Design and features
Out of all the sub-AU$1000 laptops we've reviewed recently, the Dell Inspiron 15 is the only one to sacrifice the numpad, leaving only the standard keyboard for typing. It's also the only model opting to use a Core 2 Duo processor, with its competitors limited to the lower-end Pentiums, Celerons and Athlons. Our particular model came in at AU$999, but if you choose the Celeron route you can get it down to AU$699.
While we received a black laptop, you can switch to ice blue for free, or add an extra AU$44 for dark blue, red, white or pink. You can also get some rather funky Mike Ming designs on the lid, but this will cost you an extra AU$124.30 just to stand out.
Regardless of the colour option you choose, the interior will stay piano black, with a single silver power button featured in the middle at the top under the monitor. The tiny speaker grille sits above this, although given the sound quality we'd suggest you stick to headphones.
The touchpad, with its textured surface, is nice enough to use, and has circular scrolling enabled — that is, you start dragging down or up in the scroll zone, then move your finger in a clockwise circle to continue scrolling down, or a counter clockwise circle to scroll up.
The 15.6-inch, 1366x768 glossy screen is nice and bright, with a webcam situated at the top. The left side features two USB ports, a VGA port and 100Mb Ethernet, while the right features a single USB port, DVD+-RW and ExpressCard 34 slot. The front lip is kept similarly simple, with an indicator light for power, headphone and microphone jack and an SD/MMC/MS card reader. Wireless communications are limited to 802.11g — you'll find no 802.11n or Bluetooth here, but both are optional extras for AU$29.70 and AU$13.20 respectively.
Software-wise, the Inspiron 15 runs on Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit, with our review sample arriving with McAfee Security Center 30-day trial, Microsoft Office 2007 trial and Roxio Creator DE. Dell has also bundled its own software, including a dock that sits at the top of the screen purely for quick access to applications; DataSafe, which gives you 2GB storage online for free for 12 months, Dell Remote Access, webcam apps and a wireless configuration utility.
Inside our review sample was a Core 2 Duo T600 at 2.1GHz, 3GB RAM and a 320GB hard drive. This interesting mix gave us impressive results for a sub-AU$1000 laptop, scoring 874 in 3DMark06 (only bested by the Toshiba L500D), and 4043 in PCMark05, making it OK for casual gaming (but certainly not capable of playing new titles), and excellent for general use and office work.
Turning off all power-saving features and setting screen brightness and volume to maximum, we played back an XviD file and the battery lasted two hours, 39 minutes and 47 seconds, longer than any other sub-AU$1000 notebook we've tested. It must be noted this is an incredibly harsh test — with casual use, battery life will be longer.
The Dell Inspiron 15 is likely the best bang for buck you'll get for AU$1000, from its battery life to its upgrade options. We do miss the numpad, but the rest is perfect for the budget-conscious user.