The Dell Inspiron 14z isn't part of the peacock crowd that flaunt themselves with bright designs but rather offers a sleek, aluminium design packed with decent specs.
Our model came equipped with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor paired up with 4GB RAM. It's available later this week direct from Dell for £629 which incudes those pesky postage and packaging costs too.
Design and build quality
The 14z isn't one of the most remarkable looking laptops you could go for -- there's no swirling patterns or searingly bright colours here. Instead, it offers a more sophisticated appearance that would look at home in a business class lounge or atop a glass desk on the 16th floor of some swanky office block.
Our model came with a dark grey colouring but in certain lights gave off a more reddish-brown hue that we actually found quite attractive -- it certainly added an extra touch of class to the aesthetics.
The shell is made from brushed aluminium that -- apart from giving it a more premium feel -- made the whole thing feel more robust. There was a fair bit of flex in the lid, which we weren't too keen on, but the metal casing feels like it can take a few knocks, so we wouldn't be too scared of chucking it into a bag and skipping off across town.
As it only packs a 14.4-inch screen, the 14z's body is kept pretty compact. With a width of 346mm and a depth of 245mm, it's small enough to slide into a backpack without much hassle and can be comfortably carried around in a sleeve, tucked under your arm. It has a thickness of 25.5mm, so it's pretty slim too.
The lid opens up from a hinge set slightly forward from the back of the machine, which at first seems an odd move (maybe Dell could have made the whole body slightly smaller?). But the positioning does mean that the lid can be opened with one hand without the laptop rocking backwards or flexing the screen.
Keyboard and trackpad
Under the lid you'll find more brushed metal surrounding the keyboard and over the wrist rest. We immediately set about squeezing, poking and banging it and were pleased to find very little flex -- much less than was offered by the lid. There's also very little flex on the keyboard base so it feels like a very well built piece of kit if you've been sat typing for a while.
The keyboard has isolated keys and is fairly comfortable to type on. The keys are spaced a little far apart for our liking but we were able to pick up a decent typing speed once we'd gotten used to it.
The trackpad is rather on the small side but it's pretty accurate and supports multi-touch for scrolling, which is handy if you're trawling through long documents or Web pages.
Sadly, the two trackpad buttons are horrible. They provided a very spongey click, which often didn't register unless we pressed firmly in the middle, making speedy navigation considerably more awkward than it needed to be. Trackpad buttons may not seem like the most important aspect of a computer, but if you intend to use them a lot, it's worth bearing in mind. If you're going to be using your laptop mostly at a desk, we suggest you invest in a cheap USB mouse.
Screen and ports
The 14z has a screen size of 14.4 inches, with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution. It's not the highest resolution screen you can get your hands on, but it's pretty good for the size, and small text and icons are displayed with comfortable clarity.
It's bright, bold and does a good job of displaying colours, so movies and TV shows look good. We were very pleased with how our high definition test video was shown. It's not a massive screen, so you probably won't want to sit and watch whole movies on it, but it will do fine for catching up on TV shows or providing entertainment on a really boring train journey.
There's an HDMI port on the left-hand side, so if you do want a more immersive movie experience then you can easily hook it up to a big TV and settle back as you watch Keanu Reeves explore the whole gamut of emotion in The Matrix. There's no Blu-ray drive, so you won't be able to enjoy movies in glorious HD, but you can at least watch DVDs. Remember those?
Around the edge you'll find one USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, a mini display port, HDMI out and an SD card reader. We're pleased to be given two USB 3.0 ports -- we just love high-speed data transfer here -- but we are not fans of the plastic flaps Dell has used to cover up the ports. Apart from feeling very flimsy, it makes quickly popping in a USB device very awkward -- you can't slip a thumb drive in with one hand as you'll need to fold the flap out of the way to get it in. The flaps also don't seem to close properly, so we imagine they'll be snapped off before too long.
Inside the 14z you'll find a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor paired up with 4GB RAM. To see what these specs were capable of, we threw the PCMark05 benchmark test at it and were given a score of 7,430. The Geekbench test then returned a score of 7,319.
Those are both very admirable scores for a laptop at this range. It was certainly nippy during our use and didn't complain much when we unleashed the fury of our multi-tasking involving numerous Web browser windows and multiple high definition video streams. The 14z will happily tackle any office task and is able to handle some light photo editing work (touching up your holiday snaps will be fine), but don't expect it to handle multiple layers on huge resolution RAW files.
We converted an 11-minute high definition video file in 24 frames per second H.264, which took around 21 minutes. While not exactly super-speedy, that's still a pretty good time for a mid-range machine. If you're wanting to convert the odd bit of footage from your phone of your mates diving into bushes for YouTube, the 14z will cope fine.
The Inspiron 14z doesn't have a dedicated graphics card but instead uses the built-in Intel HD graphics capabilities. It achieved a score of 3,306 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test, which isn't a great score, so don't expect it to tackle much in the way of 3D gaming. It will be able to handle some of the older gaming titles if you dial the settings right down, but it's really not designed for it -- if games are on your agenda, you should really be looking for a machine with a dedicated graphics card.
Dell has pre-loaded the 14z with a bunch of software designed to help with backup and organising your media. Sadly, like most pre-installed software, it's annoying and continually bombards you with pop-ups about setup and registration. There's also a music and video widget that sits on the desktop taking up room and processing power. We suggest you go on an immediate un-installing spree and start with a totally blank slate so you know what everything is up to.
We ran our battery benchmark test and the 14z managed to last just over an hour before conking out. The test runs the processor at a continual 100 per cent so it's a brutal, worse-case scenario test -- you'll be able to get much better performance with cautious usage.
We found it quite capable of lasting a working day when we used it for writing some documents and doing a bit of Web browsing every so often. If you make a habit of watching full-screen video, you won't get such good results.
The Dell Inspiron 14z offers good performance for any office task and packs enough grunt to tackle more power-hungry applications. The aluminium shell makes it sturdy enough for life on the go.
If you're after a good all-round mobile computer and you can put up with the annoying USB port covers and the godawful trackpad buttons, it's certainly one to consider.