Top 10 all-purpose laptops

These general-purpose laptops are built to go and can do it all, making a great choice for most notebook users

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Dell Inspiron 14z
Inspiron 14z Review, by Patrick Joynt, PC World November 12, 2009



CPU: Core 2 Duo SU7300; CPU speed: 1300MHz; Display size: 14 inches; Hard drive size: 250GB; Weight (min): 4.6 pounds

Light and easy to use
Great battery life

Overly-glossy screen
So-so performance

Bottom Line: The Inspiron 1470 is aimed squarely at students, with a stylish look and great battery life, but the overly-polished screen is hard to see.

The Dell Inspiron 14z laptop makes a clear statement: You are probably a student, you want a whole lot of battery life on a Windows 7 machine, and you probably don't care much about performance. A small, sleek portable, the 14z mainly looks good and has a very long battery life. There's nothing wrong with it, as long as you know exactly what you're getting. As reviewed, the 14z would cost about $849--a sizable chunk of change considering its lack of horsepower. At first sight, this model seems to be an echo of the Dell Studio 14z that we reviewed just a few months back.

The Inspiron 14z is a pretty notebook. At 13.4 by 9.5 by 1.1 inches, it's slim and sleek, with lines that suggest speed from its edging to the shape of its hinge. A silver wristpad encircles a sleek black keypad and monitor frame, while the distinctive silvered-circle Dell logo rests on the top of the machine in the middle of a clean, slick paint job. It feels a little heavier than it looks, with models starting at 4.4 pounds, but this is still an easy machine to throw in a small bag or to carry under your arm without worrying about its weight--or about looking too much like a nerd.

Dissappointing Performance

Our review system shipped with a 64-bit version of Windows 7, 3GB of memory, a 1.3GHz Intel Mobile Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor, and Intel's integrated graphics--a package that led to a disappointing PC WorldBench score of 66, well below average. Unsurprisingly, any try at gaming that needs a strong 3D push also stutters to the point of uselessness. So the good news about this laptop is that your student won't spend much time goofing around with it. But word processing and Web browsing, even with a heavy load of Office apps and Firefox tabs open, moved at a more than reasonable pace.

While WorldBench performance disappointed, battery life was something else all together, creeping 10 minutes over 7 hours before the 14z finally took a bow. With a full-size keyboard and a widescreen 14-inch monitor, there's a real place for a laptop with that kind of stamina. This is a complete flip from the results that we saw Dell's Studio 14z--that machine emphasized horsepower (and a discrete GPU) over battery life.

The case feels sturdy, and the latchless lid feels good and stiff, holding the screen in place. The monitor is quite bright, with a nice pop to its colors. Its top resolution of 1366 by 768 isn't bad for the screen's size--text is easy to read, and icons are easy to pick out. With both streaming video and DVDs, playback was consistently smooth and clear. The biggest issue with the screen is its extraordinary glossiness, though it does have a nice level of brightness and color. Even if you prefer the shine of a glossy screen over a less-reflective matte-style LCD, the Inspiron's screen is simply too glossy. In anything but the gentlest lighting with the whitest objects on the screen, you'll be able to pick out details of your own reflection. On the bright side (get it?), the VGA- and HDMI-out ports let you see what you're doing.

As for the audio side of the equation, the speakers are passable, but the headphone and microphone jacks will be your go-to choices with this machine. Rounding out the rest of the box are two USB jacks on the right side and one on the left. The left USB jack shares that side with the ethernet port and a memory card reader. The system ships with a CD/DVD burner built into the right side, and with a smallish 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive for storage.

Between those ports and up a step are the keyboard and the touchpad. The keypad feels a bit cheap, with thin plastic buttons that seem like a too-solid hit might break them clean off. The laptop's thinness also dictates a very short travel time on keystrokes. The overall feeling is like working with a really big, cheap cellphone's keypad. The touchpad sits under the the keyboard and is recessed just a little into the case, with two buttons under it. The touchpad buttons are the type that recess into the body of the machine when you press them, and they share the "ready to break at a moment's notice" feel of the main keypad.

That grousing noted, the keyboard and touchpad are responsive and are sized just about perfectly. Even with my giant reviewer paws, the interface never felt cramped or slow. The touchpad, in particular, is precisely big enough to work with, but small enough that it's out of the way.

The laptop's layout gives the "Home" set of keys its own unique buttons along the right side, a nice use of space for those core navigation keys. The F1-F12 keys are also mapped to laptop-specific functions; for example, the F7 key's primary use is to mute the machine, and the F5's is to increase brightness. It's the right choice for a machine for which most users will be neither hard-core road warriors nor tech folks. One misstep, though, was placing the monitor-selection key right on the F1 button, leaving it too close to that darned-handy Esc key.

Dell's included support software is comprehensive, but not much more user-friendly than simply finding the necessary programs or Web pages yourself. The 14z also ships with the "Dell Dock," an aggregation widget that gives you easy access to programs by category, such as "Email" or "Photos." However, the Dell Dock is so ancillary on a Windows 7 system, and such an obvious aping of the similar Apple interface, that there's no reason to leave it running.

Dell has aimed the Inspiron 14z squarely at users who are more concerned with flash than substance, and who consider a 7-hour battery life to be a core quality for a laptop. Students are an obvious demographic here, and they should be able to get their money's worth out of a good-looking machine that won't have them scrambling to find an outlet or leave the library.

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