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Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series review: Versatile 2-in-1 laptop/tablet

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Full-HD IPS touchscreen
  • 500GB hard drive
  • Supports laptop and tablet modes
  • Stylus included

Cons

  • Some build quality issues
  • Moderate battery life
  • Heavy to use in tablet mode
  • No Ethernet port

On the face of it, Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 Series notebook ticks a lot of boxes. It's thin and reasonably light, and features a high-resolution touchscreen, a stylus, a 500GB hard drive and a screen that folds flat against the base for use in tablet mode. There are just two off-the-page configurations of this hybrid device and Dell sent us the higher-specified model for review. This will set you back £569 (ex. VAT, or £682.80 inc. VAT); the entry-level model, meanwhile, will cost you £449 (ex. VAT, or £538.80 inc. VAT).

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Dell's 13.3-inch Inspiron 13 7000 Series has an IPS touchscreen and comes with 500GB of hard disk storage. It weighs 1.7kg. Image: Dell

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series is an ultrabook that will inevitably be compared to Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro because its screen can also be swivelled all the way round to the back of the chassis, allowing you to work in tablet mode. The Inspiron 13 7000 Series costs considerably less than the Yoga 3 Pro, though, and so may appeal to buyers on a budget.

It's certainly an attractive notebook, with a silver metal-look skin that's actually made from plastic. The soft-touch, non-slip finish runs through to the inside of the base. It's reasonably rigid, although there is some flex in the lid section. Worryingly, when we applied our usual 'bend test' to the lid, the screen started to pop out of its surround. We returned it with no harm done, but this does raise questions about the long-term stability of this aspect of the design.

At 1.7kg the Inspiron 13 7000 Series is just about light enough for many people to consider carrying regularly. Importantly in that respect, it's thin, at just 19.4mm. However, as usual with this style of notebook, it's heavy and bulky for use in tablet mode. The aforementioned Yoga 3 Pro is thinner and lighter, but has to compromise on connectors as a result.

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The Inspiron 13 7000 Series can operate in several configurations as well as the conventional clamshell mode. Image: Dell

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When the chassis is closed there's a visible gap between the top and bottom sections. The cause is a ridge surrounding the keyboard, which is there for a good reason.

We've noted that you can flip the screen to face outwards. You can also rest it at any angle facing towards you. In either case, if you want to use the device on a desk, the keyboard sits face-down on the table. That's why the keyboard is recessed inside a hollow and surrounded by that ridge.

This is a smart idea, and we didn't find that typing was adversely affected by the sunken keys. There's not much Dell can do to offer protection to the keyboard if you want to use this notebook on your lap, or if you hold it in the crook of your arm, and the keys are vulnerable in both cases.

The keyboard is backlit with two light intensities that you can vary by tapping a Fn key. The keys themselves have a light touch, perhaps too light for some tastes.

The touchpad is responsive, with embedded left and right click areas that are no problem to use efficiently. On our review unit the whole pad was a little more recessed on its left short edge than its right -- a sign, along with the 'escaping' screen, that build quality leaves something to be desired.

The 13.3-inch screen is touch sensitive and comes with a stylus in a spring-loaded slot on the back right edge -- a little catch is supposed to stop it popping all the way out. In fact, the catch only seems to work if you're gentle when ejecting the stylus. Push in hard and release, and the stylus shoots out like a projectile. It could be easy to lose.

The stylus is a passive 'touch and click' affair, but you can access menus by holding it to the screen, as you would a fingertip. We preferred a fingertip most of the time, but did appreciate it when we needed more precision than stubby fingers could provide -- for example when selecting items for copying and pasting.

Our review unit was the more expensive of the two Inspiron 13 7000 Series models and had a full-HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen. If you pick the entry-level model the screen is restricted to 1,366 by 768 pixels. Both screens are reflective, which is not our favourite type -- we much prefer a matte screen.

Both preconfigured versions of this notebook have a 500GB hard drive with 8GB of SSD cache. Dell has also done a deal with Dropbox to provide you with 20GB of free cloud storage for a year.

A potential downside for office-bound users who rely on wired internet connections is the absence of an Ethernet port. However the wi-fi supports the latest 802.11ac standard.

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You get a good set of USB ports and a full-size HDMI connector, but no Ethernet port. Image: Dell

Ethernet apart, the connectivity options are acceptable. It's nice to see a full-size HDMI connector, for example, and there are two USB 3.0 ports (one supporting Power Share). There's a third USB port, but it's just USB 2.0. You also get a headphone/microphone combo jack and an SD card reader.

There's a volume rocker on the right edge, which is located there primarily for use in tablet mode. There are two speaker grilles, one on each of the short edges. Sound quality is reasonably good and does not degrade too badly even at top volume. Above the screen is a 720p webcam flanked by dual array microphones.

Our review unit was powered by a 1.7-2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4210U processor (the entry-level model runs on a Core i3-4010U). We didn't notice any problems with this CPU when running mainstream business workloads, but we wouldn't advise using it for heavy-duty computation. The same goes for graphics: the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU is fine for movies and multimedia presentations, but it's not designed for graphically demanding tasks.

Dell doesn't quote a battery life for the Inspiron 13 7000 Series, but we found that even relatively low-level use drained the 3-cell 43Wh battery fairly quickly. This is not a notebook to rely on for long periods away from mains power.

As far as performance is concerned, the Windows Experience Index (WEI) component scores, which are out of 9.9 under Windows 8.1, are as follows:

CPU 7.2
D3D 4.9
Disk 5.9
Graphics 4.7
Memory 7.2

As usual with integrated-graphics systems, the Graphics and Direct 3D (D3D) scores are the weak links here.

Conclusion

The ability to work in either notebook or tablet mode is an obvious plus point for the Inspiron 13 7000 Series, although its 1.7kg weight is not ideal for regular tablet-mode use. The stylus will doubtless find some fans, and the 500GB hard drive is a good size. However, we have concerns about build quality and battery life, and would appreciate an Ethernet port.

Specifications

Processor
CPU Type 4th Generation Intel�� Core��� i3-4030U Processor (3M Cache, 1.90 GHz)
Manufacturer 4th Generation Intel�� Core��� i3-4030U Processor (3M Cache, 1.90 GHz)
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 8.1 (64Bit) English

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