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Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
The Inspiron 14r second generation (N4110) is a refresh of the original lineup. This includes the second generation Core i3 or Core i5 chips, as well as Intel WiDi. The model I was sent to review seemed to include more of the upgraded options on this model, which I will base most of my review off of. Keep this in mind if you are considering a purchase of the 14r with other options. I priced this laptop with the review specs and it came out to $799 after a $209 discount, but you can get one for as low as $499 depending on options.
I absolutely love the chicklet style keyboard. I have one on my HP dm4 as well as my Logitech Revue keyboard and will never go back to a non-chicklet style keyboard. Thank you Apple for popularizing them. I am not a fan of the overall design of the Inspiron 14r (N4110), especially the hinge system for the screen. It will suffice for a laptop if it is the one you choose though, and comes with decent options. Who couldn’t save a few bucks these days while still getting updated hardware internals?
This unit comes with Windows 7 Home Premium. It is what it is, and if you prefer Mac OSX then chances are you aren’t looking for a Windows computer. You can find reviews on Windows 7 elsewhere, but the basics are that it is an easier operating system to use than previous versions of Windows. It has more of the graphically pleasing features and animations, while performing better than the dreaded Windows Vista. Searching from the start menu is a great tool I use, as well as the keyboard shortcuts to push windows to either side of the screen.
Being a computer from a manufacturer, there are applications and Windows customizations that have been added by Dell. These include Skype, Cozi Family Calendar, My Identity Protection, Stage Remote, Dell DataSafe Local Backup, DataSafe Online, Dell Stage (media viewing and sharing), Dell Support Center, and Dell Webcam software.
I think the most useful of these added software are the Dell Support Center and the Webcam software. The rest of the stuff could have been left off and included as optional downloads. The computer also includes Microsoft Office Starter, which allows for basic viewing and editing of Word and Excel files.
A piece of software is included for the AMD graphics card and integrated Intel graphics. It allows you to select which applications to run on the integrated graphics and which to run on the dedicated graphics card. This means you can edit your documents and browse the web with the battery saving integrated graphics, while decoding videos and games with the dedicated graphics card.
Games and Application
I am not a gamer myself, so I did not play too many games on this laptop. It does play Minesweeper like a champ though!
That said, this device is not a gaming rig and will probably play games okay with a dedicated graphics, but won’t be the best machine out there for gaming. It handles YouTube videos fine as well as other flash content.
Application selection is going to be the same as any other Windows machine running Windows 7 Home Premium. There are some features of Windows that are not in this version of Windows but are available in enterprise or ultimate editions. Chances are you won’t need them anyways, so don’t worry about that.
You also get the Dell added software. The Dell Stage desktop gadget is pretty neat in that it places a sort of shortcut bar on your desktop with graphic hover animations. It’s a nice touch to try to differentiate between other hardware manufacturers. I am personally a minimalist so this doesn’t do much for me, but I can see how it will appeal to audiences that want personalization of their laptop with switchable lids.
On to the juicy stuff: hardware and build quality. With Windows machines, this section is probably the biggest differentiator I look at when making a purchase.
There are the power, disk activity, battery, and wireless LEDs on the bottom front of the machine which makes it easy to see even when the lid is closed. The speakers are on the bottom front of the laptop, which at times seemed to drown out the sound while in my lap. On the left side is a SD/MMC MS/Pro port for your media cards, a USB 2.0 port, a USB/eSATA port, a VGA port, and a HDMI port. There is also the only fan vent on the back of the left side. The back sports the power plug, laptop locking system to chain it down, a USB 3.0 port, and the Ethernet port. The back is also where the 6-cell battery slides out once unlocked from the bottom. On the right side of the machine you have a USB 3.0 port, headphone and microphone ports, and the DVD drive.
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
These are pretty standard laptop features, but most notable are the USB 3.0 ports. They’ll come in handy in the future when more stuff supports it, so this could be a laptop to keep around for a while. Also of note is the processor powering the laptop will either be the Intel Core i3 or Core i5, both second generation Sandy Bridge processors. These are supposed to be lower power devices, so extending the battery life. The age of components inside the device is a great thing to look at for considering a laptop to last a while, and this 14r refresh has most of the new stuff.
The battery in this system is a 6-cell 48Whr Li-Ion battery that can get up to 13 hours. My testing didn’t yield 13 hours, but I guess streaming Spotify drains the battery more than typing up documents or occasionally refreshing webpages. I am also probably getting less battery life because of the graphics card, which can eat up more battery. Overall, I’d say the battery will suffice most users. It’s not the device you want if you travel a lot and use it continuously without a plug nearby, but most people don’t do that. I’d say at least 4 hours of battery without attempting to save on power. That’s streaming music and having the screen on continuously, which are pretty big battery drains.
The build quality seems in line with other laptops in the 14r’s price range. The laptop feels heavier and thicker than my HP dm4, but that computer has an aluminum chassis. For that extra weight and thickness, you reduce the cost mind you. Cheaper plastics are used on the chassis to reduce cost. I am not a fan of this build type and don’t mind spending some extra money for a more sturdy feel. The plastic has a glossy black finish that seems to catch all of the oil and fingerprints from having my palms rest while typing. I can’t attest to how it will hold up over time, but I assume it will hold up better than the previous Inspiron computers where there was a painted grey finish that would rub off after a while.
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
Speaking of typing, I think I already mentioned how much I love this keyboard. Chicklet style is definitely the way to go. My larger fingers fare much better than older style keyboards where I don’t mistype. The keys are more rounded than my HP dm4 laptop, and I think I like that better; gives the keyboard and more relaxed and friendlier look. The keyboard has orange accents on the media keys and utility options such as wireless on/off, screen brightness, and the function key. I really like the color difference over my HP laptop that has white text for everything, where this allows me to quickly see the media buttons. The keyboard is lacking a backlit, but what can you expect on a more budget laptop? It shouldn’t be a problem unless you compute in the dark often.
I particularly like the three extra buttons at the top of the keyboard area: settings, support, and screen on/off. These provide quick access to pretty essential features. The settings button takes you to the Windows Mobility Center application, which has options for volume, screen brightness, battery profile, wireless, Bluetooth, and a few other settings. The support button takes you to the Dell Support Center application, which allows you to do all the fun support stuff: see if there are updates for your computer, find warranty information, perform diagnostics, and do pc checkups. The last button allows you to quickly turn on or off the screen, which will help with conserving battery if you are listening to music while doing homework. You will also appreciate the SRS Premium Sound in this laptop while you listening to music.
The hinge system on this laptop is still the older style hinges on top of the case where the screen tilts to hit the back of the laptop. I prefer the system where the hinges are on the back side and the screen folds to open around the back. However, the hinges on this 14r so stop at the back of the computer. This probably fixes a problem where older style Inspiron computers would have hinges break and the screen would fall out of position and slam far back. I know this from experience with my first XPS Gen 2 I had for a long time. Hopefully, this hinge system is better than that one.
I wanted to have a note on personalization of this laptop because it seems to be a major selling point. The customizable lid system allows you to change lids depending on your mood, or keep a single lid from when you purchase it. They offer solid colors as well as designs to be as artistic as you are.
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
It actually seems like a cool idea. I can be vibrant for school and personal life, choosing a wild design, but then change the lid to stock grey for business conferences. It’s something to consider if that is what you like. As mentioned before, the Dell Stage desktop gadget helps customize the Windows experience too, where users get a more eye-appealing graphic shortcut menu; think of it like the Mac menu where hovering over icons enlarges them. It’s a pretty cool effect.
Once again, I am not a fan of the lid system. The laptop looks like a topographical map when you have it closed. The lid is the top of the mountain or plateau, then the back of the screen peaks out behind it, and then the bottom case of the laptop is the bottom layer. I like the concept of changeable lids, but I think it looks a little too funky when closed. The laptop looks perfectly fine when the screen is open, so onlookers will not see anything funky with your computer, except for that design on the lid.
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
Common user recommendation
Like Windows? In the market for a decent laptop? Love to be different from anyone else and personalize your laptop? Consider the Inspiron 14r series as it will be plenty good longer than some of the other outdated models on the market. See if you like it and if it will work for you. Chances are you’ll really love the keyboard! This refresh has some of the latest hardware with the USB 3.0 standard, Intel WiDi, Bluetooth, SRS Premium Sound, and an eSATA port. Chances are it will last you a while if you take care of it.
Power user recommendation
You probably want to skip this Inspiron 14r and go with something that has a little more robust construction. This seems like a run-of-the-mill budget Windows laptop. There are performance upgrades, such as increasing the DDR3 RAM up to 6GB, selecting the Core i5 processor, having the dedicated AMD graphics card, up to a 640GB hard drive at 7200 RPM. These upgrades will probably perform very well for anyone but gamers, but I just feel like the construction quality is better on other devices, though you have to pay the extra money for it.
If you travel a lot, you probably want to consider a more portable and light laptop as well. The heavier feel is not easy to carrier with you through airports and in cabs all the time. Just something to consider.