Dell's Inspiron line-up is a staple of the mid-range laptop world, traditionally offering a little extra in the style department compared to rivals. The Inspiron 15R (N5110) is a 15.6-inch machine that has interchangeable lids, and some surprisingly nippy components stuffed inside. Depending on the configuration you opt for, it'll set you back somewhere between £430 and £680. Our review unit appears to be a high-end model, though as with most Dell kit, there's a great deal of customisability when you order from the online store.
The design is recognisably Dell, with a small lip at the back of the laptop jutting out beyond the screen hinge. Dell offers a wide range of colourful lid designs, but our sample was a demure grey, with a brushed effect.
Rounded edges are the order of the day. Thanks to curves on almost every edge, the 15R is almost impossible to poke your eye out with.
The interior features plenty of glossy black, while a chrome trim surrounds the keyboard, and a white LED sits beneath the power switch. All things considered, we think the 15R is a fairly stylish machine for the price.
The build quality seems reasonable, which is good to see -- Dell occasionally disappoints in this area. There's not much flex in the lid or the keyboard, and the whole chassis feels reasonably sturdy, even if it does look quite plasticky.
The 15R measures 343 by 34 by 246mm, so it's not particularly thin. It's not that light either, with a weight of around 2.4kg. Still, it's reasonably portable, and you won't have any trouble lugging it around with you on your daily adventures.
That said, the machine's battery life is less than impressive. We put the 15R's battery to the test by running the CPU at a constant 100 percent in the Battery Eater Classic test, timing how long it took for the juice to evaporate. The machine managed just 1 hour and 15 minutes before kicking the bucket. While you'll get much longer battery life with ordinary use, this figure isn't great as a minimum benchmark.
Dell makes much of the 15R's interchangeable lids, but we're not convinced. We'd be surprised if anyone buys a laptop with the aim of switching lids. The various designs are pricey too, with the cheapest lids costing a shocking £30 and the pricier versions setting you back £40.
Perhaps our fingers are unusually frail, but we really struggled to get the lid cover off the 15R at first. After that, the mechanism seemed to ease up slightly, but our initial struggle makes us question the removal process.
All things considered, we don't think the ability to swap lids is much of a selling point.
The 15R's 15.6-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, which is standard for laptops of this size. The screen is very colourful, though, with a fairly wide horizontal viewing angle. We're pleased to report, too, that our test video looked rather spiffing on this panel.
We also liked the large, responsive trackpad, and we didn't mind the click buttons either -- they feel quite loose, and move around in their housing amount, but at least they're not stiff, so you won't find your fingers getting sore after a heavy scrolling session.
The keyboard is decent -- there's a generous gap between individual keys to help you cut down on mistakes. There's not much travel to the keys, though, and the whole keyboard is set slightly lower than the wrist rest, so you might find your fingers have to stretch slightly further than usual.
Connectivity is impressive. Around the edges, there are three USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), an eSATA/USB port, a multi-format card reader, HDMI and VGA outputs, an Ethernet jack, a DVD rewritable drive and two 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic.
There's a 1-megapixel webcam above the display. Our machine has a 500GB hard drive, although more storage space is available if you're willing to cough up for it. The laptop runs the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium.
Dell's pre-installed its Stage software. It's basically a dock that hangs around on your desktop, and houses shortcuts for your music, photos, documents and browser bookmarks. If you're familiar with Windows already, you'll probably find it just as quick, if not quicker, to access files the traditional way. If you're a first-time computer owner, this simplified set of shortcuts could come in useful.
There's some rather natty tech bouncing around inside the 15R. Our model had a dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU, but a dual-core 2.1GHz Core i3-2310M chip is available if you want to save some money.
There's 4GB of RAM on all but the cheapest two models, which have 3GB. The most expensive configuration offers a dedicated graphics card in the shape of an Nvidia GeForce GT 525M, otherwise you'll have to make do with an integrated Intel 3000 HD video card. Our review model has that Nvidia card on board.
Our 15R put in an impressive showing in our benchmark tests, thanks to the decent helping of memory and Core i5 processor. It scored an impressive 6,957 in the PCMark05 test, and a very respectable 8,098 in 3DMark06.
Based on tests we've run on other laptops, the Intel integrated 3000 HD graphics chip performs well, but we'd expect graphical performance to be less impressive than if you've got a dedicated GPU. You might still get away with a spot of gaming on a 15R with integrated graphics though, as long as you're not planning on running cutting-edge titles.
The Dell Inspiron 15R isn't too exciting in terms of its design, and its battery life is fairly dismal. But its performance is impressive for the price. It would be a good choice for students seeking a reasonably priced laptop that handles movies and music well.
Edited by Charles Kloet
Update: We've updated the graphics benchmark section of this review to include the latest information.