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I noticed almost no hiccups as I wrote this review in Microsoft Word. And that was while streaming music via Spotify, with a dozen tabs open in Chrome and a full system scan running in McAfee Internet Security.
The Inspiron 15 7000's quad-core Core i7 processor, although not the fastest in the Core i7 series, performed well on our tests. When we ran the CPU-crunching Cinebench test, the laptop achieved a score of 255.
- Cinebench: Graphics: 64.57 fps; CPU: 255 cb
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 46,505; Cloud Gate: 7,107; Fire Strike: 1,788
- PCMark 8 Home: 2,493
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 35 minutes
In terms of graphics, the notebook's GeForce GT 750M graphics burned through our benchmarks. Its score of 46,505 on 3DMark Ice Storm is three times higher than the 15,419 achieved by the HP Envy TouchSmart 15, which uses a GeForce GT 740M GPU. Still, the Inspiron 15 7000's low score on the Fire Strike DirectX 11 test illustrates its unsuitability for the most demanding titles, like Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3.
The Inspiron 15 7000's battery life is far from the best – on the PCMark 8 battery test it ran for 3 hours and 35 minutes – but it's by no means the worst, either. The TouchSmart 15, by comparison, lasted a mere 79 minutes on its battery rundown test.
If you reduce the screen brightness and refrain from using the speakers, the notebook will last at least half a day on charge. When I set the brightness at 50 percent, disabled the keyboard backlighting and plugged in a pair of headphones, the Inspiron 15 7000 ran for about 5 hours and 30 minutes before I needed to charge it again.
The Inspiron 15 7000's 1920 x 1080 touchscreen delivers impressively crisp and vivid visuals. When I streamed HD video on Netflix and Hulu, colors popped off the screen, and I noticed hardly any pixelation. Text on websites like The New York Times appeared similarly sharp.
The horizontal and vertical viewing angles are fairly wide. You can turn the screen 45 degrees in either direction without causing the colors to wash out, but the screen appears brightest when viewed head-on.
The touchscreen is quite responsive to input. Gestures such as edge-swiping and scrolling execute immediately, and you can use all ten fingers simultaneously. (Though, it's unclear when you would need to do so.)
Unfortunately, the bottom-mounted speakers fail to impress. The bass, although discernable, feels flat. What's worse is that high-end frequencies suffer from noticeable tininess. When I listened to "Genesis" by Grimes, for instance, the singer's ethereal voice frequently became distorted on high notes.
On treble-heavy songs, such as Joe Hisaishi's score to "Princess Mononoke," the distortion becomes even more apparent. Using the notebook on your lap muffles the sound, so that doesn't help, either.
The Dell Audio sound suite (powered by MaxxAudio Pro) hardly improves the quality of the speakers. While you can use the equalizer to fine-tune individual frequency settings or select from music presets such as Blues and Oldies, the audio still suffers from distortion and tininess.
Sound quality gets a serious boost with a good pair of headphones, though you'll want to keep the volume below 10 percent for fear of blowing out your eardrums. One welcome feature of MaxxAudio Pro is that it adjusts the sound depending on the size of your headphones; selecting small boosts the volume and bass, which is helpful if you're using earbuds.
The Inspiron 15 7000's full-size, island-style keyboard provides an excellent typing experience. The chiclet-like keys offer lots of vertical travel, and spacing between keys is generous. Dell also included a numeric keypad on the right, a welcome addition if you spend a lot of time crunching numbers.
I also appreciate that the function keys in the top row have been reversed, meaning I could change the volume and brightness without having to hold down the Function key. The function keys are generally useful, offering control over settings such as screen brightness, volume and Wi-Fi, as well as Windows 8-specific functions like Search and Share.
The laptop offers two levels of backlighting – dim and bright – which you can quickly adjust using a function key. The backlighting is generally even, although using the dim setting in a well-lit room can make it difficult to make out the keys in the top row.
Like the keyboard, the trackpad is generally excellent. At 4.1 x 3.1 inches (104 x 78 mm), it's rather spacious, and the slightly textured surface offers pleasant tactile feedback. Multi-touch gestures, like two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, perform smoothly.
The only quibble I have is that the right-click function seems to extend slightly above the line separating it from the left mouse button. As a result, I frequently opened the context menu when I meant to click on something.
Images captured with the 720p webcam look crystal clear during video chats. When I called my father on Skype, he reported that the video on my end appeared sharp and colorful. Moreover, he couldn't hear any background noise, even with an air conditioner running and music playing from the laptop's speakers. Using Dell Audio, you can adjust the microphone settings for noisy environments or private chats, but in my experience the voice setting offered the best quality.
The Inspiron 15 7000 ships with relatively few pre-installed applications. Third-party software include two different Amazon applications (a Windows 8 tile-based app and an app that lets you search on Amazon directly from the taskbar), eBay and a trial version of McAfee Internet Security.
There's also PocketCloud, an app that lets you remotely control your laptop from an Android or iOS mobile device. Using the app on your smartphone or tablet, you can view your laptop's screen and move the cursor around with your finger. Tapping the cursor functions as a left-click. A wheel menu around the cursor lets you maximize or minimize the screen, open your smartphone's keyboard, scroll up or down on the page or right-click.
PocketCloud shows promise, but a couple of issues kept me from fully embracing it. First, Windows 8 looks great on the Inspiron 15 7000's 15.6-inch screen, but not so much on my Samsung Galaxy S4's 5.1-inch display. Icons are too small to accurately tap, and if I wanted to interact with something on the other side of the laptop's screen, I needed to swipe several times on my phone's display to move from one end of the UI to the other.
The lag between the laptop and the mobile device is another problem. When I tried to scroll through a Word document on the Inspiron 15 7000 using my phone, it took a full two seconds for the shift downward or upward to be transmitted to the computer and then back again to the phone. Dell-branded programs include the aforementioned Dell Audio and the following:
- Dell Backup and Recovery Basic Edition: lets you back up selected files, create a bootable backup, and perform a system recovery
- My Dell: a hub from which you can perform a system check up and download the latest drivers
- Dell Shop: a portal in which you can purchase laptop accessories and other Dell products
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