This year's update of the Dell Inspiron 15R adds a touchscreen for Windows 8 and a new Haswell processor to a well established, solid machine.
The basic design of the Inspiron 15R remains unchanged, with its 15.6-inch display housed in a sturdy plastic casing that is finished off with a smart metallic-blue tint. It certainly feels more solid than most budget laptops, with a firm upper panel supporting the screen, and a spacious keyboard with moulded keys that feel very comfortable when typing.
Our review unit included a touch-sensitive display, and that pushes the price up from last year's price of £499 to £549. Other features include a 1.6 GHz Haswell-generation Core i5 processor, 8 GB of memory and 1 TB hard drive.
There are several other Inspiron 15R models also available, starting at just £379 for a model with a Haswell Core i3 processor and a regular display. There's also a top-of-the-range model that thoughtfully also omits a touchscreen and includes a Haswell Core i7 processor and an AMD Radeon HD 8670M graphics card for a competitive £599.
The touchscreen is something of a mixed blessing. It allows you to use the tiled interface of Windows 8; but we suspect that many people would prefer to update the laptop's dated 1366 x 768-pixel resolution to a sharper 1920 x 1080 in order to make better use of that large 15.6-inch screen.
To be fair, the image quality is still good, and the screen is bright enough and provides wide horizontal viewing angles. Vertical viewing angles are more limited, but the Inspiron 15R will still work well for watching video, browsing the web or showing off your photo collection.
The speakers lack bass, and the sound is loud and detailed enough to let you listen to some music without immediately reaching for your headphones. There's a built-in DVD drive too, so you can easily watch films as well as streaming video.
Connectivity is good, as the Inspiron 15R includes gigabit ethernet for wired connections, HDMI, SD card slot, two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports. Our only complaint here is that the USB ports aren't clearly labeled so it's not immediately obvious which are the high-speed USB 3.0 ports.
The Intel Core i5-4200U processor performed well. Its basic clock speed is 1.6 GHz, compared to 1.7 GHz for last year's Ivy Bridge edition, and it managed to increase its score in the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests from 2834 points to 2934 points.
That's only a tiny increase, of course, and primarily reflects the somewhat sluggish performance of the computer due to its reliance on a slow hard disk. This proves to be the Inspiron's main real weakness, as even when using the Windows 8 'fast start' option the laptop still takes a full 20 seconds to come out of hibernation into the main Start screen, followed by a further 20 seconds of cursor-spinning before it's ready to start launching programs and get down to work.
Fortunately, once the laptop is up and running it feels quite smooth and responsive. The touchscreen controls respond well, and the Inspiron 15R is capable of handling Microsoft Office and web browsing. Its 8 GB of memory will also help out with more demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing.
Graphics performance is also improved, stepping up from 22 to 32 fps when running our Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark at 1280 x 720 resolution. That will be fine for occasional casual gaming. There's that Core i7 model with the AMD Radeon graphics available for another £50 which will likely improve this, but only by a few frames per second.
And, of course, the Haswell processor provides better battery life too. There's a big improvement here, as the 6 hours of streaming video provided by last year's model now stretches to just over 8 hours (495 minutes). That's excellent performance from such a low-cost laptop – which makes it all the more disappointing that the Inspiron 15R is so heavy.
Dell quotes a weight 'starting at 2.35kg' for a model with a regular screen, while our review unit weighed in at a full 2.6 kg – a weight that this reviewer could barely lift with one hand. It's not the sort of thing you'll want to carry around with you all day long, but at least the battery life might see you through a long journey on a train or a plane.
It's a shame that the Inspiron 15R is so heavy, as it may limit the laptop to only occasional adventures in the outside world. However, it's well built and provides good performance and connectivity at a very competitive price. Battery life is also excellent for a laptop in this price range, making the Inspiron 15R a good choice for anyone that wants an affordable multi-purpose laptop for use at home or in the office.