When you need to strike the balance between a desktop-replacement notebook and a laptop for frequent travel you will probably end up shopping for a 14-inch notebook. The Dell Inspiron 14 is one of the most popular laptops in this class and comes packed with the latest Intel processors and a nice range of options at an affordable price. Is this the best 14-inch consumer laptop? Keep reading to find out.
Dell Inspiron 14 (1464) Specifications:
The design of the Inspiron 14 hasn't changed much in the last year since Dell released the Inspiron 14, Inspiron 14z and Studio 14z laptops. As mentioned in the specifications above, our review unit comes with the newer Intel Core i3 330M dual core processor. We're calling this laptop the "Inspiron 14" in our review, but it's worth mentioning that Dell markets this system as the "Inspiron 14" as well as the "Inspiron 1464." You can also find this system selling on the Dell website under the older configuration name "Inspiron 1440" with older Intel processors. Of course, there's also the Inspiron 14z (also called the Inspiron 1470) that uses the Intel CULV processors for extended battery life. Are you confused yet? We sure are.
Moving beyond the superfluous model names for essentially the same laptop, the Inspiron 14 looks like an average budget notebook with a 14-inch display. The plastic construction, average screen resolution, and lack of a backlit keyboard certainly don't give this laptop the same premium look and feel as the Dell Studio 14z. You might think that the palmrests and area surrounding the keyboard are made of metal at first glance, but upon closer examination you'll find that it's just plastic with a fancy metallic finish.
When closed the Inspiron 14 looks relatively thin compared to budget laptops from several years ago, but the weight of the 6-cell battery makes this system a bit too heavy to qualify for the "thin and light" category today. The "Promise Pink" screen lid gives the Inspiron a nice candy-covered look, but Dell charges a $40 premium for the privilege of selecting pink instead of black. On a more positive note, Dell donates $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for every pink Inspiron 14 that they sell. Sure, $40 is a little excessive for just sticking a chuck of colored plastic on a notebook, but it's nice to know that your purchase is helping a good cause.
The bottom of the notebook features the battery and single access plate for the RAM and wireless card. Removing the hard drive requires more in depth disassembly. There isn't much to talk about here other than to briefly mention the location of the two speakers on the bottom of the front edge (more on that later). The bottom of the Inspiron 14 likewise suffers from the same flexible plastics mentioned previously in the review. You won't notice it if you aren't squeezing the laptop, but if you're running to a class or a business meeting with the laptop in your hands you might feel it "bending" under the pressure from your fingers.
In short, the Dell Inspiron 14 looks cool and is probably durable enough for desktop replacement work, but the heavy use of thin plastics certainly doesn't help the laptop feel as durable as it could be.
Screen and Speakers
The 14-inch high-definition (1366 x 768) panel on the Dell Inspiron 14 isn't quite as nice as the vibrant 1600 x 900 screen used on our review unit of the Studio 14z. The colors on this screen are generally good but contrast wasn't as impressive. The LED backlighting in our review unit is pretty even and offers a range of brightness settings. Honestly, since all 11-inch notebooks/netbooks come with 1366 x 768 resolution displays we feel it's time to make 1600 x 900 the "minimum" resolution of 14-inch notebooks. Horizontal viewing angles are extremely good, so you won't have any trouble sharing a movie with the person sitting next to you on a plane. Vertical viewing angles are average or below average with colors quickly washing out when viewed from above and colors begining to distort and invert as you move the screen back.
Once again, the stereo speakers on the Inspiron 14 class of notebooks failed to impress me. The stereo speakers produce average sound quality and are located beneath the front edge of the notebook palmrests firing downward at your lap. I usually call this type of audio "crotch speakers" because the speakers aren't pointed up toward the user. If you're using the Inspiron 14 on a desk then the audio from the speakers "bounces" off the hard desk surface and it sounds okay, but if you're using this PC as a "laptop" then the sound is going to be muffled.
Bottom line, the speakers aren't horrible ... but the location isn't helping matters. You'll probably want to use a good set of headphones with this notebook, and the headphone jack produces clear, distortion-free sound.
The keyboard on our review unit has full-sized keys with acceptable key spacing and an excellent depth to the key throw. Each key has a textured black finish and a relatively flat surface. The keyboard isn't as firm as it could be, so if you type with a lot of force you might have to worry about keyboard flexing or lightly bouncing while you type. My only minor aggravation is that the keyboard isn't available with optional backlighting ... making it harder to type in a dark classroom or dorm room. I felt a little cheated since the Dell Alienware M11x comes with a LED-backlit keyboard and sells for the same price as this Inspiron 14.
Still, as long as you type with gentle fingers and don't work in dark rooms then you should find the keyboard on the Inspiron 14 to be perfectly fine.
Ports and Features
The port selection on the Inspiron 14 is pretty average for a budget 14-inch notebook with one or two exceptions. Dell included three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI video out ports, Ethernet, and a multi-format memory card reader. Unlike the Studio 14z, which sacrifices an optical drive for the sake of portability, the Inspiron 14z includes a standard 8x CD/DVD burner with dual-layer support. The Inspiron 14 lacks an ExpressCard slot, FireWire, and eSATA, so if those ports are important to you then you'll need to look elsewhere.
Left: Kensington Lock slot, power jack, heat vent, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, and USB 2.0.
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