Dell’s Inspiron 13 7000 series Special Edition (model 7352)—a product exclusive to Dell’s Web site and Best Buy—is a seemingly mainstream machine with one special feature: a 360-degree rotating display that makes a laptop, a mini all-in-one, or a small table-top computer. It's a nice trick, but it can't distract us from the hard facts that the Special Edition weighs 3.7 pounds and is saddled with a non-removable keyboard. Dell may call it a 2-in-1, but it's a heavy and unwieldy example.
Aside from the ill-fitting designation, the Inspiron 13 7000 Special Edition has a lot going for it. Its brushed-chrome and gray shell is handsome, with just the right amount of ornamentation for my tastes. It sports a spread-layout, back lit, Chiclet-style keyboard that types well despite being short-throw. It’s sturdily built; and it’s a very good performer.
Given the Core i7-5500U, 8GB of DDR3/1333 RAM, and 256GB Samsung PM851 M.2/SATA SSD on board, the strong performance is no surprise. The Special Edition garnered a PCMark Creative Conventional score of 2,352 and a Work score of 2,845; transcoded a 30GB, 1080p .MKV file in 2 hours and 5 minutes; and played the same, high-bit-rate .MKV file constantly for 5 hours and 5 minutes before the battery ran dry.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500 suffice for light web gaming and the like. A discrete GPU is required for anything more intense, but that isn’t an option on the Inspiron 13 7000 series. The display is a 14-inch, 1920x1080 touchscreen with good viewing angles and plenty of usable brightness. Movies look great on it. There’s a fair amount of glare, but that’s life in the touchscreen lane.
The audio is also decent, considering that there’s no direct path (i.e., speaker grille openings) for the sound to reach your ears. The MaxxAudio Pro enhancement software (found buried in the Dell Audio control panel applet, in a bit of branding nonsense) helps quite a bit. Hint: The Movies and Music settings offer more clarity than the somewhat muddy Maxx Sense preset that is the applet's default.
Price, ports, maintenance
The Special Edition model 7352 costs $999, which is reasonable given the components. Lower-end builds start for as little as $500 if you’re willing to “settle” for a Core i3-4030U, 4GB of system memory, a 500GB hard drive, and a 1366x768 display. There are small differences in the chassis: The regular models lack the silver trim and beveled edges of the special edition.
You won't find bleeding-edge USB-C/3.1 or DisplayPort on the Special Edition, but there are two USB 3.0 ports (one charging), one USB 2.0 port for peripherals, a full-sized HDMI port, and an SD card slot, as well as 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0. The webcam is 720p.
The Inspiron 13 7000 series is especially easy to maintain and upgrade. Remove ten like-sized screws from the bottom of the unit, pry off the lower part of the shell, and the major components (battery, hard drive, memory and more) are all laid out in front of you. Gone are the bad old days of layers of multiple daughterboards and shields to dig through, and varied-size screws. At least with Dell. Nice.
Two things about the Special Edition annoyed me. The touchpad was especially sensitive to taps--so much so, that I disabled the feature. Some might like the heightened level of sensitivity but not me.
The Inspiron 13, like other 2-in-1 designs, moves the power button to the side and makes it as tiny as can be. I’m of the belief that power buttons should be obvious, large, and situated on the keyboard deck. End of story.
Perfection eludes it, but the Inspiron 13 7000 Special Edition’s positives dwarfits minor flaws. It offers good bang for the buck and is generally a very pleasant computing experience. Definitely worth a look if you’re thinking workhorse, mainstream 13-inch for your next laptop.