- Review Date: 09/18/2012
- Bottom line: The Dell Inspiron 13z is a stylish looking ultraportable, but its strong performance and hardware are marred by clumsy port covers and extra software.
- Pros: Stylish design. Intel Core i5-3317u processor.
- Cons: Irritating port covers. Lots of bloatware.
The Dell Inspiron 13z is a stylish looking ultraportable, with a clear design identity and reasonable price. Though not quite an ultrabook thanks to a few unchecked boxes on Intel's specification list—it's a tad too thick, and it lacks the flash cache needed for speedy boot times—it's still a decent portable performer. We just wish that Dell didn't bog down an otherwise stylish design with needless port covers and unwanted software.
The Inspiron 13z features a two-tone color scheme, with a dark grey lid and palmrest surrounded with a band of silvery-white aluminum. Built into the palmrest, and sharing the same brushed metal surface, is a multitouch trackpad with separate right and left mouse buttons. In our hands-on testing the trackpad was smooth and responsive, and worked whether mousing with one finger or performing gestures such as two-finger scrolling or pinch-zooming. The full-size keyboard features chiclet-style keys with rounded corners, and aside from arrow-buttons that have been shrunken down to half-size, the keyboard has a standard layout.
The Inspiron 13z has a 13.3-inch 1,366-by-768 resolution display, which is the common resolution in this size, and offers a high enough resolution to enjoy videos at 720p or to tile windows side-by-side for multitasking. While the display isn't necessarily amazing, the accompanying speakers are pretty good, with speakers from SkullCandy, and software enhancement with WaveMaxx 4.0. It doesn't match the HP Envy 4-1043cl, with its Beats Audio, but it's still satisfying.
While not an ultrabook—it lacks the speedy flash memory cache needed to meet Intel's specifications—the dimensions of the are pretty similar to those of the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, measuring 0.82 by 13.7 by 9.05 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.81 pounds, as contrasted to the Lenovo's 3.75-pound weight.
The Inspiron 13z is equipped with one USB 3.0 port with PowerShare, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and HDMI output, a combination headphone and microphone jack, and a built-in card reader (SD, MMC, MS/Pro). Dell hides all of these ports behind plastic port covers, which can be a pain to open and often get in the way when trying to plug in peripherals. While we may appreciate the functional protective port covers on Dell's rugged laptops, they're far from functional on the Inspiron 13z, and may be more trouble than they are worth if you regularly plug in peripherals or headphones. There is no optical drive, so you may want to pick up an external optical drive if you want to enjoy DVDs or burn files to disk. The Dell Inspiron 13z is also outfitted with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive.
Dell includes plenty of software on the Inspiron 13z, some of which you may want to simply remove, like desktop links to Ebay, preinstalled programs like a Bing toolbar, Blio and Zinio readers, and a selection of games from WildTangent. You'll also find Microsoft Office Starter 2010, a 30-day trial of McAfee Security Center, Nero and Skype. Dell throws in a number of proprietary offerings, like Dell's media programs MusicStage, PhotoStage, VideoStage and StageRemote. Dell also covers the Inspiron 13z with a one-year warranty.
The Inspiron 13z is equipped with the same ultra-low voltage 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor seen in both the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 and the HP Envy 4-1043cl, paired with 6GB of RAM. Scoring 2,457 points in PCMark 7, the Inspiron pulled ahead of the ultraportable Editors' Choice Toshiba Portege R835-P88 (2,313 points), but fell behind both the Lenovo U310 (3,570) and the HP Envy 4-1043cl (3,962) despite the fact that all but the Toshiba are using the same model processor. Thanks to their common hardware, CineBench scores were nearly identical between the Inspiron 13z (2.39 points), the HP Envy 4 (2.38) and the Lenovo U310 (2.39), as were scores in Handbrake and Photoshop. For light video and photo editing, the Dell Inspiron 13z provides decent performance.
Because the Inspiron 13z relies on Intel's integrated graphics processing, most gaming is off the table. Though the Inspiron 13z did score 5,721 points and 3,164 points in 3D Mark 2006 (at 1,024-by-768 and 1,366-by-768 resolution, respectively), the thin laptop only produced 20 frames per second in Crysis at medium resolution, and was unable to run it at higher resolution, or run Lost Planet 2 at all.
While we were unable to run our usual battery-life benchmark test, MobileMark 2007, we did perform a video rundown test. With video being played continuously, the Dell Inspiron 13z's 49Wh battery lasted 5 hours and 5 minutes. We can't make a direct comparison to the results of our MobileMark test run on other systems, but with most scores ranging from 6 to 10 hours, it is safe to say that the Inspiron 13z will get you through most of a day, but not all of it.
The Dell Inspiron 13z is an affordable and able ultraportable, but some users will be irritated by the port covers that get in the way more often than not. The hardware puts it alongside some fine ultrabooks and ultraportables, but unlike the Editors' Choice Toshiba Portege R835-P88, which also offers extras like WiDi and an optical drive, the Inspiron 13z falls just a bit short of expectations.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.