Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series notebook
A big and roomy notebook for the home that features a 4K screen
- Slim and relatively light for a 15.6-inch notebook
- Soft and backlit keys
- Touchpad was jumpy
- Screen too glossy
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Dell’s 15.6-inch Inspiron 15 7000 Series (Inspiron 15-7548) is a notebook for a home that doesn’t require a traditional desktop PC. It’s also rather slim considering its size, and at 2.13kg is not overly heavy to lug around when portability is needed. The highlight of our test model’s configuration is a 4K (ultra-high definition) screen -- but why would you want such a screen?
A pixel-heavy screen
On a 15.6-inch area, the native 3840x2160-pixel resolution will make text look like distant objects in Windows 8.1's desktop, leading to uncomfortable reading and sometimes painful navigation. For this reason, Dell ships the laptop with the text and icons set to a large size within the Windows display settings, making for a more comfortable overall user experience.
However, there are still instances where various windows and dialogue boxes from third-party applications won’t scale properly, and will still look small. Running games can be problematic on the laptop’s screen, too, with some games appearing windowed rather than filling up the screen; if there is no setting in the game to force full-screen viewing, then the resolution of the panel has to be changed in Windows to the resolution at which you want to run the game. At this point, we'll mention that changing the resolution to Full HD (1920x1080) looks fine on this screen.
We were forced to do this when running Metro 2033 Redux, a game which the laptop’s AMD Radeon R7 M270 struggled with, offering only about 15 frames per second at the Full HD resolution and with a low detail setting. For all intents and purposes, this isn’t a gaming laptop, but the discrete Radeon adapter does give more graphics punch than the integrated Intel HD processing. 3DMark’s Cloud Gate test got 6352, and Fire Strike got 1244.
What the high resolution of the screen is good for is viewing and editing images. High-resolution photos that you’ve snapped can appear with more detail visible on this screen than on screens with lower resolutions, which can make for an easier time editing; though you might still have to strain your eyes to see tools and menu text in your programs.
The viewing of 4K content is also something that suits the native capability of the screen, with content such as TimeScapes fitting it perfectly. Colour output has a lean towards blue. Its range from bright to dark areas is good, though, with all of out test photos appearing properly illuminated at both ends of the spectrum.
Since it’s also a touch panel, the finish on the screen is glossy and prone to reflecting lights located above and behind you in your environment. It can make the viewing of photos and videos a little difficult. We constantly had to shift the notebook or tilt the screen in order to avoid reflections from lights while using it in our office environment.
The device that we received for review contained a mishmash of a configuration that wasn’t available to buy at the time of this review. The AMD Radeon R7 M270 graphics adapter is standard across the range, as is the fifth generation Intel Core i7-5500U CPU, but the 4K screen is reserved for the top model in the range, which also comes with a 256GB solid state drive (SSD) and 16GB of RAM. Our test model came with a 1TB, 5400rpm hard drive rather than an SSD, and 8GB of RAM.
In other words, we received a partly entry level model with a 4K screen. We should be thankful for that, considering the entry level model is usually paired with a 1366x768-pixel screen -- though it has a much lower standard price of $1699. The middle model has a standard price of $2299 and the high-end model $2499, though 40 per cent and 30 per cent ‘Cash Off’ deals at the time of writing make them the ones to go for. (We've left the price as TBA for this review as we could not accurately price it on Dell's Web site).
The middle model also comes with a 1TB hard drive, but includes 16GB of RAM and has a Full HD, IPS (in-plane switching) screen -- that one is a good compromise if you just want a basic machine for home and don’t require the speed of an SSD or the higher resolution of the 4K screen.
The 5th gen Core i7-5500U is an ultra-low voltage processor that’s cooled by a fan, and it has been designed to fit into laptops of a thin nature. Despite this being a 15.6-inch laptop, its base is 15mm thick when you include the rubber strips on the base that limit the laptop from sliding around on a desk, and these also keep it a little elevated from the desk so that the under-side vents can get some air.
This CPU performed as expected in our Blender 3D rendering test, recording a time of 40sec. It felt responsive overall during everyday usage, but tended to be slow just after booting. Dell installs a few things that run in the background by default, and you’ll do well to assess these programs and remove what you don’t want to use.
Its storage is plentiful at 1TB (922GB of formatted, usable space), but also slow. In CrystalDiskMark, sequential read tasks averaged 105.3 megabytes per second (MBps), while sequential write tasks averaged 104.2MBps. An SSD would make this system a much more enjoyable prospect, though you would have to rely on external storage from USB or network drives for the majority of your storage. If you use this computer mostly at home, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Battery life wasn’t too long. In our usual test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness, and loop an MP4, Full HD video file, the Inspiron lasted 3hr 51min. This is despite having a large 58 Watt-hour battery installed in its belly. The main power hog is the pixel-heavy screen. On the no 4K models, the standard battery is 43 Watt hours.
User comfort is hit and miss on this Inspiron. We’ve already mentioned the screen as being hard to view when the native resolution with small text and icons is used, but the touchpad can also be a pain. We experienced a lot of jumpiness from the pointer, as it often deviated from the spot we wanted to tap on when we lifted our finger to perform the tap. It made for frustrating navigation and we ended up resorting to a proper mouse.
A driver program to adjust the touchpad's settings is not installed. The only thing we could adjust was the mouse pointer speed in the Windows Control Panel. Another thing we noticed was the shiny (chamfered) border of the metal chassis around the touchpad, which reflected light and caused distraction now and then.
Typing is aided through keys that are soft and backlit, and we have no major issues with them. The central location of the keyboard on the chassis makes for a luxurious feel due to there being so much space on either side of the keys and the palm rest, and it seems like wasted space, though perhaps the only thing that could have been installed to use the space is a number pad. It takes some time to get used to the spacing of the keyboard.
Speakers are located on the underside of the chassis and fire downwards, but they produce a decent enough sound that can make for enjoyable listening. If you listen to them while resting the notebook in your lap, then they will be muffled. You can also plug in some headphones, or connect to a wireless speaker system via Bluetooth 4.0.
Wi-Fi is handled by an Intel Wireless-AC 7265 module that supports 802.11ac speeds and has 2x2 antennas. On the low and mid-range units, it’s an Intel AC 3160 module instead with 1x1 antennas, so the top model gives the best wireless performance.
Other features of the Inspiron 7000 Series include three USB 3.0 ports (one of which can charge devices when the laptop is off), full-sized HDMI, a full-sized SD card slot (cards go all the way in), a 1-megapixel webcam, and dual-array microphones. The dual-array microphones are a feature that is talked about as making laptops Windows 10-ready. This is because they can provide better performance when using the Cortana personal assistant.
What’s the verdict
If a big laptop is on your shopping list, the Inspiron 15 7000 is a contender, but a quirky one. It can take time to get used to its design; the lack of a number pad on the keyboard makes it unlike big laptops we’ve seen from other vendors, and gives the notebook an over-sized feel. The 4K screen is great for viewing photos, but its reflective finish was an annoyance. For navigation, the touchpad wasn’t good to us.
Go for this 15.6-inch notebook only if you don’t want a number pad, and will be using it mostly on a desk with a mouse attached.
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