Sleek and elegant chassis; Very long battery life; Solid performance and graphics; Impressive speakers
Keys could use more travel; Below-average screen brightness; Somewhat heavy for 15-incher
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series offers scintillating good looks with solid graphics performance and good battery life.
Dude, this is a Dell I wouldn’t mind getting. The company’s latest take on its Inspiron line of laptops, the Inspiron 15 7000 Series ($799) is, in a word, badass. Dell has gone for a sultry, more adult look that’s sure to turn heads. But more than that, the notebook does a pretty solid job of straddling the fence between gaming and entertainment, offering a serviceable Core i5 processor with a mid-level Nvidia GPU. In short, the Inspiron 15 7000 Series is putting its money, performance and battery life where its mouth is and heavy multimedia users and gamers should pay attention.
This is one high-end Dell that doesn’t look like a MacBook clone. While it doesn’t possess the flashing lights of its gaming brethren over at Alienware, the Inspiron 15 7000 Series still manages to stand out. The majority of the lid has a matte black, soft-touch finish that’s accented by a glossy fire-engine-red Dell logo in the center. It’s daring yet demure, enticing you to take a closer look. If black doesn’t do it for you, the Inspiron 15 also comes in a stunning Hibiscus Red.
You’ll find more of that sensually silky material gracing the palm rest, extending its inky tendrils around the keyboard deck. The power button sits directly above the right corner of the num pad below a black metallic speaker grille with red inlay that’s similar to what you’d find on Lenovo’s Y series gaming laptops. Mimicking the lid’s design pattern, the rather large touchpad has a bold red outline to give the laptop a nice pop of color.
Weighing 5.9 pounds and measuring 15.1 x 10.4 x 1 inches, the Inspiron 15-7000 is heavier and thicker than the HP Omen’s 4.8-pound, 15.1 x 9.7 x 0.78-inch frame and the Aorus x3 Plus v3 (4 pounds, 12.9 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches). You won’t have a problem moving this machine from room to room, but it’s not made for travel.
The matte black, soft-touch design with red accents is daring yet demure.
At first glance, the Inspiron 15’s 1920 x 1080p matte anti-glare display seemed dim. My suspicions were soon confirmed by our brightness test, which showed the panel averaged 222 nits. That’s below the 253-nit mainstream average.
Still, the non-touch screen managed to produce some rather vibrant colors. The mustard-color lining of actor Samuel L. Jackson’s coat popped on the display, drawing my eye to the rest of his ensemble in the 1080p The Hateful 8 trailer. His blood-red tie shimmered gently in the light, in brilliant contrast to his crisp white shirt and salt-and-pepper beard. Details were sharp enough to see the grime in the actor’s formerly white gloves.
During my play-through of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the display delivered a lovely blue sky that belied the arid brown desert below it. When I zoomed in on the protagonist’s gnarled face, the long jagged scars looked almost too clear, and some were accentuated by staple marks.
When tested for its color reproduction capabilities, the Inspiron 15 produced 70 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is good for a budget notebook but not great for a multimedia machine like this. The average laptop registers 82 percent. The Dell scored a ho-hum 4.1 on the Delta-E color accuracy test (closer to 0 is better).
Play it again, Dell. The Inspiron 15 has a nice range for such a relatively inexpensive notebook. Buoyed by the pre-installed Dell Audio software, the pair of top-mounted speakers and the subwoofer on the undercarriage filled our lab with loud, relatively clear sound.
Adele’s striking voice washed over me as I listened to “When We Were Young (Live at The Church Studios). The piano was nice and rich, melding with the gentle strum of the guitar and the light rhythmic crash of the tambourine. In fact, the only instrument I had trouble hearing was the bass guitar, which seemed to fade amid the other instruments.
As I engaged in a shootout during MGSV, the Inspiron 15 7000 delivered a tense staccato of bullets fired from automatic weapons. Some created a meaty sound as they hit their intended targets. As I made my getaway, my horse’s hooves thudded heavily on the rocky terrain as a violin swelled in the background.
Keyboard & Trackpad
I am fan of a keyboard that can fit a full number pad without squeezing out the regular keys. I’m an even bigger fan of keyboards that provide firm, bouncy feedback when typing. The Inspiron’s island-style keyboard doesn’t do the latter, delivering a measly 1.25 millimeters of key travel with 58 grams of force actuation. That lack of feedback contributed to my low 48 word per minute score on the 10FastFingers typing test, compared with my usual 60 wpm.
Size definitely matters — at least when it comes to touchpads. My fingers slid lightly over the large 4 x 3.1-inch surface, pinch-zooming in and out of articles with smaller print and quickly highlighting interesting passages with plenty of room to spare.
A quick glance around the Inspiring 15’s right reveals a single USB 3.0 port, HDMI, a 2-in-1 card reader, Gigabit Ethernet and a Kensington secure lock slot. On the left are a pair of USB 3.0 ports and Jackson for a headset and power.
The 720p webcam on the Inspiron 15 7000 captures decent stills and video. In the test shots taken at my desk, the camera did a solid job of capturing the varying shades of blue in my sweater, as well as the yellow stripe on the Laptop Mag banner in the background. Although I could easily see the pattern in my sweater, the overhead lights looked like amorphous blobs.
The Inspiron 15 stays fairly cool during mundane tasks but heats up when you get your game on. After streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the touchpad measured 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and undercarriage registered 91 degrees, which blows our 95-degree comfort threshold.
After I spent 15 minutes skulking around an enemy base, choking out enemy forces in MGSV, the touchpad measured 82 degrees. However, the space between the G and H keys leapt to 101 degrees while the bottom hit a downright toasty 105.
I enjoyed a stutter-free experience as I stealthy crept up behind a Russian soldier and gave him a chokehold.
Gaming & Graphics
Is it a mainstream notebook or is it a gaming notebook? Thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 4GB of video memory, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is a little bit of both. The laptop can definitely play current titles such as Fallout 4 or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain — just not always at the highest settings.
When I cranked everything up to Very High in MGSV, the laptop averaged 35 fps. That meant a stutter-free experience as I stealthy crept up behind a Russian soldier and escorted him to the land of Nod via a chokehold. The frame rate jumped to 58 fps on high and to 70 fps on medium.
The laptop delivered 88 fps on the BioShock Infinite benchmark on low at 1080p, which falls below the 94 fps mainstream average. At the highest settings, the system registered 35 fps, which is definitely playable, but below the 54 fps average.
The trend continued on the Metro: Last Light test, where the Inspiron hit 58 fps on low at 1080, missing the 76 fps average. The notebook finally tapped out when the settings were cranked to maximum, causing the laptop to produce 17 fps.
For those moments that you aren’t craving a new civilization out of the ruins of the irradiated past, the laptop will automatically switch over to the integrated Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU.
Never underestimate the middle child. Just because Intel Core i5 chips are considered mid-level chips that doesn’t mean that they can’t get the job done. The Inspiron 15’s 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ processor with 8GB of RAM ably streamed an episode of Master of None on Netflix while Fallout 4 played in a separate window with eight open tabs in Google Chrome — all while running a system scan.
The laptop scored 8,800 on the synthetic Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That’s enough to top the 8,531 mainstream average with a decent amount of points leftover. The Inspiron’s 1TB 5,400-rpm hybrid hard drive gives you a lot of space for games and content, but not much speed with its 8GB Flash cache. It took 2 minutes and 27 seconds for the drive to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files, resulting in a 34.6 MBps transfer rate. That is much lower than the 167 MBps average. (A version of this notebook with a faster 128GB SSD paired with a 1TB drive costs $1,299.)
The Inspiron 15 regained its footing during the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, where it matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 58 seconds. That was fast enough to leave the 5:26 average in the dust.
The Dell Inspiron 15-7000 Series held its own during the Laptop Mag Battery Test. It lasted 6 hours and 45 minutes of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, soundly beating the 5:43 category average.
Dell is so confident about this 15-7000 reboot, it sent over the base model for a test spin. At $799, consumers get a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hybrid hard drive with its 8GB Flash cache, an Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 4GB of VRAM.
The $999 middle-of-the-road option swaps out the non-touch 1920 x 1080p display for a 4K (3840 x 2160) touch panel. For $1,299, the Inspiron 15 is outfitted with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and the 4K touch panel.
For an entertainment/gaming laptop, the Dell Inspiron 15-7000 Series is mercifully short on bloatware. Outside of your usual cast of Windows 10 apps (Cortana, Mail, Calendar and Skype), you get some third-party software such as Flipboard, I Heart Radio and Twitter. A Dropbox hub gives you an extra 15GB of storage for a year when you sign up. The laptop also includes a 30-day free trial of McAfee LiveSafe.
Gamers will appreciate Nvidia’s GeForce Experience software, which has several features designed to enhance gameplay and endurance. There’s Battery Boost, which lets you cap performance at a predetermined frame rate. The app then throttles the notebook’s components so that gamers can eke out a bit more juice without sacrificing too much performance. You also get ShadowPlay, which enables you to record gameplay at resolutions of up to 1920 x 1080p and broadcast their gaming sessions to sites such as Twitch.
Dell-branded applications include the diagnostic-focused Support Assist and Power Manager Lite, which lets you access several power-consumption profiles for your system. You also get Dell Help & Support, which provides useful tutorials on setting up accounts, keeping your system healthy and setting up peripherals.
The Inspiron 15 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty out of the box.
It’s hard to be good at one thing, so it’s nice to see that the Dell Inspiron 15-7000 has a handle on several. The laptop’s redesign is sexy as all get-out and sets it apart from all the MacBook clones in the world. This machine’s mid-tier graphics delivers pretty solid framerates, too, while its battery life puts most gaming laptops to shame. However, I do wish the Inspiron 15’s display were brighter, which is an integral part of the entertainment experience. There are more powerful (expensive) 15-inch systems out there that consumers can choose from, such as the Toshiba Satellite Radius P55 4K (starting at $1,399) and the even pricier Razer Blade (starting at $2,199) for more hardcore gamers. But at $799, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series is a solid bet for gamers and multimedia fans searching for a powerful machine that won’t damage their bank accounts.