Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition Review

by Andrew Baxter Reads (497,388)
Editor's Rating
7.14

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Software & Support
    • 7
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 8
    • Usability
    • 7
    • Design
    • 5
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Features
    • 7
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 7.14
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Beautiful 1920 x 1080 Full HD Screen
    • Base configuration specs are very generous for the price
    • Sturdy build quality and aluminum finish helps looks
    • AMD 7730M graphics provides some gaming ability, stays cool
  • Cons

    • Thick and bulky with a weight of 6.4lbs
    • Battery life is limited to around 3 hours
    • Slow 5400RPM hard drive is standard

Quick Take

The Inspiron 15R Special Edition is a "diamond in the rough" among affordable multimedia laptops.

The Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition laptop straddles the line between the company’s budget friendly Inspiron line and their more premium but higher priced XPS series. The most recent Special Edition model, the Inspiron 15R 7520, sports the new Windows 8 OS, a choice of third generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, an AMD Radeon 7730M 2GB graphics card and standard Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution screen. Though the suggested MSRP is $899, promotions and coupons often bring the price down below $700 and, unbelievably, this model under review was purchased direct from Dell.com for only $599 during a sale and coupon event. Read on to see why that price, or anything close to it, is a bargain for what you get with this hidden gem of a performance laptop from Dell.

Build and Design

To compliment its superior performance over the regular Inspirons the Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition has a more premium design and build as well. With the Inspiron 15R SE, you get some aluminum finishes on the case and a more rigid chassis than the comparable Inspiron 15 that starts at $349 and features a whole bunch of plastic.

The lid itself has an aluminum cover that provides nice protection for the display, pushing in on the lid will not cause any ripples to appear on the screen. We should note that the aluminum portion of the lid is actually a snap-in that can be changed using Dell’s “Switch” lid design. If you ever get bored of the black aluminum lid, you could head to Dell.com and purchase a different design snap-in, though it’s best to stick with something aluminum for the extra protection you get. The default lid cover has a black color with subtle honeycomb design and in the middle is a silver Dell logo.

Moving to the keyboard area, you get the same black honeycomb design aluminum plate around the keyboard and on the palm rest areas as you see on the lid. This aluminum area has a textured feel and appealing look, but it does tend to attract oil from your fingers that shows up as dark streaks across the keyboard deck. The silver trim around the edges is plastic, this silver area has exaggerated curves on the corners giving an overall bubbly look to the Inspiron 15R SE. From a usability perspective, the curves help to prevent any sharp edges and are comfortable as a wrist rest. At the top of the keyboard on the left side is a larger silver power button that has a white aluminum backlight and over on the top right side are three program shortcut keys.

The bottom of the Inspiron 15R SE houses a couple of speakers, the removable battery and a panel with three screws that you can remove to get access to upgrade the memory or hard drive. The entire underside uses a black metal cover that provides nice support for protecting the internals.

If you were looking for something thin and sleek you may as well stop reading now. The Inspiron 15R SE is beefy at 1.3″ thick and a portly 6.4lbs (despite the fact Dell claims 6.09lbs on their website, our scales report differently). While you don’t expect something that’s a performance oriented 15-inch screen laptop to be wafer thin and light, it sure looks like an elephant next to any 15-inch laptop that receives the Ultrabook billing.

The overall build quality of the Inspiron 15R SE (7520) is very good and it’s hard to find anywhere on the surface of the laptop that you can push in and make the chassis flex or deform. The general fit and finish is clean and looks good, the design certainly beats that of the regular Inspiron, but it’s still unlikely to turn heads and wow any passersby, step up to the Alienware brand from Dell for that.

Ports and Features
Given the thickness of the Inspiron 15R SE you might assume there’s plenty of room for ports, and you’d be right. Although the variety of USB, HDMI and VGA ports is appreciated, it might have been nice to have a DisplayPort output as that would more easily support higher resolution and multiple external monitors.  Other than that every port you need should be here.  The generous count of four USB 3.0 ports will satisfy most. The optical drive included on this configuration is simply a DVD Burner variety, you can find configurations with Blu-Ray.  Since the Full HD screen is now standard the higher definition Blu Ray movie formatting might appeal to movie buffs.

Other features worth mentioning are the fact you get the Intel Centrino Wireless 2230 card that supports 802.11 b/g/n, Intel WiDi and Bluetooth 4.0. You also get a built-in web camera and microphone, the camera has a 1.0MP resolution.


Left: Power jack, VGA monitor out, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, microphone and headphone jack.

Right: Optical drive, two more USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet LAN port for networking (Gigabit capable).

Front: Media card reader that accepts SD, MMC, MS Pro and xD cards.

Back: No ports here, just the hinge and the latch to pop off the Switch lid.

Screen
The Full HD display on the Inspiron 15R SE is one of the highlights of this system. At the $600 – $800 price point for a laptop you often get a 1366 x 768 resolution display, so the 1920 x 1080 resolution is a big bonus. The deal is further sweetened by the fact the display panel is high quality and has many other features outside of the resolution to like about it. For one, the screen finish is a matte anti-glare that makes for comfortable viewing for many hours; you won’t get any annoying reflections off this screen.

Another nice feature of the screen is the brightness, rated at 300 nits, the screen is bright enough for viewing outside so long as you don’t have the sun shining directly on the screen. If you’re in a dark room you’ll most certainly have to dim the brightness from full. Contrast ratios are also good and colors are true so movies look great and text appears crisp and well defined. The viewing angles are quite wide, you can stand off to the side and colors hold. However, as this is not an IPS quality screen: When you view the screen from a high or a low angle the colors will either wash out or invert once a large enough angle is reached. So long as you are viewing the screen straight on, or close to it, you usually won’t notice the color shift.


Bottom line, this is a top notch screen for the price you’re paying for the notebook. There are certainly better 15.6″ screens out there, but you’ll generally have to pay closer to $1,000 (or more) to find a laptop with a superior IPS display.

Speakers
Dell claims on their website “you won’t believe your ears” when it comes to listening to the Skullcandy branded speakers housed on the bottom of the Inspiron 15R SE. That may be a stretch, the audio is certainly above average and you can turn the volume up and get loud sound without distortion, but there’s no built-in subwoofer so you’re missing out on the bass included with any sound track. It seems given the thickness of the laptop there should be room for at least a small subwoofer on the bottom, but it’s not exactly a typical feature on a laptop in this price range so the absence can therefore be forgiven.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The large size of this laptop allows for a very spacious keyboard, unfortunately Dell did not see fit to include a number pad even though it was in the previous generation of the Inspiron 15R. That complaint aside, the usability of the keyboard is good. The key travel is somewhat shallow but that allows for fast touch typists to easily register key strokes. The keyboard is firm; there is no flex or mushy areas to contend with. The U.S. model has a standard backlit keyboard — a very nice feature for allowing you to see keys in the dark — plus it provides a cool look. The media keys are integrated into the function buttons; for instance, you have to hold down Fn + F12 to increase volume. At the top right of the keyboard are three shortcut buttons; one launches the Windows 8 Mobility Center, the second toggles audio settings and the last can be customized to launch a program of your choice.

The touchpad is also generously sized and includes two dedicated mouse buttons. Using Dell software you’re able to control various settings such as two finger scrolling on the edges and whether multi-finger gestures are enabled. If you want to disable the touchpad entirely simply hold down Fn + F3 and and an orange light indicator will come on above the touchpad area indicating its off state. The mouse buttons themselves are easy to push down and provide a soft touch so there is no loud click when registering a press.


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