Home Computers Dell Inspiron 13 – a 360° with maximum flexibility (review)

Dell Inspiron 13 – a 360° with maximum flexibility (review)

Dell’s Inspiron 13, 7000, 2017, packs a lot into a small body – a 13.3” HD touch screen, Intel 7th generation Core i5/i7, 8-16GB DDR4, and up to a 512GB SSD.

Add to that HDMI 1.4a; USB-C Gen 1 for DisplayPort, data (5Gbps) and power delivery (not charge); full size USB-A 3.0 with power share; full size USB-A 2.0; SD card reader; Bluetooth 4.2; and dual-band Wi-Fi AC 1x1 MIMO; and it’s a very competent package starting from $1098.99.

Dell is best known in the commercial environment where it pioneered a very customisable, build-to-order model. It has several “classes” of product – Inspiron is for consumer and small office, Vostro for small business, Latitude for enterprise, and Precision Mobile Workstations.

The Inspiron 7000 series, specifically the 2017 model with Intel’s 7th generation Kaby Lake processor, comes in i5-7200U (2.5/3.1GHz), and i5-7500U (2.7/3.5GHz). These represent good value for Dell quality and features.

Out of the box – Dell Inspiron 13, 700 series, 2017

  • The laptop
  • A 42WHr non-removable battery
  • 19.5V/2.31A, AC adaptor (not USB-C chargeable)
  • Windows 10 Home (i5) and PRO as an option on i7
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Windows Hello IR front camera

Dell I13 both

First impressions are businesslike, brushed aluminium, nice finish on the edges, about 10mm wider all around than an A4 sheet of paper, and 1.75kg. There are lighter competitors, but I doubt they are as durable as this looks and feels.

Performance

The i5/i7 gets a PassMark CPU benchmark of 4699/5244. Frankly, in using both processors on other devices, both have similar power needs, run at similar temperatures, etc., so why not buy the most power you can get?

You need to know that the “U” series are notebook processors and while they may share the i5/i7 moniker they are considerably slower than the desktop equivalents that reached over 8000 PassMark.

The video is via the Intel HD Graphics 620 that supports 4069 x 2304 @60Hz external graphics via the DisplayPort (via USB-C) or @24Hz via HDMI. It will support dual 4K displays via DisplayPort daisy chain or dual HD monitors as well as its internal screen.

Dell has used DDR4 memory for more speed and less power consumption.

Wi-Fi AC is via a dual band Intel AC 3165 1 x 1 MIMO chipset. It tops out at 433Mbps on a D-Link DIR-895L MU-MIMO router. This is fine for the price bracket.

Battery

Battery time depends on use. For example, playing an HD video loop at 50% screen brightness will give about six hours. But over three days of general office use, I got four hours on one day and six hours on another. I suspect it comes down to screen brightness, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Recharge time using the 45W brick from zero to 100% was just over an hour.

Just to clarify, the USB-C port has downstream “power delivery” — 5VC/3A — to connected peripherals and cannot be used to charge the notebook (upstream). It does drain the battery significantly faster, so use the power brick if you use a USB-C device/dongle.

Screen

Initially, the screen seemed a little dull and cold but that is because it is calibrated to the theoretical gamma, brightness and contrast by the Intel HD Graphics driver.

Load the Intel HD software, increase the brightness a few steps and it is much better. Note this happens to most notebooks using Intel HD graphics. Still, details in shadow and highlights are too easily lost if you ramp up the brightness.

Colour has been measured at 69% of sRGB, images are sharp but the screen reflection is above average and harder to read in sunlight.

This is a case of getting what you pay for – if you want a better screen with 100% or more sRGB and a nonreflective surface to look for the HP x360 Spectre or a ZenBook Flip 3 at much higher prices.

The Inspiron 13 is not a games laptop but will play any browser based game with ease.

Keyboard and trackpad

I used it for three days straight during travel, mainly for word processing, Web, and movies. The key throw is 1.3mm/55g – less than the ideal of 1.5mm/60g of Surface Book or HP x360 Spectre. It will slow down touch typing a tad – I experienced a reduction of about 20% over the Surface Book.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good, solid, backlit keyboard and 99% of users will be very happy.

The oversized, burnished finish, trackpad is excellent – it will move the cursor from top right to bottom left of the screen in one swipe. It even has a defined left and right click regions. It supports two-finger swipes and three-finger app-switch gestures.

Webcam and audio

It is a .9MP, 720p webcam and frankly, that is all you need for Skype calls etc. Any more and you chew up too much data bandwidth. Importantly, it supports Windows Hello IR login (quick and fast) and obviates the need for a fingerprint scanner which it does not have.

It has twin down firing speakers. The speakers in their natural “Realtek” state are “flat” – an analytical sound signature. You can use the Dell Audio Waves MaxxAudio Pro app to pump up to your tastes and it has some presets that take the guesswork out of setting it up for pop, rock, etc.

This raises a philosophical issue and one not aimed at Dell – why don’t manufacturers focus on the speaker and amp quality instead of using the standard Realtek Audio drivers? Some do, and invest in Harman Kardon, Bose or other brands of tuned speakers and Hi-Res audio but you pay much more.

But the real answer is that at this price I would rather have the Dell with Realtek and MaxxAudio as it is fine for personal use.

Software

Dell loads a fair bit of bloatware apart from its Support Assist and Power Manager. Fortunately, a quick visit to Programs and Features is all you need to clean it up and that makes a big difference to background apps and battery life.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Affordable – probably the best value/features for the price
  • USB-C and full-size HDMI, USB-A etc

Cons

  • Keyboard is good but not as fast as some competitors
  • Battery life is fine but again, not as long as some competitors
  • At 1.7kg it is a 360° notebook – too heavy for a tablet

Summary

It is a sturdy, small laptop rather than a true 2-in-1 tablet (may brands call this 4-in-1 – clamshell, tabletop, tent and tablet).

Dell I13 tent

For what you pay — it is at the budget end — you get a lot. My favourites in the 360° hinge style are an HP x360 Spectre and Zenbook 3 Flip and you won’t get any change from $2500 and can spend a lot more.

So, on that basis, it gets the nod as a good device at a good price and is backed by Dell support.

JB Hi-Fi has it with the i7-7500U/8/256GB at $1498 and the 16/512GB at $1898.

Dell XPS 13 ports

 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!