Introduction and design
The Inspiron range is a long-standing pillar of Dell's laptop line, so we're pleased to see a new model updated with the latest Intel hardware. It's a good-looking bit of kit, too, with a brushed metal finish across the lid.
The metallic lid and smart Dell logo get this machine off to a good start, and the look continues to the sides and base, where more metal is layered over the Dell's plastic skeleton to add a bit of sheen.
This isn't a particularly expensive notebook, though, so don't expect metal draped over every surface. The underside of the base is only covered in metal on areas where it'll be visible, and the keyboard, wrist-rest and screen bezel are all finished with underwhelming matte black plastic.
Build quality is a little more consistent. The wrist-rest barely budges, the screen feels sturdy, and the underside has a little give – but all of the components inside are well-protected. We'd have no qualms about slinging the Inspiron inside a backpack and expecting it to survive the rigours of the road, and you'll only need to use a protective sleeve if you're concerned about aesthetic damage.
The port selection throws up no surprises, with a trio of USB connections, an HDMI output and Gigabit Ethernet alongside an SD card reader. Interior access is decent: the base panel lifts away after just two screws are removed, and the memory, hard disk, battery, processor and wireless card are all easily accessible. That's good, although there isn't any room for additional hardware.
This isn't an Ultrabook or a convertible machine, which means it's chunkier than both of its main rivals. At 0.9in (23mm) thick it's a tad broader than the 0.78in (20mm) Lenovo ThinkPad X250 and the 0.86in (22mm) Asus Transformer Book Flip TP300LA, and it tips the scales at 4.4lbs (2kg) – almost 2lb more than the Lenovo and around half a pound more than the Asus.
The Scrabble-tile keyboard has a numberpad, which is a boon for productivity, and its layout is mostly fine – we're not thrilled to a see a single-height Return key, but that's our only quibble.
It's a reasonable start, but the keys themselves don't lend themselves to serious typing. The base isn't firm enough, and the keys don't have enough travel – a combination of symptoms that makes the keyboard unsatisfying, without the movement and conviction of better, pricier machines. It's fine for browsing, instant messaging and typing out emails, but that's about it.
The trackpad is initially too sensitive, which can be fixed in the Control Panel, and it's fine elsewhere – the surface is smooth and responsive, and the buttons are light and consistent.
Here's the spec sheet for the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 as provided to TechRadar:
- CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 M265
- RAM: 8GB DDR3
- Screen: 15.6-inches, 1,366 x 768, non-touch
- Storage: 1TB HDD 5,400RPM
- Optical drive: No
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, Combo audio jack, HDMI, SD card reader
- Connectivity: Intel Dual-Band Wireless – AC 7260, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: 720p Webcam
- Weight: 4.4 pounds (2kg)
- Size: 0.9 x 13.6 x 9.6-inches, 23 x 345 x 243mm (H x W x D)
Performance and display
We put this Dell offering through its paces, and here are the resulting benchmark scores:
- PCMark 8 Home: 3658
- PCMark 8 Home battery life balanced 50% screen: 3hr 21m
- PCMark 8 Home battery life power saver 25% screen: 4hr 2m
- PCMark 8 Home high performance 100% screen battery life: 3hr 1m
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 5558; Sky Diver: 4249; Fire Strike: 1211
- Cinebench R15: CPU: 245cb; Graphics: 36.83fps
One of the Dell's most impressive components is the Core i7-5500U, which is a new chip from Intel's latest range of processors: Broadwell. This new architecture serves up performance improvements, but it also places huge emphasis on better efficiency and battery life.
It's the same chip as the Asus Transformer laptop, and it's a couple of steps ahead of the Lenovo, which had a weaker Broadwell part that's a couple of hundred Megahertz slower.
The Dell performed well in our processor benchmarks. Its PCMark 8 Home result of 3,658 beat both rivals – the Lenovo ThinkPad X250 scored 2,238 points and the Asus Transformer Book Flip TP300LA managed 2,521. In Cinebench's CPU test the Dell topped out at 245 points – only three points behind the Lenovo but unable to match the Asus machine's 300 point score.
The Inspiron has an AMD Radeon R7 M265 graphics core, which gives it a leg-up on rivals that rely on Intel's integrated graphics. It's a mid-range chip with 384 stream processors, and it returned a score of 1,211 in 3DMark's tough Fire Strike test – hundreds of points better than either competitor.
It's able to outpace both rivals in games, but the Dell fell behind the competition in battery life tests. With its screen at 50% brightness and PCMark 8's Home test running it lasted for 3 hours and 21 minutes before running out of juice – twelve minutes fewer than the Lenovo, but more than an hour behind the Asus. The situation didn't improve much when we dimmed the screen to 25% brightness, with that result only increasing by less than an hour.
You'll certainly notice this machine when its components are pushed; with its processor and graphics chip running demanding benchmarks the internal fans churned out a reasonable amount of noise. If that noise is going to prove irritating then headphones are a good idea – especially because the fans in our review machine churned inconsistently even after we'd stopped benchmarking.
Despite that qualm there's no denying the well-balanced nature of the Inspiron's specification. The Core i7 processor has the grunt for demanding work software, and the Radeon graphics core is capable of playing games at middling quality settings.
Screen and speakers
The screen, though, is a disappointment. Its 1,366 x 768 resolution matches the Asus but falls behind the Lenovo's full HD panel, and it proves restrictive: it's not possible to watch 1080p movies on this panel, and working with multiple windows is difficult.
The screen won't win any awards for quality, either. Its 189cd/m2 brightness level is fine for the office but will falter outdoors, and its black level of 0.73cd/m2 is similarly disappointing – it means black tones just aren't deep enough. The resulting contrast ratio of 259:1 fails to impress and simply can't produce enough tone variation to make pictures, films and games look their best – bright white shades and dark blacks that should exhibit subtle differences tend to bleed into each other.
Colours suffer from poor accuracy levels, with a colour temperature of 7,761K that's just far too cool.
The result is a screen without the quality or resolution for serious work, with a lack of contrast and colour accuracy being its main problems. It's fine for web browsing and casual media consumption, but that's about it.
It's a similar story with the audio kit. It's got enough volume and good mid-range sounds to ensure vocals sound great, but its top-end is tinny and the bass just isn't strong enough, which means music, movies and games all lack punch.
Dell's latest system gets off to a solid start thanks to decent construction and capable core components, but mediocrity in other areas means that it can't surpass its more specialist rivals. In short, the Inspiron is only suitable as a solid all-rounder.
The Dell looks decent and has reasonable build quality and accessibility, and it's backed up by decent hardware on the inside. Its Core i7 processor has enough grunt for work and play, and it's bolstered by a mid-range AMD graphics chip that allows for modern games to be played at reasonable quality levels.
As with most Dell laptops the Inspiron is versatile elsewhere. Our $968 (about £624, AU$1,255) model can be cut down to just $510 (about £329, AU$659) if you drop down to a Core i3 processor, integrated graphics and lesser storage and memory configurations, and mid-range models with Core i5 hardware and Nvidia graphics cost $851 (about £549, AU$1,099).
In many important areas the Inspiron is merely mediocre. Its keyboard doesn't have the firmness and travel to encourage serious typing, and the screen lacks the resolution, contrast and colour accuracy for anything beyond casual use.
Battery life is middling, and its rivals remain tempting – the Lenovo offers business features for similar cash and has a 1080p screen, and the Asus is a proper convertible with better battery life.
The Dell is a good all-round machine for web browsing, light work and less demanding games, with reasonable looks and build quality alongside decent components. Other systems offer better prospects for more specialist tasks, though, so only opt for the Inspiron if you need a jack-of-all-trades notebook.