Dell’s Inspiron laptops are positioned below its higher-quality, more powerful XPS series, but you’d never know it from the Inspiron 14 7000 (starts at $829.99; $1,126.99 as tested). The new 7000 (specifically, model 7490) boasts a magnesium-alloy chassis that’s virtually as thin, light, and sturdy as an XPS enclosure, and the ultraportable pulls off the neat trick of squeezing a 14-inch display into a 13-inch form factor. Under the hood, it offers Intel’s 10th Generation “Comet Lake” CPUs and optional Nvidia GeForce MX250 dedicated graphics. Unless you need the 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution available with Dell’s XPS 13—and I’d argue you don’t in a 13.3- or 14-inch screen size—the Inspiron 14 7000 replaces the XPS 13 as the ultraportable to own and our Editors’ Choice pick.
Well-Equipped and Well-Engineered
Our test unit’s construction is just as impressive as its Core i5-10210U processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB solid-state drive, and GeForce MX250 graphics. The new Inspiron 14 7000 (model number 7490) puts an end to the days when Inspiron laptops were a cheap, plastic fallback option for those who couldn’t afford the rugged goodness of an XPS system. Dell says the magnesium-alloy chassis is lighter than aluminum but just as durable; it feels rigid without being heavy or bulky.
The black screen bezel is impressively thin on all four sides, which combines with new, higher-density boards and components to help shrink the size of the laptop. The Inspiron measures 0.6 by 12.6 by 8.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.9 pounds. By comparison, the Dell XPS 13 is only slightly thinner and lighter (0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches, 2.7 pounds) and the 13.3-inch Razer Blade Stealth is about the same size and a tad heavier (0.6 by 12 by 8.3 inches, 3.1 pounds). Dell’s step-down Inspiron 14 5000 occupies more of a typical 14-inch laptop form factor at 0.7 by 12.9 by 9.4 inches and 3.6 pounds.
Dell XPS 13 (7390)
HP Spectre x360 13 (Late 2019)
Black bezels aside, the system is a vision in silver. The lid, keyboard deck, and the keys themselves are a light silver color. If you tend to keep the keyboard backlighting on all the time, you’ll need to break that habit; the silver keys offer no contrast against the backlighting in a brightly lit room, rendering the keyboard a mysterious blank slate. I would have preferred traditional black keys. On the plus side, the keyboard is roomy and responsive with just the right amount of travel for a springy feel without being mushy. No keys are shortened, and the top right key combines the power button with a fingerprint reader for easy, secure logins.
The touchpad is accurate and responsive, but it offers a bit too much travel when clicked. It feels a bit flimsy, especially when clicked in either of the bottom corners, and its clicks are loud enough that they might annoy the person sitting at the next table at a coffee shop.
Getting Down to Business
Whether the Inspiron is hibernating or powered down, the login screen appears without having to hit the power button thanks to a sensor that begins to load Windows as soon as you lift the lid. You’ll still need to tap the fingerprint reader or enter your password if you’ve password-protected your Windows login.
The 14-inch touch screen offers 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. Unlike with the XPS 13, there is no 4K upgrade option. For this size display, however, a 1080p image is still sharp and affords a fairly roomy workspace—not to mention needing less battery power than a 4K panel, and the Inspiron 14 7000 delivers outstanding battery life, as you’ll see in the next section.
The display looks crisp with accurate colors, but it’s rated for an unremarkable 300 nits of brightness. That’s fine for indoor environments but isn’t the best pick if you work in the field and plan to use the Dell regularly outdoors, as you might be tempted to by its portability and optional LTE connectivity.
Despite the narrow bezel, the ultraportable finds room for a 720p webcam above the display. It provides a fairly sharp, well-balanced image for videoconferencing, and the system’s stereo speakers offer plenty of volume and clarity for video calls as well as YouTube and Netflix. They’ll also suffice for music playback as long as you don’t require a thumping bass response for full enjoyment of your tunes. On the whole, the audio output is impressive considering the laptop’s thin enclosure.
The efficient port selection covers the basics. On the left side, you get a Thunderbolt 3 port that doubles as a USB Type-C and power port, an HDMI video output, a microSD card reader, and a SIM card slot for mobile broadband.
On the right, you’ll find a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a headphone/microphone jack. My own wish would be to have a USB-C port on the right edge so I could connect the power cable to either side of the laptop.
Performance: State-of-the-Art Silicon
We’ve now seen a number of laptops with 10th Generation Intel mobile processors, both 14nm “Comet Lake” and 10nm “Ice Lake” varieties. The Inspiron’s Core i5-10210U is one of the former, a quad-core, eight-thread CPU with a clock speed of 1.6GHz and max turbo speed of 4.2GHz. Among the laptops in our performance comparison charts, the Dell XPS 13 also features a “Comet Lake” chip in the Core i7-10710U. The other three contestants have “Ice Lake” processors, a Core i5 in the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 and Core i7’s in the HP Spectre x360 13 and Razer Blade Stealth.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s storage subsystem. This result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Inspiron 14 7000 finished between the XPS 13 and the Inspiron 14 5000 in the PCMark 10 test. The two “Ice Lake” Core i7 laptops took first and second places. As we see in almost every laptop review nowadays, the systems’ swift solid-state drives posted scores hovering around the 5,000 mark in PCMark 8’s storage exercise.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie ) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The six-core Dell XPS 13 breezed to easy wins over its quad-core rivals in our Cinebench, Handbrake, and Photoshop tests. Even the latter are respectable choices for light media editing chores, though creative pros will lean toward larger, more powerful laptops such as the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro and its eight-core Intel Core i9 CPU.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics found in “Ice Lake” processors are more powerful than the Intel UHD graphics you get with a “Comet Lake” chip. Our Inspiron 14 7000 test unit, however, flaunted an Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU with 2GB of dedicated display memory, helping it outrun the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 13. (The Razer Blade Stealth and Inspiron 14 5000 ran into driver issues that prevented them from completing the 3DMark benchmarks.)
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test pans through a detailed 3D animation—this one rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The GeForce MX250 GPU doesn’t change the productivity-oriented Inspiron 14 7000 into a gaming laptop like those with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX and RTX silicon, but its Superposition results show that the ultraportable offers some ability beyond casual or browser-based gaming, so long as you keep your expectations and image-quality settings in check.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel movie used in our Handbrake trial—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
A full workday plus an evening’s entertainment is just the beginning for the Inspiron 14 7000. It lasted nearly 21-and-a-half hours in our battery drain test, which is one of the longest runtimes we’ve encountered, topping the excellent 18-hour battery life of the HP Spectre x360 13. Should you run low on juice, Dell claims that the system’s ExpressCharge technology will take you from zero to 80 percent charge in an hour.
An Inspired Choice
The Dell Inspiron 14 7000 offers an enviable mix of portability and power. It fits a 14-inch display into an ultraportable that’s compact and light enough for daily travel, with a metal chassis that’s durable enough to stand up to commuting abuse. Inside, it offers modern components including a speedy CPU and optional integrated graphics for light media editing and a pinch of gaming. Finally, the battery will let you leave your charger at home.
With its larger screen and longer runtime, the Inspiron swipes the ultraportable crown from Dell’s own XPS 13. It’s our new Editors’ Choice. Of course, with Dell’s 2020 XPS 13 on the horizon, how long the Inspiron 14 7000’s reign may last is an open question. Hit the link for our preview of another update to that Dell laptop icon—and expect a review of that model, too, in the coming weeks.
Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (7490)
The Bottom Line
The Dell Inspiron 14 7000’s enviable blend of performance, screen size, and portability unseats the company’s near-legendary XPS 13 as our favorite ultraportable.
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