by Jerry Jackson
Dell recently took center stage with the release of the new Dell Studio 14z laptop, but for those students shopping for even more affordable notebooks, Dell has a surprise in store with the all new Inspiron 14. This 14-inch notebook isn’t as thin and light as the Studio 14z, but the Inspiron 14 packs an optional built-in Blu-ray drive and dedicated graphics … or you can pick up a base configuration in time for school for less than $500.
I recently spent some hands-on time with a pre-production unit of the Dell Inspiron 14 so that I can give you a first look at why this budget-priced 14-inch laptop offers a great balance between features and low cost. We still need to get our hands on a final review unit, but there are a lot of reasons that high school and college students will be interested in this notebook.
Overview of specs and features:
The Inspiron 14 might seem like a simple evolution of the Inspiron 1420 laptop, but inside the clean-looking chassis you’ll find the same HD (720p/900p resolution) screen options found in the new Dell Studio 14z as well as options for Blu-ray and discrete graphics. Here’s a quick look at the highlights:
|Processors||Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium Dual Core, or Intel Core 2 Duo processors|
|Memory||Up to 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Storage||SATA Hard Drive options up to 500GB capacity and up to 7200RPM speed|
|Optical Drives||DVD+/-RW or optional Blu-Ray Disc|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X4500HD (standard) or ATI Mobility Radeon HD4330 512MB (GDDR2)|
|Webcam and Microphone||Optional 1.3MP integrated webcam with facial recognition software and microphone|
|Displays||14.0″ HD 1366 x 768 (WLED) standard
14.0″ HD+ 1600 x 900 (WLED) optional
|Wired Networking||Integrated 10/100 Ethernet LAN|
|Wireless LAN||Dell Wireless 1397 802.11g
Dell Wireless 1515 802.11a/g/draft n
Intel WiFi Link 5100 (802.11a/g/draft n)
|Bluetooth||Optional Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth (2.1) Internal mini-card|
|Media Card Slot||7-in-1 memory reader (Memory Stick, SD, SDHC, SDHD, MS Pro, MMC+, XD)|
|I/O Ports||3 USB 2.0, VGA, RJ45, headphone, microphone, ExpressCard/34|
|Operating System||32- and 64-bit options of Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 and Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (Windows 7 Ready)|
|Battery||6-cell 56WHr Li-Ion battery, optional 9-cell 85WHr Li-Ion battery|
|Dimensions||1.0-1.5 x 13.3 x 9.4 inches (HxWxD)|
|Starting Weight||4.96 lbs (2.3kg)|
|Security||Kensington lock slot, Failsafe Theft Protection, DataSafe|
|Remote Access||Includes Dell Remote Access|
|Warranty||1-year limited warranty standard with options up to 4 years|
Build and Design
The design of the Inspiron 14 looks like an enlarged version of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 10 netbooks. At first glance you can easily see that Dell designers are trying to establish clearly identifiable designs for all Dell notebooks: all Inspiron laptops look similar, Studio laptops have the same general design as other Studio laptops, and one Studio XPS notebook likewise looks like other Studio XPS notebooks. At this point shoppers should be able to identify Dell’s entry-level products (Inspiron), mid-range products (Studio) and high-end products (Studio XPS) with little more than a glance.
The chassis of the Inspiron is constructed from a combination of exterior plastics and an alloy interior framework for a balance of affordability, durability, and light weight. While the Inspiron 14 doesn’t feel quite as durable as the new Studio 14z, the Inspiron 14 should survive the average use and abuse by college students … although the plastics may start to show some wear and tear after some time inside a book bag.
The keyboard in the pre-production unit felt quite firm with good key spacing and a good depth to the key throw. There was some keyboard flex above the optical drive in the pre-production unit, but nothing that isn’t normal for a budget notebook. Each key has a textured black finish and a relatively flat surface similar to the keyboards on the Dell Mini series of netbooks … only larger. Unlike the Studio 14z, there is no optional backlit keyboard, so students will need to keep the lights on during late-night study sessions.
The touchpad on the pre-production unit of the Inspiron 14 felt much like a larger version of the touchpad found on the Dell Mini 9 and Mini 10, but that souldn’t be much of a surprise since the design of this notebook is modeled after Dell’s popular line of netbooks. The touchpad had excellent sensitivity, responsiveness, and smooth tracking. The touchpad buttons were easy to press with no annoying “click” when pressed but the buttons did feel a little “springy” in the pre-production unit.
At the time of launch the Dell Inspiron 14 is available with your choice of colors including, Obsidian Black, Alpine White, Cherry Red, Ice Blue, Promise Pink, Jade Green, and Passion Purple. Dell will also donate $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for every order of the Inspiron 14 in Promise Pink in the US. Starting in August the Dell Design Studio will offer the Inspiron 14 in your choice of more than 120 different designs, so students can make their laptop as unique as they are.
Performance and Features
We didn’t have an opportunity to benchmark the pre-production unit of the Inspiron 14, but Dell made it very clear that this notebook is aimed at students who want a good laptop for general use at an affordable price and don’t need all of the features found on the more expensive Studio 14z. For example, the Inspiron 14 lacks FireWire and eSATA and the starting price only includes Intel integrated graphics. On the other hand, the optional 1600 x 900 screen, optional Blu-ray drive, and optional ATI discrete graphics give the Inspiron 14 some impressive bang for the buck.
This is where the $449 starting price of the Inspiron 14 looks extremely impressive compared to the $649 starting price of the Studio 14z. Sure, the starting price of the Studio 14z includes a better processor, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics and a better selection of ports, but the Inspiron 14 still offers a built-in optical drive and dedicated 7-in-1 media card reader. Bottom line, back-to-school shoppers are going to have two very impressive options from Dell this year.
In terms of additional features, the Inspiron 14, like the Studio 14z, will offer FailSafe theft prevention: an option that helps protect your personal data in the event that your laptop is missing or stolen. With Failsafe engaged, you can track network information and the ISP location of your laptop when it connects to the Internet, and you can remotely erase selected files and render the laptop unusable until the rightful owner unlocks it.
Unlike the Studio 14z, at the time of launch the Inspiron 14 won’t offer optional built-in mobile broadband wireless cards to allow you to stay connected to the Internet even when you’re away from a Wi-Fi connection. However, the Inspiron 14 does come with Dell Remote Access; the optional premium version of which allows people to access content via their home network of personal computing devices including desktops, laptops, ultra-mobile devices, smart phones and web cameras.
We will have a detailed review of the Dell Inspiron 14 coming soon, so stay tuned to NotebookReview.com for an in-depth review of this notebook.
Pricing and Availability:
The Dell Inspiron 14 has a starting price of $449 U.S. and is available online this week and on QVC starting today. For more information on the available custom options, be sure to visit www.dell.com
The QVC configuration offered this weekend will include the following for $899:
- 2.0GHz Intel Pentium dual-core processor T4200
- 14″ diagonal glossy widescreen display
- 4GB DDR2 SDRAM
- 320GB SATA hard driveIntel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD graphics
- DVD+/-RW drive, double-layer DVD+R write capability
- Dell 2GB DataSafe online backup/storage for one year
- Intel 5100 wireless-N mini card
- Integrated Intel high-definition audio 2.0
- Built-in 1.3 megapixel Web cam
- 6-cell battery
- 3-year Computrace LoJack for Laptops theft protection
- 1-year automated PC TuneUp
- Integrated 7-in-1 memory card reader
- Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium, SP1
- MS Works Plus 2008, with Word 2003
- 15-month McAfee Security Center Subscription