Dell Inspiron 14R-5437 review: It's no barn burner, but it runs a good long while
At a Glance
If you haven't considered a Dell laptop for your next purchase, the Inspiron 14R is a compelling reason to do so. Its calmly handsome looks, top-notch fit-and-finish, and first-rate input ergonomics make it an appealing all-purpose laptop.
The performance of our $649 Core i3 test configuration was so-so in its numbers, but subjectively it felt decently responsive, and it has a Core i5 option if you need the boost.
Looks and ergonomics
The 14R-5437 that Dell sent us was styled in slate gray and matte silver, but less dour colors such as blue and red are also available. The high gloss of the 14-inch, 1366 by 768 touchscreen sets off the otherwise all-matte finish nicely. The corners of the 14R are more severely rounded than those of most laptops, which gives the unit a slightly old-school vibe. It also helps the unit slide easily into bags and is generally less likely to snag or injure.
The 14R's island-style keyboard has a very nice feel. It's short-throw, but mounted on a very stiff surface, so it's easy to set up a typing rhythm. It has no numeric keypad, but the cursor and editing keys are full-size and nicely placed. The touchpad is just that, not the flimsy integrated button clickpad that's currently in vogue. Swiping response is excellent, though the buttons feel a little soft. The touchscreen is also nicely responsive.
Hardware and performance
At 5 pounds the 14R-5437 is a tad hefty for a 14-inch laptop, but it's also ruggedly built. Our test configuration sported a 1.7GHz Intel Core i3-4010U, 4GB of DDR3/1600 memory, and a 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive (a Western Digital WD5000LPVX-75V0TT0). If that component lineup doesn't sound scintillating, neither will the 110 score it posted on PCWorld's WorldBench 8.1 test suite. However, in my hands-on, the unit felt fine—I never became frustrated with the speed. Microsoft's recent operating systems, especially the Windows 8 that was on board, have excellent caching techniques, and after the first run, I found little to complain about when opening windows and applications.
While not the swiftest laptop around, the Inspiron 14R-5437 has the best battery life we've seen in quite a while: 9 hours and 8 minutes is the better part of a trans-Pacific flight. That battery life is due partly to the Intel Haswell components and partly to a 65 watt-hour battery. The battery extends slightly below the rest of the unit, creating a slight forward rake and a better typing angle.
The Inspiron 14R also comes with an optical drive, something increasingly rare in all-purpose laptops. In this case, it's a Matsushita (Panasonic) UJ8DB DVD+/-RW burner. Upgrading to an SSD (for that, you’re on your own, since it can’t be configured with one at purchase) or adding more memory requires only removing the bottom panel, which is held in place by a single screw.
The port selection on the 14R-5437 is the usual modern mix: two USB 3.0 ports on the left, one USB 2.0 port on the right, an ethernet jack, HDMI out, an SD card slot, a headset jack, and a Kensington lock port.
Multimedia and software
Listening to the 14R-5437's speakers was a dull experience. You get plenty of volume with the speaker grills located at the very front of the unit on the bottom, but the sound lacks high-frequency definition and bass response. High-bit-rate 1080p video, on the other hand, played as smoothly as you could wish.
Dell bundles Cyberlink's Media Suite to handle disc burning, creative video and photo needs, and McAfee Internet Security. Also included: Dell's backup utility and a utility for creating a Wi-Fi hotpsot using the 14R-5437. As for junkware, I spotted only shortcuts to eBay and Amazon.
The bottom line
Exciting, it's not, but if you're looking for an affordable, well-engineered laptop that sticks with the tried-and-true basics and gets your work done, the 14R is about as solid a product as you'll find. It's also the laptop to own if you're regularly separated from AC for long periods of time.