We're seeing more and more laptops that want to run dual duty as note-taking tablets or as entertainment machines. They're rarely as good as the current standout Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, but occasionally there's a special standout that gets the job done admirably without trying to reinvent the wheel. Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1, as the name might clue you in to, can transform from a general-purpose laptop to a tablet at the flick of a hinge.
What Is It?
- Screen Type: IPS LCD, 1920x1080 Full HD
- Screen Size: 13.3-inch
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4210U
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 4400
- RAM: Up to 8GB DDR3L
- Storage: 500GB, 5400RPM
- Battery: 43 Watt-hour
- Connectivity: 3.5mm headphone/mic, 2x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, SDXC, HDMI
- Audio: Stereo, Waves MaxxAudio
The $999 or $1299 Dell Inspiron 13 7000, depending on which spec you buy, is a regular ol' business laptop. But it's also a tablet at the same time. Thanks to those two nifty hinges attaching the 13-inch screen to the rest of the chassis, — which rotate a full 360 degrees — the Inspiron 13's screen can flip all the way around to the rear, giving you an oversized Windows 8.1 slate.
There's a touch-sensitive, non-digitiser stylus built into the Inspiron 13's body, hidden away in the rear right side of the chassis as you're looking on at the screen. Moving forward from there you'll find yourself a SDXC card slot, a USB 2.0 sleep-and-charge port, one of the two sidewards-firing stereo speakers, and volume and power buttons (especially handy when you're in tablet mode).
On the left, the relatively skinny DC power jack is joined by two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI audio-video out, and a combined 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack. Pretty much everything you could need is here; there are no glaring omissions unless you specifically need mini-DisplayPort or eSATA.
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Dell may have made the Inspiron 13 7000 look a little bland and conformist and unspectacular with its two-tone black-and-silver design, but in the flesh it's actually a surprisingly professional and modern and attractive piece of hardware. The silver painted plastic is soft to the touch, the super-glossy screen has a single sheet of glass nearly to its edges, and the volume and power buttons have a nice chrome edge. It's no MacBook Pro, but it's 90 per cent of the way there.
What Is It Good At?
That hinge is an excellent implementation of the current notebook-to-tablet trend. Across its entire range of motion it's smooth to adjust and happy to sit at awkward angles, and there's no annoying protuberance when you flip it around into fully-tabletised mode. Having the power and volume buttons easily distinguishable and accessible in tablet mode is useful, too, as is the tactile Windows button that swaps you between the Modern and desktop interfaces in Windows 8.1.
It's worth mentioning again just how sturdy the Inspiron 13 7000 Series is. There's basically zero flex in the keyboard, and it's easy to type long documents — including this review — on Dell's excellent chiclet keyboard. Key layout is straightforward — the function keys default to their functions rather than F1 through F12, which is handy — and the overall feel of typing is just nice. The experience of using the Inspiron 13 7000 every day is a pleasant one, and that's especially noteworthy considering its sub-$1000 asking price.
Battery life is surprisingly good from the 7000 2-in-1. I say surprising because with its regular ol' spinning-disk hard drive and relatively high-res 13-inch display it should be drinking electricity from its small integrated-but-user-serviceable 43 Watt-hour cell, but it doesn't. At a solid 6 hours and 45 minutes of Torture Test runtime it performed exceptionally well in my will-it-make-it-through-a-domestic-flight test. It's not going to last for that Sydney to LAX long-haul, but you'll get a full day's work done before it conks out.
The Inspiron 13 7000's 1920x1080 pixel, Full HD, 'TrueLife' LED-lit IPS display is an impressive one for everyday business work, trading off an especially bright maximum luminance for a quite low minimum brightness — this is a huge advantage for eking extra hours of typing or emailing before lights out or for that last 10 per cent of your battery capacity. Colour accuracy is good, with a slightly yellow white balance that is far easier on the eyes than the bluish casts I've seen on previous Dells. I can't speak as to the quality of the lesser model's 1366x768 pixel panel, though.
What Is It Not Good At
The hardware inside the Dell Inspiron 13 is middling. That's not a bad thing at all, but it's just unspectacular — regular Ultrabook fare of an Intel Core i5 CPU with its integrated graphics chipset, an ol'-fashioned 500GB mechanical hard drive, and between 4 and 8GB of RAM depending on the model you opt for. It handles Gizmodo's everyday productivity tasks — Web browsing, word processing, an occasional bout of image editing — with aplomb, but falls down when it comes to more complex tasks like extended Adobe Lightroom photo adjustment. Not having an SSD is a special pity, because it would have been a boon both for transfer rates and for battery longevity.
The Inspiron 13's keyboard is a pretty impressive piece of work, but it's let down somewhat by a less than stellar trackpad. It's just a little barebones — there's no acceleration or input smoothing out of the box, but there is an annoying pause between moving the cursor and being able to actually click it. If you put some time and effort into customising it — adding swipe and pinch and other two- and three-finger gestures — it gets a little bit better, but it's still a fair way off the quality of the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro and a long way off any Mac from the last five years. It does the job, but it needs a bit of TLC to be properly usable.
I have my concerns that the squared-off edges at the front and rear of the Inspiron 13 will take a lot of damage in everyday usage. The wrist rest of the chassis, as well as where the hinges meet the body, are both smoothly curved and actually feel really contoured and comfortable with the soft touch finish, but the outer edges are a little less forgiving. If you're going to be taking the Inspiron 13 7000 travelling regularly, find a soft bag interior, or a padded sleeve — or be ready for some wear and tear on those outer corners.
As with every convertible tablet, screen brightness is an important issue, and on the Inspiron 13 it's OK if not exactly spectacular, but the real issue with the 7000 Series' display is the ultra-glossy nature of the glass screen covering. It's super reflective, and while there are differing opinions on glossy versus matte for outdoor use, I'm very much in the matte camp and I found the reflections somewhat distracting. It's also a minor issue that the bezel is glossy, too — it looks great but sitting here typing this review I can see my fingers tapping away at the keyboard in that mirror finish.
Should You Buy It?
Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 Series is a surprisingly versatile notebook for the $999 (or less) thusefulat you'll pay for it. While convertible notebooks are almost always more useful as notebooks than as tablets, the new 2-in-1 Inspiron 13 actually acquits itself pretty well in touch-only mode, not least because of the stylus hidden away in its chassis. If you genuinely do need a laptop that can function as a tablet, the Inspiron 13 7000 is a pretty good example of the genre.
It's a little bulky when you have the laptop's lid closed or whenever you're working in tablet mode, but the tradeoff for that is the Inspiron 13's surprising sturdiness — it's a laptop that takes aggressive typing in its stride, and the soft-touch finish hides small scratches and scrapes well. The trackpad isn't perfect — it's very no-frills — but for basic workday tasks, as is the Inspiron remit, it gets the job done.
If Dell offered the Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 with a low-power Core M processor, or with a full-fat Core i7 from the current Haswell generation, it'd be even easier to recommend. With its current Ultrabook-grade chip it's an adequate performer, although unspectacular — and it's the same story with the middling integrated HD 4400 graphics, which will handle casual games but nothing serious. This is a workday laptop through and through.
Even without the 360-degree tilting hinge, the Inspiron 13 would be an attractive laptop thanks to its sturdy and straightforward design. It's not perfect, and there are a few things that I'd change if I had the chance, but given the relatively low asking price I'm willing to forgive a lot. For the regular 9-to-5 road warrior's slog, Dell has a great little notebook in the Inspiron 13 7000.