By March 2, 2010

Dell Inspiron 11z Review

inspiron_11z_open The line between laptop and ‘netbook’ has been blurring for a while now and the Dell Inspiron 11z sits firmly in the middle ground of the two and could be argued to be either.

Extending the Dell range that started with the Mini 9, then the Mini 10 and 10V, the 11z shares it’s predecessors styling but then instead of it’s smaller brothers Atom processor they crammed in an IntelĀ® PentiumĀ® Dual Core Processor ULV SU4100 and, as the name suggests, the screen size is bumped up to an 11.6" 1366 x 768 HD TLF WLED screen.

This little machine promises to pack a punch above it’s light weight.

Does it have what it takes to lift it from the rest of the pack?

Let’s see…

 

What’s in the box?

  • Laptop
  • Power cable
  • Setup guide
  • Reinstallation disc
  • Driver disc

 

Dell Inspiron 11z Specifications

The full specs can be found HERE.

Our particular test model was a 320GB HDD version with 2GB RAM, the Dell Wireless 1510 Half Mini Card (802.11n) and the 6 Cell battery option.

As you’ll see in the pictures it had a white lid, again this is an option from the default black, but at the time of writing is a free upgrade.

It is running Windows 7 Home Premium 32Bit Edition instead of the 64bit version mentioned on the Dell website, but I’m not 100% why that would be as there is no option that I can see for that on the Dell site.

 

General

As is the way of things around here, let’s take a quick tour around the outside.

Front
inspiron_11z_closed

Yup, it’s a netbook, mini-laptop thing

Left

inspiron_11z_left 

Left to right – RJ45 LAN connector, cooling vent, HDMI, USB 2.0
You’ll also notice that the 6 cell battery here isn’t flush with the base like traditional laptops (the 3 cell is though)

Right

inspiron_11z_right 

Left to right – card reader, headphone jack, microphone jack, USB 2.0, USB 2.0, power, Kensington lock

Back

inspiron_11z_rear 

Nothing much to see here, just battery and hinges

Base

inspiron_11z_base_slant 

No flaps or panels here

Highlights

  • performance
  • ram and hard drive are accessible if you need to
  • LAN connector

 

Lowlights

  • multitouch touchpad
  • no VGA connector

 

Review

inspiron_11z_open_side

The Dell Inspiron 11z is, at first glance, the grown up brother of the Dell’s Mini 9, 10 and 10V systems. From the styling to the naming convention it’s very much from the same stable – a slightly larger screen, a slightly larger keyboard and that’s mostly it from the outside. The inside is where the changes have been made.

Instead of the Atom N270 or Z530 of the Mini 10(V) the 11z has either the Celeron ULV Processor 743 (1.3GHz, 1MB, 800MHz) or the Pentium Dual Core Processor ULV SU4100 (1.30GHz, 2MB, 800MHz) depending on the model you choose. This gives the system a speed boost and increases the battery life – so everyone wins.

The larger screen is an 11.6" 1366 x 768 HD TLF WLED, which whilst a curious resolution in itself, the screen is plenty bright to see in most conditions – though like so many other screens it is reflective (a personal annoyance). I was slightly surprised to find that the screen didn’t tilt back to a position where it’s horizontal with the keyboard, making it slightly less comfortable when using the machine lying down on a sofa for example (and the added tilt of the 6 cell battery on exacerbates this).

The BIOS is not something that I make any note of when writing reviews. By that I mean that I look, but there is rarely anything worth really noting – but here is the first place that the 11z surprised me.

If you look at the photo of the keyboard you will see that the function keys are slightly different to most laptops. The primary function here is what is normally the fn+ version on other laptops. Dell appear to have decided that more people want to use the media functions and access the wireless settings than those who want to use the functions keys as their primary input. f1-f12 are still accessible, but they are the fn+ here. If you prefer the settings to be the other way around, then there is a setting in the BIOS for this. I like this as it means that no-one really loses out.

The second thing in the BIOS that caught my eye was the Computrace module. This is for helping you try to trace your laptop should it ever get lost or stolen. By default it’s disabled, and once enabled it can’t be disabled. Again, something that is nice to see, and something I fully expect to be on more and more machines.

The third thing, and the one that really surprised me, was an option that allows you to change the charger behaviour. When set to ‘Disabled’ the battery does not charge whilst on mains power, when set to ‘Enabled’ the battery does charge. Why is this useful you might ask. Well we all know that over a period of time a rechargeable battery gradually declines in the amount of charge it can hold, and whilst technology is ever improving, it’s a problem none the less. Something that doesn’t help this is continually charging despite the battery being fully charged, the batteries are designed to cycle full to empty and then be charged. One of the primary causes of battery life being shortened are people running the laptop at a desk with the charger plugged in all the time. This option allows you to disable the behaviour, and should result in better battery lifetime. It’s not a quick button press, but the fact that the option is there at all is nice to see.

Something else that I was pleasantly surprised by was the power plug. The actual ‘bullet’ end has an LED in it and a plastic ring that then glows blue when the adapter is plugged in to the mains. It’s a little thing, but it does mean that there is a visual cue that the transformer is running without having to locate where you placed the main ‘brick’. Whilst mentioning the brick, it’s little different to the normal ‘square’ profile ones, it more like an external floppy drive in it’s shape, fairly flat – and has an unusual connection to the mains cable. Normally the mains plug is straight in, but this one doubles back on itself across the top of the adapter. I have no idea why it’s designed this way though.

 

inspiron_11z_keyboard

As you look at the image above you can see that one advantage of the 11 inch screen making the laptop slightly larger is that the keyboard also gets a little more space. The keyboard is nice enough to type on though a little soft. The touchpad is another story though. First off, the touchpad and the buttons are a one piece, which can be annoying enough, but when the touchpad is multitouch things get a little more frustrating – especially when the software for the multitouch allows all sorts of wonderful things to be controlled by it. I found myself doing all sorts of actions accidentally and sometimes the windows menu would pop up without me not having the pointer anywhere near it. I very quickly went into the software and disabled just about every multitouch behaviour – the one that I did like was the one where if you place your whole hand on the touchpad it does a quick shortcut to minimise everything to return you to the desktop. I ended up disabling this one as well as I’m quite happy clicking the bottom right button that Windows 7 already has for this, but of all the functions the touchpad offered this was the most useful.

As with the Nokia Netbook I looked at a couple of weeks ago the VGA connector is replaced with an HDMI one. I don’t know if this is going to be a growing trend on portables, but as I mentioned before it does mean that the laptop can’t plug into a lot of video conferences facilities (though no doubt they will upgrade).

 

inspiron_11z_network_closeup 

Yes the machine is upside down here, but work with me people

Something else I mentioned on the Netbook was it’s lack of LAN connector. No such problem here, and it’s even what I would call the right way up – so the release tab it at the top, no awkward fiddling to release the cable.

In that Netbook review I commented on the lack of accessibility to the RAM or Hard drive – no such problems here. As with every Dell I’ve ever come across, there is a service manual on their website that tells you how to replace every part. Basically 3 screws on the underside release the keyboard and the RAM slot and HDD bays are right there for you to do as you see fit. Protected from the outside world by not being on the bottom, whilst still very accessible if you really need them.

A card reader, three USB 2.0 sockets, headphone and microphone sockets, and a 1.3 Mega pixel Integrated Web Camera are all fairly standard fare and do their jobs.

The Inspiron 11z comes with the fairly standard WIFI and Bluetooth built in – in our case the upgraded WIFI card was 802.11n – but hidden behind the battery is a sim card slot, so you can also access the internet that way as well.

There are only a couple of pieces of software that come with the 11z on top of the basic Windows 7 installation – Works 9.0 and McAfee Security Centre being the main two. There is also an ‘Avatar Creator’ that allows you to present yourself as someone/something else when using the webcam for video chat. But essentially it’s a pretty clean Windows 7 installation.

The hard drive was something that I mentioned in the Nokia Netbook review as being part of the reason for it’s poor performance. In our test unit we had a 320GB Western Digital WD3200BEVT SATA drive – specs HERE. Once formatted the 320GB goes down to 298GB, and once Windows 7 is installed and all patched up (and recovery information created) you have 285GB to yourself. The drive is a little bit clicky sometimes, but only something that you’d really notice in a quiet room.

The fans do run whilst you are working away but not anything overly distracting, and if you are pushing the laptop hard enough then they will spin into full gear to keep things cool. But in general things are pretty quiet.

The 6 cell battery, whilst arguably not pretty, is there to increase the battery life. I did my usual test of playing a video full screen on repeat and got about 6 hours of playback (WIFI on as well). Even testing with Battery Eater (website HERE) which continuously pushes the hardware something closer to full power I was still getting 3 hours of use. If you are just working on text documents and can disable the WIFI for periods then I can certainly seeing this being a full-day machine.

The 6 cell also means that when placed on a desk the keyboard is angled slightly towards you instead of the usual flat position. This is theoretically better as it will reduce RSI, and certainly I found it comfortable to type on.

The other advantage of the 6 cell battery over the 3 cell is that it increases the gap between your lap and the machine – no more roast chestnuts ;).

 

So after all that how is the Inspiron 11z to work with?

It’s very snappy indeed. It felt like a ‘normal’ laptop, with everything opening as quickly as you’d expect and certainly the 2GB RAM and decent speed hard drive help that. I certainly wasn’t conscious of getting frustrated by waiting for things.

In order to be fair I also ran the Windows Experience Index on this laptop as well.

 

wei

Windows Experience Index

So whilst it may not be as sexy to look at as say the Nokia Netbook, from a performance point of view alone it’s way ahead.

 

Conclusion

I think that I’d personally classify the Inspiron 11z as a laptop (mini-laptop if you want to start getting into those sorts of minutia) – it’s a fully capable machine that is small, rather than netbooks which are aimed to be small first and the performance then usually suffers. [EDIT: Matt tells me that to be classified as a Laptop the machine should have a built in optical drive].

There really isn’t anything that is stand out or exciting to it, the Inspiron 11z is just a very functional machine, whose battery life (at least on the 6 cell) will last most people all day long.

If it were my machine then, as I did in the review, I’d disable pretty much all the touchpad ‘extra’ features – but apart from that it just does it’s job, no mess no fuss, and isn’t that what technology is supposed to do.

 

Review by: Iain

Posted in: Reviews

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