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Dell Inspiron 14z Notebook Review: A Portable Workhorse

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

User Interface, Display and Audio Quality

User Interface

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Immediately, the backlit keyboard on this laptop stands out. Dell is apparently making an effort to offer this even on inexpensive laptops, and it’s a $24.99 option on this unit (and standard on some more expensive variants). While back-lighting is becoming more common, it’s still rare at this price point. Better still, a function button on the keyboard lets users turn of the lighting entirely, or dim it for extreme low-light conditions. This should not be taken for granted, as not all backlit keyboards offer such simple adjustments. 

Key feel can be best described as adequate. There’s plenty of space on this keyboard, and while keys are large, there’s also decent definition between them. Yet each individual key feels a bit rubbery when pressed. The action is firm, but lacks a feeling of precision. Even so, the keyboard is pleasurable and should prove satisfactory even if you type for hours at a time.

The touchpad deserves less praise. It’s every bit as small as the keyboard is large, and there’s not much texture to the surface. Multi-touch gestures feel surprisingly smooth, but the physical space for scrolling is so small that it can become annoying. The touchpad buttons stand out as one of the laptop’s worst features. Although there are two individual buttons, they feel mushy, and seem to lack travel. There’s also a strange dead-zone at the exterior edges of the buttons. Press there, and they simply don’t work. This is a laptop that you’ll want to use with a travel mouse.

Display and Audio Quality

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As you might expect, this 14-inch laptop’s display has a resolution of 1366x768. There’s no optional, higher-resolution panel available. This is still an Inspiron, after all - if you want a high-resolution panel, you’ll generally have to step up to the XPS line. 

Quality is average as well. In test images, the Dell’s black level performance was reasonable but not any better than most competitors. Gradient test images were relatively smooth, but there was some slight banding towards the darker half. Contrast images, on the other hand, revealed significant bleeding of the brighter colors. The brightest three bands of most colors were virtually indistinguishable.

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Still, this is a perfectly serviceable display that functions fine in day-to-day use. Its weakness only become evident when attempting to view the display from an off angle, and movie buffs will crave better image quality in dark scenes. 

Audio quality is also adequate, but best left to podcasts and YouTube videos. Music is hampered by an almost complete lack of bass, or any approximation thereof. In our test track “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells, which includes significant bass behind complex vocals and mid-range sounds, the bass beat was almost entirely absent. Volume would also be a problem for music, as it’s never loud enough to fill more than a small room. The upside to this, however, is that there’s little distortion even at maximum volume. Vocals sound crisp and clear.

December 8, 2011 | 11:45 AM - Posted by Anoyingmouse (not verified)

May I make a suggestion with regards to dealing with bloatware? Test the system as you get it. Don't run MSconfig, or unistall the junkware. Instead run the benchmarks with all the frivolous fluff running.

If you and the rest of the press start showing lower\failed benchmarks for these machines, the companies behind them may get a stronger message.

December 8, 2011 | 01:03 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I don't uninstall bloatware, ever. Given the hardware in today's machines, bloatware is almost never a performance issue. Maybe it impacts boot times but that's about it.

The real issue is the annoyance.

December 15, 2011 | 07:51 PM - Posted by Christian (not verified)

Just wanted to say thanks alot for the review. The red one especially looks beautiful. I myself purchased a black Inspiron 14z, im not to fond of lighter colors for laptops but the Inspiron 14z looks good in red. I also purchased a backlit keyboard with mine. I am wondering how you liked the pc as it relates to daily task? Word documents, surfing the web etc. Mine wont be here untill the 23rd so untill then i have to look at your pictures and wait. Thanks a bunch Matt. I am wondering if you can post support links from dell as well, thanks.

July 14, 2013 | 04:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

thanks

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