Editor's Update, Jan. 2016: Dell has removed the active pen feature from the Inspiron 13.
The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is a versatile 2-in-1 Windows Ultrabook. Sure the form factor is versatile, but I mean the variety of price points and options. For as little as $530 you can get one, though you'll have to make do with the lowly Pentium CPU, a 1366 x 768 display (happily it's IPS) and a 500 gig HDD. For $999 you can get our Inspiron 13 Special Edition configuration with a Core i7-5500U, a 1920 x 1080 display, 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SSD. So it's upscale or budget, depending on which configuration you buy. For this review we'll focus on the 7352 SE model since that's what we have in for review.
Build and Design
The Inspiron line sits below the top dog XPS line, but it shares the XPS line's liberal use of quality materials, appealing design and rigid build. The Inspiron line is about value, but that doesn't mean you have to live with cheesy looking plastics or a flimsy laptop. It looks and feels like a well made laptop, with that signature Dell look that's somehow American-- it's more Camaro than Porsche 911. There's no chassis flex and the 3.68 lb. laptop feels dense. The Inspiron models overall are some of my favorites to recommend because they offer a wide variety of prices/configurations, a somewhat upscale design and good components at a reasonable price.
Of course that nearly 3.7 lb. weight is a liability when using the Inspiron 13 in tablet mode. Unless you're a regular at the gym, you'll likely use it on the table rather than hold it for more than 5 minutes at a time. It also adds noticeably more weight in your bag than the crazy light 2.6 to 2.8 lb. Dell XPS 13 or even the 3.26 lb. HP Spectre x360. Like Lenovo's Yoga laptops, the Dell also works in presentation and tent modes, where it automatically rotates the screen and disables the keyboard and trackpad.
The Inspiron 13 7000 has the usual selection of 13" Ultrabook ports: 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI 1.4a, 3.5mm combo audio and an SD card slot. It's nominally sealed, but with a small Phillips head screwdriver, you can open the bottom to service the 43 Whr battery, 2.5" HDD/SSD, wireless card and single RAM slot. Dell focused on durability for the Inspiron 13, and even though you obviously won't be taking the battery out unless it needs replacement, Dell has rated it for 30 disconnects and removals. The hinges have been tested with 20,000 open-close actuations to not lose their stiffness. The backlit keyboard is tested to withstand 10 million keystrokes and the trackpad 1 million clicks.
The backlit keyboard is one of the better on the market for tactile feel, travel and even illumination (there are 2 brightness levels). The ergonomically shaped keys are damped and the trackpad is precise and predictable. Both are a pleasure to use. The Inspiron's thicker chassis allows for more key travel than the XPS 13, which is a plus.
** Note, Jan. 2016: Dell has removed the pen feature from the Inspiron 13 line. The full HD IPS display only on the SE model supports both touch and the optional Synaptics pen, sold as the Dell Active Stylus. The pen works very well, and offers palm rejection (you can rest your hand on the glass when writing and drawing) and pressure sensitivity. This isn't the horrid Dell-Synaptics experience of old; rather it's up there with N-Trig for fast and reliable pen tracking and performance. It works well for art and for note taking, but artists should note that if your favorite art app requires legacy WinTab drivers, you're out of luck since none exist for Synaptics digitizers and pens.
The glossy 13.3" display is decently bright at 290 nits, and it has typical IPS wide viewing angles. We have the full HD 1920 x 1080 display, but lower end models have a 1366 x 768 IPS display. Our panel's color calibration was too cool from the factory (blues were accentuated and warm tones looked a little washed out). We used our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter to calibrate the display easily enough. The panel, like most higher end Ultrabooks, comes close to full representation of the sRGB spectrum at 95%, and it covers 74% of Adobe RGB. That means it will do fine for those who wish to edit photos and video with color accuracy. Contrast is a healthy 750:1 and the hybrid is a great machine for watching movies, editing photos and displaying text clearly. The 1080p resolution is the highest available on the Inspiron 13, and we find it a good match for the display size--you can use it without scaling for sharper text and games that balk at QHD and higher resolutions will behave better at 1080p. That said, this is an Ultrabook with integrated HD 5500 graphics, and it's not really a gaming machine, though casual and older games will play very well, as will some newer titles at low settings.
Deals and Shopping:
Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Video Review
Performance and Horsepower
The Inspiron 13 7000 covers the gamut, from the base model with a dual core Pentium through the Intel Broadwell 5th generation ULV Core i3, i5 and i7 CPU line. The Pentium will be sluggish, but if your demands are light, such as email, web and streaming video, it will do the job fine. For those who need a laptop with more processing power for crunching numbers, editing high megapixel photos and 1080p video, the Core i5 makes more sense. The Core i7 is a dual core that is the same wattage and architecture as the Core i5, so the performance difference is around 7%. We have the Core i7 in for review, and our benchmarks are thus based on the Core i7. Heat and fan noise were modest to moderate. When doing productivity work the Ultrabook was generally silent and no more than slightly warm on the bottom. When playing Diablo III or when exporting a 5 minute 1080p video clip, the fan was quite audible and the bottom area (center, toward the back) got very warm but not burning hot.
The laptop is available with 4 or 8 gigs of RAM and it has a single RAM slot. 8 gig modules are typically the largest you can buy, though one company, Intelligent Memory, does make 16 gig RAM modules for around $350 apiece. For most users, that means the machine maxes out at 8 gigs, which is more than adequate for a dual core 15 watt ULV system. The Inspiron 13 has a single 2.5" drive bay with a standard SATA connector. You can get the machine with a 500 gig, 5400 RPM HDD or if you opt for the Special Edition, a 256 gig SSD. 2.5" SSDs are easy to source these days, and it's a fairly straightforward job if you want to upgrade from an HDD to an SDD later.
The Dell has a 43 Whr Lithium Ion Polymer battery and it ships with a compact 65 watt charger. Though Dell claims 8 hours of battery life for the HDD model and 9 hours of battery life for the SSD model (in synthetic benchmark tests), we found that our SSD-equipped model with a Core i7 and 1080p display averaged 6.5 hours of actual real world use with WiFi on and display brightness set to 50%. In our tests we use MS Office to create and edit documents, stream an hour TV episode on Netflix, edit 10 RAW image files in Photoshop, check email and do social networking. That's decent but not wildly impressive battery life.
The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is a solid machine that offers solid value. Yes, it's a bit on the heavy side for a 2-in-1, and we suspect that Dell intends it to be used as a laptop most of the time. Lighter designs generally cost more, thus Dell has the lovely XPS 13 for those who want to travel lighter. Alas, the XPS 13 isn't a convertible though, so if you're in the market for a lighter hybrid, you might have to look to the HP Spectre x360, or the Lenovo Yoga 900. And if you want that digital pen, strike out the Yoga 900 and replace it with the ThinkPad Yoga 12 or stick with the Spectre x360. Beyond its weight, we like everything about the Inspiron 13 7000 SE, from build quality to top-notch components to the pleasing IPS display and array of configuration options.
Price: $999 as tested. Price starts at $529 for base model
Display:13.3" IPS display with 10 point multi-touch and Synaptics active digitizer with pen support. Available with 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080 resolutions. Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics. HDMI port.
Battery:43 Whr Lithium
Performance:Intel 5th generation Broadwell Core i3, i5 and i7 dual core ULV 15 watt CPUs and dual core Pentium available. 4 or 8 gigs RAM (1 RAM slot) and 2.5" HDD or SSD.
x 8.74 x .75 inches. Weight: 3.68 pounds.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone/mic combo
Networking:Integrated Intel 7265AC dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.
Expansion and Ports:2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port, HDMI, 3.5mm audio and
SD card slot.