Dell Inspiron 15 (1564): Powerful and Affordable
At a Glance
Dell Inspiron 15 (1564)
There's no denying that the 1564 has a lot of power--but with so few ports on this laptop, how are you going to make use of it?
I like a lot of Dell's newer laptops, and I had hoped to like the company's newly Core i5-enhanced Inspiron 15 (1564 variant). This model has a lush widescreen and isn't too big, and the glossy shell looks nearly as good as the Apple aesthetic it apes. At about $934 (as of March 9, 2010) when it isn't on sale, the 1564 is a reasonably priced all-purpose laptop with a substantially more than adequate chunk of silicon at its heart. But it doesn't give you a lot of ways to get all that power out and onto the screen of your choice, and the keyboard is an uncomfortable mess. Typing this review means that I'm finally, blissfully close to not having to use this keyboard ever again. (Yes!)
The review model I received had the "Ice Blue" finish with the familiar Dell icon in the center. The glossy sections of this machine are fingerprint magnets (no way around that), but they look good. The whole thing measures 15 by 9.8 by 0.8 inches and weighs just under 5.5 pounds. The 15.6-inch widescreen display stretches it out--this is not a laptop you can casually toss into a small bag, but it isn't a monster either. The left side has USB, VGA, and HDMI ports, plus the ethernet plug. The right edge has the DVD drive, two more USB ports, microphone and headphone ports, and a memory card reader.
Open the laptop, and you'll find a keyboard that runs the whole length of the machine, a power button, a few status lights, and a touchpad with two buttons. The touchpad is bog standard, responsive and spacious but not quite up to the level of Lenovo's ThinkPad line. The keyboard is shoved to the left to accommodate an undersize numeric keypad on the right, leaving the whole arrangement cramped and off-center. It's ghastly to type on, and it gets worse the longer you use it. If you love Dell's human-interface style, you're in luck. If you love interfaces designed for human comfort, you're...less in luck.
Our test model had a Core i5 520M processor clocked at 2.4GHz, 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM, a 350GB hard drive, and the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 discrete graphics chip. All that power was reflected in an impressive WorldBench 6 score of 105, well above the average range for the all-purpose category. As for video game performance, the 1564 is no gaming rig, but it has more than enough power for a user who's willing to stay within some reasonable resolution and effects limits. The native resolution of the screen is 1366 by 768, and modern games are playable at that level. You pay for performance in battery life, however: Though I expect most models in the category to reach about 4.5 hours of battery life, the 1564 usually manages about 3.5 hours.
A more serious concern than the amount of power is what you can--or, rather, can't--do with it. The system's three USB outs aren't bad, but with this impressive CPU and discrete GPU, where's my FireWire, my eSATA, or even my Express Card slot? The 1564 certainly has more than enough power to chew through regular laptop work without flinching. It has just enough oomph to be a capable portable video-editing machine, too. But Dell has provided no good way to get all that content in and out.
Beyond that issue, the screen wouldn't be my first choice for doing color-sensitive work like video or graphics editing. It has no perfect viewing angle, blacks come across as muddy pools, and the screen is too glossy. The audio is about as mediocre as the display, producing hollow-sounding tunes and issuing a lot of crackling. The speakers can kick out plenty of volume, but Dell clearly opted for quantity, not quality, of sound.
Dell's built-in software is strongest in the Dell Support Center and Webcam Central apps. The former is a hub for information about your machine, while the latter makes it easy for even the most technophobic computer user to take embarrassing images and videos of themselves. On the other hand, the Dell Dock is still just a semifunctional combination of the Start button's features and a Mac dock, and Dell DataSafe is merely a constantly running pitch for online storage.
I really wanted to like the Dell Inspiron 15 (1564), but mostly I find myself apologizing for it. Users who love the ergonomically unpleasant keyboard configuration can get a lot of power out of the rig for a reasonable price. But I'd lean toward a more powerful piece of laptop hardware for full commitment to the desktop replacement route, or a slightly less capable machine with better battery life for anyone who is committed to using their system on the go. Maybe the next Dell laptop will be the one I love.