Dell Inspiron 15R SE review

Amid the swathes of attractive and slim Ultrabooks currently spilling out into the market, Dell has gone against the trend and introduced the second generation of its Inspiron range.

The Inspiron 15R SE is a wedge of chunky plastic that isn't immediately attractive nor endearing, yet underneath its honeycomb-textured exterior it packs in plenty of power while remaining light on the wallet.

The 15R SE review model that's been in our office this week has an Intel Core i5-3210M processor that's paired with a dedicated 2GB graphics card, 8GB RAM, a 1080p resolution screen and a 1TB hard drive. That's quite a list and, best of all, all this can be yours for just £633. Ignoring its frumpy looks, is the second-generation Inspiron worth a look in?

Design

We've seen a lot of laptops in recent weeks. And the Inspiron 15R SE isn't going to win a prize for being the prettiest. It's a chunky wedge of plastic that weighs just over 2.75kgs, so might be better suited to a desktop replacement than an on-the-go laptop.

The quality of finish is basic at best, with black, grey and silver-coloured plastics used in abundance.

If the black, honeycomb-patterned lid isn't to your taste then it's possible to change it to one of a variety of others. Dell's skins are fun, but they are limited to the exterior of the machine, so there's no ridding it of the interior honeycomb panel.

The design may be more functional than exciting, but that's better than can be said for some competitor laptops out there. The 15R SE's keyboard is well positioned and ensures a comfortable typing position,  while a trackpad with twin buttons is compatible with Apple-esque one or two-finger gestures for tracking and scrolling.

The are some hidden gems that impress too: the 15.6-inch screen has a Full HD (1920x1080) resolution which is the exact match for playing high-definition media.

The 15R SE model we reviewed has a DVD (RW) drive, but fork out an extra £125 and the next model up the range comes kitted out with a Blu-ray drive. While you're not going to get images quite as impressive as a high-spec HD television, we found that the 15R SE held up just fine when playing back episodes of Breaking Bad via VLC player. If it's resolution that you want then this model puts most of its competitors to shame. To put it in context: there are more pixels here than the current mid-2012 MacBook Pro has on offer.

The 15R SE is also connected to the nines. It includes two USB 3.0 connections to each side to make up four ports in total, and an SD (or MMC/Memory Stick Pro) slot to the front. An Ethernet port ensures fast browsing speeds, should you choose to use it, while an HDMI output sits next to both a 3.5mm headphone out and microphone input. Tucked next to the power port is a 15-pin VGA output to wire up an additional monitor. In short: the 15R SE has got you covered when it comes to input and output; whether you want to use the laptop as a standalone unit or wire up all manner of display and audio devices.

Performance

Fire up the Inspiron 15R SE via its large on button and it can take a bit of time to load. Some thumb twiddling later and the preloaded Windows 7 Home Premium clicks into action, though the included "bloatware" - such as McAfee's Security Centre, which comes with an included 15-month subscription - can cause further delays before everything's up and ready.

We'd advise tweaking what launches upon startup in order to get the fastest load time, including those performance widgets that Dell has felt the need to auto-load when you first fire up the laptop.

Once it's up to speed the 15R SE can hold a steady pace. Not surprising, considering the up-to-3.2GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz RAM and dedicated 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7730M graphics card.

We tried out Telltale Games's The Walking Dead and the high-resolution screen and processing power took on the game with no problems at all. Far from zombie nightmare, the 15R SE made our experience a zombie nicety.

We're not talking ultra-mega-power gaming laptop here, but it's the £633 price tag that can't be argued with. In fact, we'd go as far to say the 15R SE will give you more power per pound than almost any other machine out there.

If you're not into gaming then there's enough grunt here to deal with photo or video editing, as well as word processing, web searching via multiple browsers and all those day-to-day tasks that you want a machine to deliver.

However battery life won't last out all that long. We fired up the pre-loaded WildTangent Games interface and played the simple (yet marvellous) Bejeweled 2 for just over an hour, but there was hardly any juice left in the tank after. The battery unit can be replaced at a later date if its ability to hold charge worsens over time, but the fact it's not very good in the first instance is one of an otherwise small list of shortcomings.

Verdict

The Dell Inspiron 15R SE reminds us of the fat, ugly kid in the class. Y'know, the one that had all the brains too? We may not find the 15R SE the laptop that we're most drawn to, but boy does it deliver on the power front considering the price.

Battery life is a letdown, but otherwise this affordable laptop could make an ideal desktop replacement or all-round family computer. It will handle almost anything you throw at it and, over time, you will even grow to love it thanks to what's on its inside. And that's what counts.