The 11.6-inch laptops that constitute Dell's Inspiron 11z range sport ultra-low-voltage Intel processors, which qualifies them as thin-and-light ultra-portables, rather than just large netbooks. The range starts at about £350. For this review, Dell supplied us with a mid-range model which, with an upgraded battery, costs about £440.
Slim, solid and stylish
Dell can knock together a good-looking laptop when it wants to. The 11z is a stylish machine, and the standard black livery can be offset with a choice of different lid colours. The white lid that we saw is rather fetching.
For this kind of money, you'll only get a plastic case, but the 11z feels solid enough. At 26mm thick, it's pretty slim, although the six-cell battery that we were supplied with pokes from the underside by another 22mm. Even so, we can't really knock the design. It's easily one of the better-looking low-cost laptops we've reviewed.
A common complaint about 10.1-inch netbooks is that their 1,024x600-pixel screens limit what you can do with Windows, but the 11z's 11.6-inch, LED-backlit display suffers from no such problems. Its resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is more than enough to show a full-width Web page, and tall enough to accommodate any dialogue box. The screen's image quality is excellent, too.
The extra case width needed to accommodate the 11.6-inch screen also leaves room for a full-width keyboard. While the low-profile keys are closely packed, they're wide enough for comfortable typing. Although largely free from flex, the keyboard does feel rather hollow. This doesn't adversely affect how comfortable the keyboard is to type on -- it just feels strange.
The 11z's large, wide-aspect trackpad initially drove us to distraction. Its apparent inability to smoothly track a fingertip led us to plug in a USB mouse in order to install and run our benchmark tests. After returning to the laptop a few days later, however, this particular problem had mysteriously vanished, although the trackpad still proved far from perfect.
The trackpad is a multi-touch model that lacks separate buttons. Instead, its two bottom corners are used for clicking. This isn't a problem in itself, but our trackpad's multi-touch sensitivity appeared to be shot, and, with one finger resting on the left corner and another swiping the pad, the 11z insisted on either interpreting this as a pinching gesture for zooming, or simply sending the cursor to random positions on the screen. The 11z is let down badly as a result.
With an ultra-low-voltage Intel Pentium SU4100 dual-core processor running at 1.3GHz, the 11z was never going to be a blistering performer. Its PCMark05 score of 2,886 indicates that it's best-suited to running office-type applications. Even so, this is still a better score than that of some costlier ultra-low-voltage ultra-portables, such as the MSI X340.
On the other hand, the Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU's performance is best not mentioned (oh, alright -- it scored 611 in 3DMark06), but at least it's enough to run Windows 7's translucent Aero interface smoothly.
The optional six-cell battery that Dell supplied us with costs an extra £45. While it adds considerably to the 11z's otherwise slim profile, it also adds greatly to its battery life. In Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, the laptop lasted for a little over 3 hours, and stretched to almost 7.5 hours in the less demanding Reader's test.
There's much to like about the Dell Inspiron 11z. It's a capable ultra-low-voltage, ultra-portable laptop at a very low price. The only problem is that the multi-touch trackpad is deeply flawed, and having to carry a separate USB mouse almost defeats the object of buying such a lightweight laptop in the first place.
Edited by Charles Kloet