less power—takes over, since it's plenty powerful to handle decoding thanks to the Enduro technology (comparable to Nvidia's Optimus). The only downside to Enduro is that it asks you if you want to use the AMD card or the chipset every time you use a new programme.
Mobility / Battery Life
The 15R Special Edition's weight (2.9 kg) and dimensions don't make it ideal for people who move around a lot. Those who really want something portable will likely be drawn more towards smaller, 11.6" and 13.3" laptops. But that doesn't mean it has to stay plugged into the same outlet 24/7, either. It's still practical for moving around the house or bringing on vacation. According to our tests, the 15R SE can last 4 hours and 45 minutes during continuous video playback (with Wi-Fi turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in), which is enough to provide a good amount of mobility...
- Stays quiet
- Good gaming capabilities
- Decent battery life
- Low heat
- Good processor
- Large touchpad
- Extremely mediocre screen with reflections galore
- Could be more responsive (startup > 1 minute)
- No numeric keypad
- Speakers saturate quickly
This 15.6" laptop comes with a nicely finished chassis, excellent connectivity, good performance from the processor and video card, and decent battery life. Unfortunately, the bad speakers and heinous screen quality bring its overall score down to a bland three stars.