April 08, 2014, 8:00 AM — I don’t buy a new laptop as often as I should, about once every 4 years or so. My previous one, a Macbook pro, was passed on to another developer so I needed a new one. What I landed on after some research and a return of a different model is the Dell Inspiron 14 7000.
I decided to get my laptop from Best Buy, a drastic deviation from my internet-only purchasing habits. The reason I did this was so I could physically test out the machines before buying and, in the event I hated it, I could return it. They’ve also gotten quite good on prices these days, usually matching up with what you’d find online. After going back and forth in the store between a Dell 15 7000 and a Lenovo IdeaPad U430 I went with the Lenovo due to the lower price and the much lighter weight.
I’m glad I bought at a retail store for a change because I loathed the IdeaPad U430. MiniReview: The screen was awful, washed out and poor viewing angles. The keyboard was the real deal breaker. The control key would constantly get stuck under the rim of the aluminum case. The home, end, and paging keys were vertical to the right of the delete and enter keys which means they got hit by accident like crazy. The performance was so-so. I returned it. No questions asked. It was as painless as it could have been.
With that out of the way I got back to comparing. I noticed the Dell Inspiron 14 7000 was considerably different than the 15 7000. It was much slimmer and much lighter. It was also less expensive. After debating between a more expensive HP ultrabook I went for the Dell, aware that the Best Buy model came with a dreadful 5400RPM hard drive.
Let’s get the hard drive out of the way first. It’s terrible, it’s the worst thing in the machine. Other versions of this laptop direct from Dell at least come with an SSD cache drive. This non cached 5400RPM notebook drive is painfully slow. The very first thing I did with it when I got back to the office was replace it with an SSD following the guide here. It was world’s better after that, so keep this in mind when reading my opinion of the laptop.
The 14” 1920x1080 HD screen on the laptop is very good, well above average for the price. It’s also a 10 point touch screen which definitely comes in handy since it’s running WIndows 8.1. Admittedly, I don’t use it a lot but it’s nice when you’re presenting something or working with another person and you’re not sitting right at the keyboard. The viewing angles are good, color saturation is pleasing, and the reflectiveness is minimal. Overall I’m happy with the screen.
The build of the laptop is one of it’s great selling points. It looks like a Macbook which is a good thing. The majority of the chassis is aluminum and has a premium feel. It’s all a bit of a facade however as key components of it are still plastic, namely the screen hinge and fan vents on the underside. Weighing in at just 4.4 lbs and being just 0.6” thick, it is extremely light and comfortable to use.
The performance is very good, the model I have is equipped with a Haswell Core-i7 4500U processor and 8GB of RAM. It’s lacking a dedicated graphics card (Integrated Intel HD 4400) but it has no problem doing most tasks including playback of HD video and heavy Photoshop work. It couldn’t handle 4K video on Youtube though. The Haswell CPU and various power saving techniques allow the laptop to achieve over 8 hours of battery life. It’s amazing. Battery life is a luxury you have to experience, although you’ll be spoiled by it immediately.
The keyboard is also very good. It’s ugly in my opinion but I haven't had any problems with it so far. It doesn’t feel quite as nice as the travel on a Macbook but it’s quiet and accurate. It’s also backlit, something I utilize frequently. Oh, and the home, end, and paging keys are on the top row like they’re supposed to be...Lenovo. If you hate typing it comes bundled with Dragon voice recognition software and will respond to voice commands and dictation. A nice touch but I haven’t used it.
There is a lot to like here and I’m very pleased with the Dell Inspiron 14 7000. The stuff that’s not so great includes the speakers which are tin-ey and useless for listening to music. The touchpad, which works well (multitouch is great), feels slightly sticky or tacky and unpleasant. The touch screen gets smudged quickly, but that’s to be expected. The fans kick on pretty frequently and are a little noisey. Finally, that 5400RPM hard drive, shame on you Dell.
I’m happy with this laptop and I’d gladly recommend it if you can find one with a better hard drive or don’t mind swapping in an SSD yourself. At $899 it’s approaching the upper tier of laptops but is still a bargain for ultrabooks, which I would consider it being.