Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition review

24 Aug 2012

Plasticky build and plain looks mask a luscious display and top-notch specification - the Dell is a fine all-rounder

Price when reviewed: 
859(£859 inc VAT)
5

When you’re spending almost £900 on a laptop, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a little luxury. Yet despite the Special Edition tag, this Inspiron doesn’t look luxurious. It’s clad in thick, dowdy plastic, and finished in a rather naff honeycomb texture that would be more at home on a sub-£500 machine.

Its looks aren’t the only disappointment. Part of the appeal of the SE is supposedly its interchangeable lid panels (blue, pink, red and white are also available), but the black unit backing our review laptop had an unsightly 0.5mm gap running along its top edge – perfect for catching dust and crumbs.

Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition

To be fair to this 15in laptop, however, there isn’t an awful lot wrong with the rest of it. The specification list leaves no stone unturned: 1TB of storage, four USB 3 sockets, HDMI and D-SUB outputs, Gigabit Ethernet and a Blu-ray player. The warranty, as with the 17R, offers a year of on-site cover, which is better than most.

We like the layout of the keyboard: it lacks a number pad, but there are no compromises on any other front, with a large Enter key, sizeable cursor keys, and a sensibly organised navigation cluster. The action is on the woolly side and the keys rattle, but there’s no flex in the base, and the multitouch touchpad with its separate buttons is flawless.

Above the keyboard sits an excellent display. It’s Full HD, bright (321cd/m2) and has good contrast (655:1) – although it can’t match the Asus N56VM’s display for sheer punch. It’s an ideal display for anything from movie watching to photo editing, with a semi-matte finish that successfully keeps distracting reflections at bay.

Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition

Although it looks and feels cheap, the plastics are tough, affording plenty of protection for the display and the components hidden away in the base. And when it comes to those core elements, again, there’s little room for criticism. The Inspiron 15R is equipped with a quad-core 2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM, which scored 0.91 in the PC Pro application benchmarks – not the fastest we've seen, but not far behind the 0.95 of the Asus.

This is a laptop that will shrug off the most challenging multitasking, and it’s a competent gamer, too. Where many of its rivals have opted for Nvidia’s GeForce graphics chipsets, Dell has equipped the Inspiron 15R with AMD’s Radeon HD 7730M. It's a potent chip, and delivered 22fps in our 1,920 x 1,080 High quality test - four frames quicker than the Asus and its Nvidia GeForce GT 630M chip.

Aside from the looks, the battery life is the only area of concern, and even then 5hrs 27mins in our light-use test isn’t a complete disaster. This adds up to a laptop that, while not pretty, will certainly get the job done. However, for a little more elegance, better all-round build quality and a little less cash, you can buy the Asus N56VM - and that's why it's still our favourite.

Details

Price ex VAT £716
Price inc VAT £859
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 5
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1yr on-site

Physical specifications

Dimensions 378 x 252 x 35mm (WDH)
Weight 2.900kg
Travelling weight 3.4kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-3612QM
Motherboard chipset Intel HM77
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 15.6in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset AMD Radeon HD 7730M
Graphics card RAM 2.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 1.00TB
Hard disk usable capacity 931GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader/DVD writer combo
Battery capacity 4,200mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 5hr 27min
3D performance (crysis) low settings 22fps
3D performance setting High
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.91

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition