Ultrabooks tend to be rather pricey -- so what if you need a portable machine, perhaps for university, but want to make sure you've got enough cash in your pocket to buy packs of noodles and pints of snakebite?
Dell hopes to soothe your woes with the new Inspiron 14Z -- an ultrabook that sacrifices some of the portability in order to offer a hopefully affordable price tag. Like most Dell machines it can be configured to be as powerful as you want, so you don't have to spend more money if you don't need the extra processing grunt.
There's no official word on pricing yet, but I expect to hear more closer to its launch in July.
I've gone hands-on with the 14Z at a Dell event so stay tuned for a full review soon.
Although the 14Z brandishes the ultrabook name, it's certainly not the slimmest laptop on the market. It measures around 21mm thick, which is quite a bit chubbier than the Asus Zenbook UX31 which even at its absolute fattest point is only 17mm.
Still, 21mm is still very slender by regular laptop standards. By comparison, Dell's own slim and light XPS 14Z is around 24mm thick and even that isn't what you'd call porky. At 347mm wide and 240mm deep it's roughly the same as the XPS 14Z too -- I found the XPS slid easily into a bag and was no trouble to carry around for the day so I expect the Inspiron to be similarly portable. Good news if you hope to lug it around lecture halls all day.
The lid is covered in a piece of brushed aluminium that's been given a blue-grey hue that Dell has artfully called 'Moon Silver'. Daft name aside, it's not an unpleasant colour by any means and is a snazzy change from the regular standard tones of grey and black. If you want something with more spice to it, you can snag it in a 'Fire Red' colour instead.
Unlike others in the Inspiron range -- such as the 17R Dell was also showing off -- it doesn't let you swap the lid for any of the garish colours or mad patterns it sells on its store. You'll therefore have to think extra carefully about whether you want to go with the Moon or Fire options. Or just pick one at random and throw some paint on it.
The brushed metal top gives the impression that it's pretty sturdy, which it is, so long as you keep it closed. The lid itself is very thin and can be bent very easily at the corners. If you carelessly sat on it when it was open, I don't think it would come off too well. When it's closed up in your bag though it definitely feels secure enough to take a few knocks inside your bag. I'll be sure to give the chassis the usual set of brutal tests in the full review.
Around the sides you'll find two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, an HDMI out port and an SD card reader. The speakers on the higher models are made by Skullcandy -- makers of those ridiculously garish headphones all the kids were wearing before Beats became so cool. I wasn't able to give them a proper test, but rest assured I'll be blasting the sickest beats through them to see what they're about.
If the numbers in its name didn't give you a hint, the 14Z boasts a 14-inch screen. That immediately makes it quite a bit bigger than many ultrabooks on the market -- Asus' Zenbook or Apple's MacBook Airs are only available in 11- and 13-inch varieties. The extra screen space will come in handy for watching films or working on large documents, but it does make the overall machine less portable, so it's worth having a think about exactly what is most important to you.
It has a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is pretty standard. It would be good to see 14-inch models like this pushing for full 1080p resolution, but considering the the Inspiron 14Z comes with a supposedly lower price tag than other ultrabooks, it's difficult to hold it against it. Its resolution does at least mean it's capable of handling 720p videos on YouTube.
In my brief hands-on it seemed reasonably bright and fairly vivid too, so it should be adequate for office tasks and watching streaming video. I'll wait for the full review to see exactly whether it's up to the task of handling harsh office lighting or bright direct sunlight.
Like most of Dell's laptops, the Inspiron 14Z will be customisable to be exactly as powerful as you need -- or, more likely, as you can afford.
The base model will be available with an older generation Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3 processor, but can be configured to include the latest Ivy Bridge processors up to a Core i7. Together with up to 8GB of RAM, that should provide a healthy serving of power.
Even the lower-end configuration should have no trouble with most office tasks so typing up those essays in MS Word and browsing Wikipedia for critical information shouldn't be an issue. If you hope to turn your hand to something more demanding like photo and video editing, however, you'd be wise to spend the extra cash and go with a Core i5 or i7 chip.
The latest Ivy Bridge processors promise better built-in graphics than their predecessors which will help out with tasks like high-definition video playback. If you want even more graphics power to tackle the games when you're supposed to be studying then you can pop an AMD Radeon HD 7570M graphics card in there too.
Suffice to say I'll be brutally tearing into a model when one lands on my desk to let you know exactly what these things are capable of.
Dell's Inspiron 14Z definitely isn't the slimmest, lightest or best looking of the ultrabooks, but it's portable and can be specced up to be as powerful as you need. Let's hope the price is right for students wanting a slim machine for the new term.