The lid comes in a choice of lunar grey or fire red. It and the contours of the keyboard are made of brushed aluminium and the edges are lined with a more traditional grey plastic. All in all, the look is sober, but not austere. On a student's desk, as on a professional's desk, it won't look out of place.
The keyboard's chiclet keys are low-lying, but quiet. The keys are backlit with two selectable levels of brightness to provide optimal working conditions when in low lighting. We didn't find any major problems with the keyboard, but we were disappointed to see that Dell didn't make use of the empty space on either side of the keyboard to add a numeric keypad, which is a rather common feature on laptops this size.
The 10 x 5.5 cm touchpad provides fairly smooth finger movements and your fingers never stick to the surface. It doesn't collect many smudges and it won't require much upkeep to keep it looking good.
Like all computers sold with Windows 8 pre-installed, the Inspiron 15z recognises all the new gestures. However, to show you how to do them, Dell only describes the gestures in a brief sentence (whereas Sony gives you videos and illustrations).
The Inspiron 15z has four USB 3.0 ports, an RJ45 port, an HDMI out, an SD card reader and a headphone/microphone combo jack for a headset. On the right-hand side is a DVD burner (or optional Blu-ray player).
There's nothing major missing in the connectivity department, but we do have a minor issue with the audio port. A separate microphone jack would have been more practical than just a combo jack. As is, if you want to use an external mic, a headset is your only option. Or you can use a USB microphone, but that will also slow down the processor, as it solicits the CPU and not the audio card or chipset.
The Inspiron 15z manages heat fairly well—even when executing processor-heavy tasks and benchmarks, the chassis never goes above 36° C (97° F), so the components should fare well over time. It has more trouble keeping the noise in check, though with the fans blowing at 40 dB(A) when you stress the components. In an otherwise silent room (like the one we test in), where the ambient noise is just 33.9 dB(A), the Inspiron 15z will not go unnoticed. In our office in the next room over, where we have other computers and gadgets running, it blends in with the hum.
Surprisingly for a Dell product, we were disappointed with the sound on the Inspiron 15z. We found nearly 6% distortion (the limit is usually 1%), due to poor control of the high volume.
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered
The speakers, on the other hand, lack volume. In a noisy setting you have to lean in to hear music or a movie. This means less saturation, but the fidelity could also be much better.
We can safely say that, as far as the Inspiron 15z goes, the partnership between Dell and Skullcandy has not paid off.
Unfortunately, the 1366 x 768 display doesn't make up for the audio's shortcomings. The average contrast ratio is a paltry 450:1 and the colours are cruelly inaccurate (Delta E = 11.1), with heavy blue overtones and a colour temperature of 10,000 kelvins, where 6,500 is ideal.
The screen's glossy surface will be a problem when using the Inspiron 15z outdoors. With maximum screen brightness of a mere 180 cd/m², it won't be able to fight against reflections and glare coming from direct light sources (the sun, a lamp, etc.).
Please Note:The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 6 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset, a 500 GB hard drive (5400 rpm) and a 32 GB solid-state drive. Whereas the comments above refer to all models of the Dell Inspiron 15z, the observations below apply solely to the configuration we tested, as each model has different specifications (see inset). Individual components may also vary depending on the country/region you live in.
The Inspiron 15z has the same processor as the Samsung Series 9 900X3C, and both give very similar processing speeds, despite the fact that the Dell runs Windows 8 and has two extra gigs of RAM. It isn't the very fastest computer of its kind, but it will successfully execute any type of task, from 3D modelling to video encoding.
The 6 GB of RAM and small, 32 GB ExpressCache SSD offer great overall responsiveness. Startup takes 15 seconds and shutdown takes 10. Waking the computer up from standby is practically instantaneous.
When running video games the Intel HD 4000 quickly exceeds its comfort zone. It's perfect for decoding HD movies, but for the very few big, new games the HD 4000 is capable of running, you'll have to turn the picture quality all the way down to get any decent gameplay.
Mobility / Battery Life
With 4 ½ hours' battery life, the Inspiron 15z lasts 45 minutes longer than the Samsung Series 3 NP355V5C. That's respectable, but it isn't really enough to let you take the computer out of the house. What drives that point home even further is its 2.16 kg. You can carry that weight around comfortably for an hour or two, but personally, I wouldn't want to go on a several-hour hike carrying the thing.
- Good processing power
- Lots of connectivity
- Comfortable keyboard
- Big touchpad
- 4 1/2 hour battery life
- Overall responsiveness
- Audio needs work
- Display (inaccurate colours & low contrast)
- Glossy TN panel (narrow vertical viewing angles)
- No numeric keypad
- Very low gaming capabilities
It's too bad Dell didn't do more for the Inspiron 15z's audio and display, because the only selling points it really has left are connectivity, processing power and battery life, which isn't much for a sector as competitive as the 15.6-inch ultrabook market.