Ultra in More Ways than One
Ultrabooks are all the rage these days but their price tags often push them out of reach for students, parents and schools. No more, Dell’s Inspiron 15z starts at $700, and shows how far a little extra care and thought can go when it comes to creating a notebook.
At 4.8-pounds, the Inspiron 15z has a large 12-ounce AC adapter that adds up to a reasonable travel weight of 5.6-pounds. The dimensions of the demure gray and silver system of 1.0- by 14.9- by 9.8-inches stretch the definition of an Ultrabook, but with a 15.6-inch screen, it is about as compact and light as a notebook with this size display gets these days; there's also a red model. It has rounded corners and is a pound lighter than standard notebooks with similar screens so that it fits into a student’s backpack as easily as it fits into any school’s décor.
Its 18.9-mm keys are comfortable and thoughtfully backlit with white LEDs, making it a hit for those who have to teach and learn by the light of a projector; there are two brightness settings for the keys. Inside the Inspiron 15z is a high-powered notebook with the choice of Core i3, i5 and i7 processor, between 6- and 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive and the luxury of an optical drive that can read and write DVD discs. The premium system I looked at was set up with a 1.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive and sells for $1,000.
The system uses Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 imaging engine and a 15.6-inch display that is bright, vivid and can show 1,366 by 768 resolution. The display is made out of super-strong Corning Gorilla Glass and should be able to stand up to daily classroom abuse.
While it has a responsive touchpad that can work with Windows 8 and simple gestures, if you want to get the most out of the new operating system, get the touch-screen option. It adds about $200 to most models.
On the outside of the Inspiron 15z is a good assortment of ports for classroom use, including a trio of up to date USB 3.0 connectors, HDMI and audio. It sounds good for educational games, spoken word and music material, thanks to Skull Candy speakers, but can be short on bass tones because the speakers are under the notebook. In addition to a 1 megapixel Web cam, the system has a dual microphone array, making for excellent videoconferencing potential.
On the downside, like several other newer notebooks, it leaves the old world behind. The Inspiron 15z lacks a VGA connector for using an older monitor or projector. It comes with an SD card slot, WiFi and wired networking.
As far as performance goes, the Inspiron 15z is at the head of the class with a Performance 8.0 score of 1,480.4, putting it far ahead of typical school computers. While the system kept its cool, even when it was stressed with tough tasks, the Inspiron 15z’s fan can get annoyingly loud.
The performance advantage is not at the expense of battery life with the 15z running for 4 hours and 12 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos on a charge of its 4,400-milli-amp hour battery pack. That should be more than enough to get through the typical school day of stop and go computing on a charge. Be warned, though, that like other Ultrabooks, you can’t swap the 15z’s battery.
In addition to Windows 8, the Inspiron 15z comes with the expected mix of software, including McAfee’s Security Center and a trial version of Office. Dell’s customized Windows Mobility Center is a true gem, consolidating every key configuration item – from screen brightness and external displays to keyboard brightness – into one screen.
The system comes with a one-year warranty and upping that to a more realistic three-years of coverage adds $150. At $1,000, the high-performance model I looked is out of reach for most schools, but the $700 entry level Inspiron 15z is a great way to outfit a classroom with notebooks without having kids lug around too much gear.
Price: base, $700; as tested, $1,000
+ Surprisingly thin and light notebook
+ Top performance
+ Optional touch screen
+ Three USB 3.0 ports
+ Optical drive built-in
- No VGA