Review Update: Dell Inspiron 11z

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After our less-than-enthusiastic review of the Dell Inspiron 11z, we decided to take a second look at this budget-priced ultraportable notebook. The “new” Inspiron 11z promises to kick things into high gear thanks to a new low-voltage dual-core processor, Windows 7 and an extended life battery. Should this updated ultraportable be on your holiday wish list? Keep reading to find out. 

Our Dell Inspiron 11z Specifications:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Intel Pentium SU4100 (1.3GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB Cache)
  • Intel GS45 + ISH9M chipset
  • 11.6″ WXGA LED-backlit display at 1366×768
  • Intel X4500 Integrated Graphics
  • Dell 1397 ABG Wireless
  • 2GB DDR2-800 SDRAM (1 Slot)
  • 250GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 65W (19.5V x 3.34A) 100-240V AC Adapter
  • 6-cell 56Wh 11.1v Lithium Ion battery
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 11.5″ x 8.43″ x 0.92-1.8″ with 6-cell battery
  • Weight: 3.48lbs with 6-cell battery
  • 2-year limited warranty
  • “Jade Green” lid
  • Price as configured: $663

Build and Design
Nothing has changed about the build and design of the Dell Inspiron 11z since our original review. The 11z retains a very simple design with a solid color glossy lid, matte black chassis, and a silver painted palmrest. When closed the shell is nearly flat, with few items sticking out the bottom cover, making it easy to slide into a slipcase or backpack. Inside the 11z keeps things equally simple with just the touchpad, keyboard, power button, and power indicator light. There are no media buttons outside of function keys on the keyboard, and there aren’t even activity lights or touchpad buttons. Dell wanted the design of the 11z to be as simple and straightforward as possible … and they succeeded in making this netbook clean and easy to use.

Our new review unit of the Inspiron 11z includes a “Jade Green” lid which looks a bit more like light lime green to my eyes. The paint quality is quite good, but I’m not crazy about the fact that Dell charges $40 for any color choice other than black. Sure, Dell deserves to make some money on customized options, but an extra $40 for a plastic lid that is painted something other than black seems excessive. Build quality is average with a mix of a firm support structure and flexible plastic exterior. The chassis feels reasonably durable thanks to strong internal support under most surfaces. The palmrest and keyboard showed very few signs of flex under strong pressure, but the area just above the keyboard does suffer from a little bit of loose fitting plastics when pressed. Additionally, the slightest bit of pressure will cause the scree lid to bend and flex, but the paint seems relatively scratch resistant.

Internally the design of the 11z is very friendly for users wanting to upgrade or replace components. At first you might notice there is no bottom access to components. Instead, Dell put all user-accessible components underneath the keyboard (which can be removed by taking out three screws). With the keyboard off you have access to an open WWAN slot, the system memory, hard drive, and heatsink assembly. The WWAN slot was functional, recognizing the Verizon card borrowed from a Dell Latitude D630; but it lacks antennas to allow the card to send and receive data. Dell currently doesn’t offer the Inspiron 11z with broadband wireless access here in the US.

Screen and Speakers
The 11.6″ screen on the 11z is a nice step up from the typical 1024×600 netbook screens. The 720p HD resolution of 1366×768 gives you the same resolution as most mainstream full-size notebooks. This means that menus and other items that need more vertical space are no longer a problem. The panel offers good color saturation and the LED-backlighting frovides even coverage and helps extend battery life. Contrast is average, and varied depending on the vertical viewing angle. The vertical viewing sweet spot is quite small, meaning colors quickly look washed out when you view the screen from above and look distorted or inverted when viewed from below. On the bright side, horizontal viewing angles are quite good … making it easy to share online videos with someone seated next to you.

The speakers sound slightly better than the average netbook speakers. The speakers still don’t provide much bass, but you can hear some of the lower tones and some solid midrange. Maximum volume levels are loud enough to fill a small room when watching a movie or listening to music. That said, if you want to enjoy movies in a group setting then you should use the laptop’s HDMI port and connect it to an HDTV. The HDMI cable passes both video and digital audio to your home theater system … and even the worst HDTV speakers will sound better than most notebook speakers.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the 11z is basically full-size and very comfortable to type on. The layout is easy to follow, taking no time at all to transition to and start typing at full speed. The key design is flat, similar to Chiclet style keyboards, but without an inner bezel dividing the keys. Individual key action is smooth, giving off a soft click when pressed. One odd feature Dell has been transitioning to on newer models is the reversed function key layout. If you want to adjust brightness, you press the correct button and the brightness changes. To hit F5 to refresh a page, you now need to hit FN+F5. Thankfully this feature can be disabled for more advanced users.

If you read our first review of the Dell Inspiron 11z then you know we didn’t like the touchpad. In fact, we went as far as to call the touchpad on the 11z the worst touchpad ever. Well, the touchpad on our new review unit of the 11z uses the same ELAN touchpad hardware, but this time Dell has updated the drivers for better performance. This makes the touchpad a little more usable, but it still suffers from many of the same problems.

If you hold one finger on the touchpad over the left or right button and try to move around the screen a few things might happen. One of the most common problems is unwanted zooming, meaning you will change the size of icons on the desktop or the size of text when viewing documents or webpages. We also still noticed the speed of the X and Y axis input isn’t consistent. Moving your finger side to side makes the cursor move more than if you travel the same distance up and down. A simple test is drawing a circle on the screen with your finger, where the 11z makes wide ovals instead.

Bottom line, we still consider an external mouse to be a must-have accessory with this notebook. Considering that “laptops” are designed to be mobile computing solutions it’s extremely frustrating that the touchpad on the 11z can’t get the job done.

Ports and Features
Port selection is average for most netbooks, with the exception of HDMI in place of an older VGA port. Dell included three USB ports, audio jacks, an SDHC-card slot, and LAN connector. Users might also notice that Dell went with a full-size power connection on the 11z, the same shared with every other Dell notebook. The power adapter is another change over most netbooks, as Dell included a 65w thin power brick with this model. On one hand it is nice to get a high quality power adapter that will probably hold up better over time than most netbooks’ adapters, but on the flip side it is pretty big.

Front: Power/Sleep indicator

Rear: Battery

Left: LAN, HDMI, one USB

Right: SDHC-slot, Audio jacks, two USB, AC Power, Kensington lock slot

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