Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series review: This 15-inch notebook disappoints
At a Glance
Dell’s Inspiron 15 5000 series is the bigger-screened cousin to its Inspiron 14 5000 series. The former is outfitted with a spacious 15.6-inch display while the latter has a 14-incher. I’ll review the Inspiron 15 model 5547 here, and you can read my colleague Jon L. Jacobi’s review of the Inspiron 14 model 5447 on this page.
The Inspiron 15 5547 is a slim notebook with a fast Intel Core i7-4510U processor, an ample 16GB of DDR3/1600 memory, and an IPS display with native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. With those specs, you might also expect to find a speedy SSD inside its chassis, but Dell cheaped out by providing a capacious but annoyingly slow 1TB, 5400 rpm mechanical drive. And that’s not the only thing I didn’t like about this machine.
No matter how fast, sexy, inexpensive, or well-supported a notebook is, you won’t want it as a travel companion if you’re worried about damaging it in transit or if you find it a hassle to use. I’m a frequent flyer, and I just can’t see dragging a Inspiron 5547 with me. I really like its crisp vivid IPS screen, but a host of other drawbacks render this notebook less than roadworthy.
Some of the issues are endemic to big-screen models. This machine is 0.8 inches thick and it weighs 5.37 pounds (just over 6 pounds when you add its power brick). You’ll want to carry it in a well-reinforced bag with plenty of padding for your shoulder. But that bulk doesn’t equate to a rugged, well-constructed device. When I gripped the 5547’s diagonal corners and twisted, the body warped and made ominous creaking noises.
Like its smaller cousin, the Inspiron 5547 is easy to open up for upgrades. Just two screws fasten its bottom panel; removing it grants access to its dual SODIMM slots (for memory), its 802.11ac Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo card, and its 43-watt-hour battery.
While inside the computer, I noticed it had very little metal framing. In fact, you see remarkably little metal anywhere in there. Nearly all of the construction is plastic. That might help explain why its chassis flexes so readily.
I expected to find plenty of I/O ports on a machine of this size, but the Inspiron 5547 has a surprisingly modest collection. You get just three USB ports, only two of which are the faster USB 3.0 variety; a memory-card reader; HDMI; a headset; and—what’s this?—a 10/100 ethernet jack? It’s been years since I’ve seen any hardwired ethernet jack delivering speed of less than a gigabit (barring exceptionally thin-and-light notebooks that expect you to rely on Wi-Fi or a USB adapter). Speaking of Wi-Fi, this machine’s dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter is Intel’s 1x1 Wireless AC 3160 that supports maximum throughput of only 433Mbps (Intel’s 2x2 Wireless AC 7260 delivers 867Mbps).
The Inspiron 5547’s keyboard is cursed with nearly every annoying feature I’ve ever suffered, and it tosses in a few new ones. It clatters when I type on it. My fingers slip on its slick, flat-topped keys. It sometimes misses keystrokes, especially the “e” key. The Insert function would mysteriously switch to “Overwrite” mode. Two new things: First, the function keys (F1 through F12) didn’t behave as I expected (a 45-minute call to Dell’s tech support finally resolved that issue—more on that later.) Second, the arrow keys would intermittently stop working after I pressed firmly on the keyboard deck to the left of the trackpad.
Speaking of the trackpad: Moody might be the best way to describe it. It tracks a single finger well and at the right speed, but it’s clunky to use for multi-finger gestures like pinch-zoom. And tapping on it to execute commands was a hit-or-miss affair. It worked fine sometimes; other times, I had to thump on it to get any response at all. Still other times, it became so sensitive that it interpreted single taps as double taps, highlighting the whole body of text I was working in when it should have selected just one word.
Despite having a faster CPU and twice as much memory, the Inspiron 5547’s Laptop WorldBench 9 score was just four points higher than the Inspiron 5447's. This could be because the larger model’s display has native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, where the smaller one’s panel is limited to 1366x768. Looking at the benchmark chart, you’ll see that the Core i5-equipped Samsung ATIV Book 9 delivered a WorldBench score six points higher than the 5547. How’d it manage that, despite having a lesser CPU? The Samsung comes with an SSD. It’s a small one, but it’s fast.
The Samsung and both the Dell Inspiron 5547 and Inspiron 5447 rely on integrated graphics, so we didn’t expect killer gaming. And we didn’t get it. Our reference machine—Dell’s XPS 15—has an older Nvidia GPU, and Lenovo’s Y50 gaming laptop has a newer one. Both those machines’ performances with BioShock Infinite reveal what discrete GPUs can do. The three machines without discrete GPUs had a tough time delivering acceptable frame rates, even with resolution dialed down to 1024x768.
Short battery life is another reason to leave the Inspiron 5547 at home. The faster processor and higher-resolution screen drained its battery more than an hour sooner than the Inspiron 5447's, and a full two hours earlier the Samsung's. Dell’s XPS 15, meanwhile, has a higher-capacity battery, while the Lenovo just has a discrete GPU. Some notebooks recharge quickly, but this one needed two hours to top off its tank.
Dell tech support: The good and the awful
Dell’s support was once the best in the business, but it’s only marginally better than average now. Input the Express Service Code you’ll find pasted on your Dell PC into the company’s support page, and it will instantly provide details on the specific system configuration and the state of its warranty. I wish more manufacturers had something as useful, even if Dell’s missed a few details (such as this machine’s ethernet and Wi-Fi setup).
I called tech support twice. My first call got off to a slow start, but I eventually got excellent help. Reps bounced me between India and the Philippines, but a very friendly man in Delhi finally solved the F-key mapping problem I mentioned earlier (he had me search for Windows Mobility Center, go to the Fn Key Behavior box, and switch “Multimedia key” to “Function key”). He also gave me his phone extension, so I could contact him directly if I needed to follow up.
The second call was an unmitigated disaster. I asked two basic test questions: “What is the wired ethernet speed in megabits per second?” And “Is the 802.11ac client adapter a 1x1 or a 2x2 device?”
I spent an hour with two reps who hemmed and hawed before getting testy and demanding to know why I wanted this information. They put me on hold frequently, including one time for 20 minutes. Finally, one transferred me to the “Wireless Department” where I was informed I would have to pay them to tell me this information. That person later hung up on me. Needless to say, the experience was acutely frustrating and a colossal waste of time.
The Inspiron 5547 is very inexpensive for a laptop with a Core i7 processor and a 15.6-inch display, but it just doesn’t measure up to Dell’s usual quality standards. Its fit and finish are suspect, and it should have more USB ports, a faster Wi-Fi adapter, and gigabit ethernet—even at this price.
If you’re considering Dell because you expecting quality tech support, don’t count on it (my second call destroyed any goodwill the company earned from the first one). If you need a laptop with a 15.6-inch display, it looks as though Lenovo’s Y50 delivers a better price-to-performance ratio. That machine isn’t perfect either, and it costs more ($1299 vs. $1049 for the Inspiron 5547), but you’ll get a lot more hardware and performance for your money (just be sure to read what the reviewer had to say about its display).