Dell Inspiron 11z is a budget laptop with lots of potential, but one major flaw

Dell Inspiron 11z is a budget laptop with lots of potential, but one major flaw

Intel's Atom processor has grabbed all the headlines over the past 18 months, but the firm's range of CULV processors has quietly made waves too: many budget ultraportables now sport these low-power chips.

Dell's Inspiron 11z is the latest to pack one, and it's easy to see why they're so attractive. With a result of 0.68 in our benchmarks, processors such as the dual-core 1.3GHz Pentium SU4100 featured here boast not only a 50% performance advantage over the most powerful Atom CPUs, but in combination with a high-capacity battery they can also challenge netbooks on battery life.

The six-cell battery installed in our review system is the key here. It boasts a capacity of 4800mAh, and in our real-world tests it helped the Dell Inspiron 11z last an impressive length of time away from the mains.

It carried on going for a massive eight hours under light use and achieved nearly three-and-a-half hours in our more demanding heavy-use tests.

It's a result that's right up there with the best laptops we've seen, and certainly puts the Inspiron on a par with netbooks. While the A-Listed netbook, Samsung's N110, kept going for even longer - 11 hours - it has a smaller screen to keep lit.

The N110 also has a lesser specification. Breaking free of the netbook tag means Dell can shake off the other restrictions, and it takes advantage by including 2GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium and a 250GB hard disk with this configuration. You can take advantage of this using Dell's online configurator with the higher end model, which starts from $999.

The only obvious omission, as we'd expect in an ultraportable at this price, is an optical drive. You can buy an external Dell DVD writer, but that's no match for the integrated writer included with ViewSonic's ViewBook Pro.

We're pleased to see 802.11n wireless, but gamers won't be too impressed by the choice of Intel's GMA 4500MHD graphics chipset. This rules out all but the most basic of games.

The Inspiron's chassis also disappoints. The glossy lid and grey wristrest look fine, but poor build quality abounds: the base creaks and twists when handled, and applying light pressure to the rear of the flexible screen results in noticeable ripples on the Windows desktop.

That perhaps isn't surprising given the 11z's thin profile, but Samsung has shown that thin-and-light laptops, such as its netbooks, don't have to compromise on build quality for the sake of weight.

One area where the Dell wins over most netbooks is its 11.6in screen, which has a high native resolution of 1366 x 768. While the display quality isn't stunning - for instance, bright whites and dark-grey shades lack definition, and its viewing angles are mediocre - it's fine for everyday use. The only likely annoyance for office workers is the distracting glossy finish.

But far worse than these minor niggles is the touchpad. Dell has inexplicably equipped the Inspiron 11z with a pad similar to the one on the Atom-powered Dell Inspiron Mini 10.

While most of the surface is wide and responsive, the right and left mouse buttons are built into the corresponding corners of the pad itself.

It's an approach that simply doesn't work: the buttons are stiff, uncomfortable and awkward to use, and we often found our clicking finger slipped away from the button area and onto the pad, moving the cursor away from its intended target. It was enough to put us off the Mini 10, and it has the same effect here.

The keyboard is better, but again not perfect. The wide, flat keys and sensible layout mean it's easy to get up to speed, but we'd have preferred greater travel and a more positive typing action.

It's a shame about the chassis and the terrible trackpad, because on paper the Dell Inspiron 11z is a fine deal.

Combined with its impressive battery life, the good performance - compared to a netbook - and low price might be enough to tempt many to whip out their credit cards.

But, in the end, neither longevity nor the price tag prove enough to overcome its problems; the creaky chassis and dreadful touchpad design undermine a budget laptop of great potential.

Dell Inspiron 11z
5 6
A poor touchpad and below-par build quality undermine a budget laptop with plenty of potential
Features & Design
Value for money
• Price: 799 • CPU model/brand: Intel Pentium SU4100 • CPU speed: 1.3GHz • Memory capacity: 2GB • Hard drive capacity: 320GB • Graphics type: GMA 4500MHD • Dimensions WDH: 292 x 216 x 47mm • Manufacturer: Dell • Supplier: Dell
This review appeared in the March, 2010 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing

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