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June 21, 2012
- Reasonable price
- Discrete graphics
- Optical drive included
- Solid performance
- Chassis feels flimsy
- Keyboard & trackpad design flaws
- Below average battery life
The recently updated Dell Inspiron 14z is an ultrabook laptop that is conservatively priced yet includes a 3rd-gen Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, discrete graphics and impressive performance. It does lack in terms of battery life and has some design flaws, but other than that, it's a new contender to the market that's well worth a look.
In 2010 we reviewed the Dell Inspiron 14z when ultraportable laptops were still emerging. We liked that it included an optical drive, had a well-designed keyboard and mouse and had extra long battery life. It did, however, lack performance and was heavier than other similar laptops.
The design of the 2012 refresh is thin and modern-looking with a brushed metal two-tone lid (a red color is also available). The exterior finish extends into the inside on the keyboard deck. All together it looks visually very appealing but when you start using it, it does feel a tad flimsy. The keyboard especially feels this way, but more on this soon.
The Dell Inspiron 14z measures 13.7 x 9.5 x 0.8-inches (whd) and weighs 4.1-pounds, so it is a tad heavy to be classified as an ultrabook by Intel's standards. Overall it's very portable and will definitely fit into a backpack throughout a day's worth of travel.
Dell chose to sink the keyboard into the chassis every so slightly, which is a little jarring while using it because you fingers are constantly changing between metal and plastic surfaces. The keyboard is an island-style layout with fairly small keys considering the large dead space on either side of the keyboard. In our use, we found the keys to be fairly comfortable but we wished they had more of a click to them.
The touchpad could also have been a tad wider in size and without the left and right click buttons. Instead, we would have preferred a clickpad like on the Apple MacBook Air and other similar Windows-based laptops.
The 14-inch display has a native resolution of 1366 x 768-pixels, which is common for most ultrabooks but those typically have 13-inch screens. The display could have benefited from a resolution bump definitely.
In terms of connectivity and ports, there are two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI-out, Ethernet, a combo headphone/microphone jack and an SD card reader. There is also built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. In keeping with the Inspiron 14z tradition, it also has a DVD+/-RW optical disc drive. This is a big plus for someone who wants an ultraportable laptop but also wants to have a built-in optical drive.
The specifications of the 2012 version of the Dell Inspiron 14z includes a new, 3rd-generation Intel Core i5-3317U (2.6GHz) CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive, a 32GB mSATA solid state drive and discrete AMD Radeon HD7570M graphics. This configuration is the $899 version, but for $100 more you get a Core i7 CPU and for $200 less, you get 2nd-gen Core i3, 6GB of RAM and integrated graphics.
Performance with the stated configuration above was very good in use. In benchmark testing, it performed a little slower than some other 3rd-gen Ivy Bridge laptops that have recently come out. However for most users, you'll get way more performance than you'll likely need with this computer. We had no issues streaming HD video from the Internet or doing intense multitasking as the 8GB of RAM helped a lot in that department.
Graphics performance with the discrete AMD graphics is decent for gaming, but be prepared to dial down the graphics settings quite a bit.
Battery life maxed out at about 4.5-hours, which is about an hour short of other new ultraportables and way less than the new Apple MacBook Pro that just went on sale.