Product Review Archive

Product Review–Brother QL-1110NWB label printer

I am reviewing the Brother QL-1110NWB wide-format network label printer which is the premium model for Brother’s QL-1100 series of wide-format label printers. It is seen as something that can work with applications where barcodes, graphics or extra details like weights and use-by dates are to be placed on a label like with packaging or commercial-kitchen food management.

There are two machines that are part of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printer lineup – the QL-1110 and the QL-1110NWB. The QL-1110 can only connect to the host computing device via USB and also supports USB-host connectivity for HID-class USB barcode readers. Android users can use USB OTG or USB Type-C adaptor cables to connect their devices to this printer and print using the Brother apps.

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer

The QL-1110NWB supports the abovementioned USB connections but also supports network connectivity via Wi-Fi or Ethernet along with support for wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or direct (own access point) Wi-Fi connectivity,

Both of these machines run from AC power using an integrated power supply where you are not dealing with a “wall-wart” or “power brick” to supply power to them. Rather you are simply using the same kind of AC cord that you would use to power a portable radio and that leads towards a cable you can easily replace if the original one goes missing.

Connection to your computer or network

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections - USB to host computer, USB for peripherals, Ethernet

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections – USB for direct to host connection, USB for barcode readers and Ethernet

The Brother QL-1110NWB can connect to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless as well as being able to print from mobile devices using either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct connections. But if you are setting up this machine for Wi-Fi-based network connectivity, you have to connect it to a regular computer running Windows via USB and run the supplied Printer Setting Tool to configure it. This doesn’t apply if you use WPS “push-to-connect” Wi-Fi setup or Ethernet connectivity on a small network.

I had found that the Printer Setting Tool was not surefire in its approach for Wi-Fi network setup and couldn’t even get it connected to my home network. But I could simply plug it in to the Ethernet connection which can be of use for setups where your premises is wired for Ethernet or you use a HomePlug powerline setup.

There is support for Web-based configuration but this only applies if you have it connected to your network.

It also supports Apple’s AirPrint driver-free printing standard so it can work with iOS and MacOS hosts without needing driver software.

Personally, I had found that the Brother QL-1110NWB label printer yielded a surefire connection when I used it with an Ethernet connection or a USB direct-to-host connection.

The label printers also have an integrated guillotine which makes it simpler and more elegant to manage the labels. This works under programmatic control or you can cut the labels manually through a push-button on the machine’s control panel.

Loading label stock in the label printer

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer loaded with standard label tape

Loading the label tape in the Brother QL-1110 Network Label Printer

The Brother QL-1110 Series label printers can take the same standard-width label stock as the rest of the QL series reel-feed label printers. But they can take label stock that is wider than normal thus allowing for the creation of larger labels including the possibility of printing out standard name-badge or address labels in landscape form.

Loading any of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printers is a relatively simple chore no matter whether you are using the wide label stock or the narrow label stock. These label printers use a clamshell design and you release the lid by operating two latches at the same time, which doesn’t require much pressure. Then you drop the label reel in, making sure it engages with the ridge on the right hand side of the compartment.

Then you thread the label paper through the machine taking care to make sure the paper is under a black sensor box on the right side of the compartment while it emerges through the front. Here, there is very little effort needed to make sure that the paper is threaded properly.

The Brother label printer uses microswitches that sense mouldings and holes on the reel along with other microswitches that sense the width of the reel to determine what kind of label tape is in the printer including whether it is a wide-format label tape. Here, you would have to be careful that the correct label tape is on the correct reel if you want this unit to work properly.

System-integration support

A systems integrator or yourself could upload label template designs created using P-Touch Editor and set up a “computer-free” label-creation arrangement for data read from barcodes. This can work with an HID-compliant barcode reader connected to the USB host port (both models) or linked via Bluetooth (QL-1110NWB only). That setup would then appeal to stock-control and similar applications.

There is also support for ESC/P printing codes so that these label printers can work with other third-party labelling or similar software that implements this kind of output control.

Supplied software

All the Brother label machines including these units support the P-Touch Editor software which works as a quick way to turn out labels. If you use a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet, the Brother iPrint&Label app works in the same vein for turning out labels from these devices.

If you use P-Touch Editor, you could set it that way by selecting “Vertical” in the Orientation setting under the Paper tab. This means that it will print out parallel to the printer. Here, I would recommend this if you want to exploit the wide-format label tape for turning out address labels or name badges.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Brother could make sure these label printers support any and all device classes to do with printing for POS, gaming and allied applications no matter the connection type as well as supporting other driver-free printing standards like Mopria Alliance and IPP Everywhere,

Similarly, Brother could look towards the use of other USB or Bluetooth input devices like keyboards or digital scales as a way to enter data for use with stored label templates. Here, it could work well with environments where you can’t use a smartphone or regular computer to enter data for a labelling environment.

I have always called on Brother to add a “measuring-tape” creation function to their P-Touch Editor software. Such a function would allow someone to use a label printer loaded with continuous-tape label stock to create a measuring tape that could be stuck to something like a worktop edge or door frame thus making that surface something to measure length or height with. This feature would appeal to laboratories, the medical profession, child care, education or a whole host of other professions who are always measuring things like people’s height for example.

As well, the P-Touch Address Book software could support country-specific addressing better by using nation-specific address layouts or omitting the ZIP Code barcode for non-USA addresses. It could be taken further through the implementation of machine-readable barcoding techniques that other countries may use to improve mail delivery.

Conclusion

The Brother QL-1100 Series label printers have become an example of legitimising wide-format thermal-based label printing for small businesses. This would be of importance for logistics and inventory-management applications where there is requirement for more detail on the label or to make heavy use of large barcodes.

But I would recommend the Brother QL-1110NWB specifically for those setups where you expect the printer to be located away from a regular computer.

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My Experience with the USB-C connection type

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB-C as the power connection for a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook

I have given a fair bit of space on HomeNetworking01.info to the USB-C host-peripheral connection type since it was launched. It was more to do with a simplified high-throughput high-reliability connection type that will grace our computers, smartphones and similar devices.

But just lately I had upgraded to a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ Android smartphone due to my previous smartphone failing. But I had some previous experience with the USB-C connection through my reviewing of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook, which was powered using USB-C as its primary connection type. The previous Android smartphones that I had before implemented a USB microAB connection for their power and data-transfer needs and recent iterations of Android which I experienced on the Galaxy Note series of phones supported USB OTG host-operation modes.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Samsung S8 Plus Android phone using USB-C connection for power and data

The main feature that I liked was the simple approach to connecting devices to my phone. Here, I didn’t have to worry about which way the cable plugged in to my phone, something that was important when it came to connecting it to a charger or power pack.

A situation I was previously encountering with the USB micro-B connector on the previous phones was the need to replace USB cables due to the USB micro-B plug wearing out in the USB micro-AB socket in these phones due to frequent connection and disconnection. This would be typical in relationship to connecting a phone up to a charger for charging then subsequently disconnecting it from the charger for regular use. Then I ended up buying replacement USB A to USB micro-B cables to remedy this problem.

Now I am ending up with a sure-fire connection experience for USB devices similar to using the regular USB connections commonly fitted to regular computers or peripherals.

That situation was often brought on through the use of leaf-spring-type lugs on the USB micro-B connector that were used to make sure the plug fitted properly in the common USB micro-AB socket fitted to smartphones. Here, they can easily wear out and lose their springiness through repeated use. The USB-C connector doesn’t make use of those leaf springs to secure the plug in the socket thanks to it being one plug design for data input and output.

Memory card reader connected to USB-C adaptor for Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

USB-C also works for connecting this phone to a memory card reader for reading photos from my camera

Another benefit that I have experienced is the ability to use the same kind of connector whether the phone is to be a host to a peripheral or to be connected to another computer device. This avoids the need to worry about having to use a USB OTG cable if, for example, I wanted to use a photo from my camera’s SD card to post on Instagram. But I still needed to use a USB-A (female) to USB-C adaptor with the SD card reader but would find this useful if I wanted to use the SD card reader or a USB memory key with any USB-C host device.

Again, I wouldn’t need to worry about which way the cable plugged in to a computer or smartphone equipped with this connector. This can come in handy if I was dealing with USB memory keys attached to keyrings or USB peripherals hanging off a USB cable.

Personally, I see the USB Type-C connection appearing as a viable connection type for laptops, tablets and smartphones especially where these devices are designed to be slim.

One way this connection can be exploited further would be for smartphone manufacturers to install two USB Type-C connectors at the bottom of their products. Similarly, a USB battery pack with USB Type-C connectivity could have have three USB-C sockets and have USB hub functionality. This could then allow for multiple devices to be connected to the same host device.

This article will be built out further as I deal with more connection setups that are based around the USB Type-C connector.

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Product Review–JBL E45BT On-Ear Bluetooth Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset which is a Bluetooth-equipped follow-on for the JBL E30 headset that I previously reviewed. It is my first effort at reviewing a Bluetooth headset that JBL is positioning as one that is fit for general-purpose applications.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

Price

RRP: AUD$149.95

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Supra-aural (sits on the ear)
Driver Enclosure Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Commuting / street-use
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Music Transport (Bluetooth AVRCP)
Sound Volume
Call control (Wired / Bluetooth HFP)
Voice Assistant (Wired)

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Bluetooth 4.0 wireless
Wired path 2.5mm 4-pole analogue jack
Supplementary adaptors 3.5mm headset cord

The headset itself

The JBL E45BT On-Ear Bluetooth Headset is capable of being a wired headset using an included wired-headset cable that has a built-in microphone and control button. Or it can become a standalone Bluetooth wireless headset when linked to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth.

As far a storage is concerned, both of the earcups can be swiveled flat and parallel with the headband. This makes for compact storage in your briefcase, laptop bag or other personal luggage.

Connectivity and Functionality

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset honours the Bluetooth Hands-Free and A2DP / AVRCP application profiles thus allowing it to work as a headset for a communications device or a music-playback device compliant to these standards.

The remote-control buttons for the volume and call-management functions are on the right-hand earcup, but JBL could make the middle button which serves as a play/pause or call answer/end button have a different tactile feel so it is easy to identify quickly. You have to hold the volume buttons down until you hear a beep to activate track-skip functionality.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset Bluetooth controls and wired-headset socket

Volume / media-transport controls for Bluetooth, wired headset socket, Bluetooth pairing button

This control arrangement doesn’t allow you to start redialling a missed call or busy number or instigate a session with Siri or the Google Assistant using Bluetooth. But it provides what is essential to start and stop music, take calls, change tracks or adjust the sound.

Users can connect the JBL E45BT to the host device in a wired manner using the supplied headset cord, something that can come in handy if the headset’s battery had died out or you have to operate your mobile device on “flight mode” where you can’t use its wireless functionality. But you can’t enable Bluetooth operation while you are using the wired connection, which puts aside the idea of connecting it to a Walkman, portable radio or iPod while having it monitor your smartphone for calls.

Multipoint support for two devices

There is multipoint support so you can use one pair of these headphones with two host devices. One situation that this can cater for would be if you use two phones such as a personal phone tied with your own account and a work-supplied phone tied to your employer’s account. Or it could cater towards you using a smartphone and a laptop or tablet at the same time with the laptop or tablet being used with video content, music or games while you have the smartphone ready to answer calls.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset MicroUSB charging port

MicroUSB charging port on left hand earcup

The setup procedure is relatively simple by you pressing the Bluetooth button on the headset’s right earcup to make it discoverable for the second source device then using the second device’s user interface to connect with the headset. In the case of a Windows-10-equipped laptop, you would use the Bluetooth menu in the Devices part of the Control Panel and click “Add A Device”. The headset will then be exclusively used by the second device.

Then your press the Bluetooth button again on the headset to make the headset discoverable and reconnect the original host device to the headset using that device’s user interface. Here, you have established a simple multipoint setup where whichever source device “comes on” plays through the headset. Phone calls or communications applications on each of the host devices that use the Bluetooth Hands Free Profile will always have priority over either device’s multimedia sources.

The multipoint functionality is destroyed if either device is disconnected but the JBL headset will normally re-establish this setup if you simply enable the connection again for both the same host devices.

Comfort

The user-comfort level for the JBL E45BT headset is very similar to most of the recent supra-aural headsets in that they don’t feel heavy or hard on your head even after a long time of use. The vinyl-covered earcups don’t even become sticky when you use this headset on a hot day.

Sound Quality

Music

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset can handle strong bass response but you need to use equalisation at the source device to ramp up the bass and treble. Other than than it does well with music and similar content.

As well, it conveys a sound quality that doesn’t cause listener fatigue during extended listening.

Video and game content

I have watched a foreign-language European TV crime drama and had found that the voices come through intelligibly and clearly with the full weight. As well, the sound effects came through clearly and naturally especially with gunshot or vehicle sounds which will also matter with the games played by “core” gamers.

Communications on phone or computer

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset even works well for communications applications with the ability to hear whom I talk to clearly while they can understand me. It doesn’t matter whether it is the regular mobile-telephony use or through one of the various VoIP services. As well, it can handle soft-spoken callers or those with a distinct accent as well as those who are on a difficult connection.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

I assess headphones also to identify how they perform in noisy environments like on a bus or in an underground train. This is to assess how they would cope when being used to provide you with entertainment while travelling on public transport or whether they can even shut out a noisy environment so you can make that videocall or listen to some music.

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset doesn’t provide much in the way of noise reduction and you would have to make sure your program material or your phone’s call-volume setting was significantly loud if you want to have it compete in a noisy environment. This is something that would be expected for on-ear headphones.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One key feature that the JBL E45BT is mission out on is the ability to support a “press-and-hold” operation for the Play/Pause/Call button. This would provide access to voice-driven operation on smartphones that run a voice-driven personal assistant, or could allow the ability to use the headset’s buttons to redial the last call you made or a call you missed.

Personally, I would like to see the microUSB connection on a headset used not just for charging a Bluetooth wireless headset like the JBL E45BT. Here, I would like to see these devices implement the USB Audio Class and Human Interface Device classes so they can become a wired digital headset when connected to a host device using a USB or Apple Lightning connection. This could be seen as a way to provide high-quality digital audio from a laptop or newer smartphone especially where the 3.5mm audio jack is likely to be seen as being one the way out.

As for the battery, I would personally like to see it being user-replaceable so you can keep the headset going as a Bluetooth headset for a long time rather than throwing it away if the battery starts to die out.

JBL could provide support for concurrent “wired + wireless” operation so that the headset could work as a wireless headset for one device but as wired headphones for another device. A situation where this can come in handy is whenever you use a headset like this with a music player or portable radio for audio content and your smartphone for calls. This situation is underscored especially with portable FM or DAB radios that use the headphone cable as their antenna, but is also underscored if you are using legacy media like cassettes or CDs or are using a high-capacity digital audio player for your music.

Another issue still to be ironed out with the use of Bluetooth headsets is to allow you to manage calls from VoIP platform software like Facebook Messenger or Viber using the controls on these headsets. At least this should be about the call-control buttons to answer or end an incoming call, but it will be an issue that needs to be addressed by Apple and Google as part of developing their iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

Conclusion

The JBL E45BT represents what is feasible for a good-quality baseline “over-the-ear” Bluetooth headset. Here, I would recommend this headset as something to be after if you want a general-purpose headset to work with your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-L2713DW multifunction laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing Brother’s latest approach at a light-duty monochrome laser multifunction printer in the form of the MFC-L2713DW. It is one of these machines that you could use for a small office or shop, especially if you are intending to replace a light-duty fax machine. Some of you also may see this machine or its peers as a routine document printer for your home office.

It may also appeal to professionals and the like who want to have a light-duty document-focused printer or fax-capable multifunction in their office as a “private” machine while their workplace has a heavy-duty multifunction in the common areas.

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction laser printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W A4 x 1(standard) USB 2.0
Laser xerographic 1200 dpi ID Copy Multi-purpose tray capacity Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Fax via phone
Email-based Scan-to-email TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support
Brother Print Service plugin support
Online Services Print From Scan To
Multiple Users for Online Services N/A
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services N/A

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$81.00 1200 AUD$141.50 3000

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$150.00 12000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers)
Waste Toner Bin

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction monochrome laser printer

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

I had connected the printer to the home network via Ethernet and this meant that I could effectively be “on board” very quickly. As far as I am concerned, I really wouldn’t use the Wi-Fi ability on these printers to connect to an existing network because you may have Wi-Fi issues in your home or small-business location, rather I would connect via Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline.

This printer, like the other small monochrome laser printers that Brother offers, uses a separate user-replaceable drum unit along with the toner cartridge rather than following HP’s path of an integrated print cartridge that has the drum unit. But if you have to add toner to the printer, you have to remove the drum unit from the machine before you detach the spent toner cartridge from the drum unit.

Here the installation process was simple enough to do. But I also like the way Brother offers a higher-yield toner cartridge for these printers, a feature I definitely applaud for people who want to choose the right yield to suit their needs and budget.

Paper Handling

Like with most of Brother’s budget-priced and value-priced printer models, this printer uses a single-page bypass feed which would be limiting if you are running multiple-page print jobs that use special media. This would also be used if you are dealing with pre-printed forms such as when a doctor is turning out prescriptions or test / treatment referrals.

Personally, I would like to move away from the single-page approach towards having a five-page approach to cater for jobs where a handful of pre-printed forms or label sheets are being turned out.

The A4 paper tray worked properly and didn’t feel flimsy to the touch, making it a machine that can satisfy most users.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-L2713DW has an on-machine with a bright text-based LCD display and rubber-feel keys. Here, the text-based LCD display is a high-contrast “black-on-white” type which makes it very readable under many different lighting scenarios. But I would like to improve on the D-pad’s design by using illuminated arrow legends that come alive when you are using the menu options.

The copying process for a single page fed through the automatic document feeder came through as being very quick even when the machine wasn’t used for a while. Here, by the time the document left the ADF, the printer was turning out the copy.

The quality of the copies came out good for documents printed on plain paper but I wouldn’t expect a high-quality copy for photos or similar material. It also holds true for material printed on glossy paper such as ID or business cards whereupon you may find that the copy comes out paler than the original.

There is a one-touch “duplex copy” function that allows you to copy both sides of an original on to both sides of the copy’s paper, but you have to turn over the original to copy the other side. The ID copy functionality works as expected although there is the issue of not scanning “to the edge”. Brother answers this issue by a scrolling text message to tell users to put the original 1/4″ from the edge

The Brother MFC-L2713DW can serve as a basic monochrome phone-based fax machine with a limited-capacity “fax vault” function suitable for overnight / weekend use.

Here it omits the T.37 email-based store-and-forward fax functionality which may be an approach for some of us who want to move towards IP fax. Most likely, when you move towards an IP-based telephony service and use an analogue-telephony-adaptor with machines like this one, you may be also setting up for T.38 real-time Internet fax.

Like with all of the Brother MFC-series fax-capable multifunction printers that have duplex printing, you can set this machine up to print the faxes it receives on both sides of the paper as a way to save on paper.

Computer functions

I had installed the drivers on my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s Website and they were in place very quickly. Here, you would have to install the full software set to enable printing, scanning and fax management including “print-to-fax” functionality.

The ControlCenter4 scan monitor does take time to come in to action when you start a scan-to-computer job from the printer’s control surface. This is a continual problem with most of the scanner software offered by most scanner and MFC manufacturers and, personally, I would like to see the host computer’s operating system look after this functionality for both direct and network setups.

As far as mobile devices were concerned, the Brother MFC-L2713DW worked properly with the Android print-service plugin that I installed on my Samsung Android phone. Here, the app was quick to recognise the printer’s capabilities and have the document turned out quickly. Of course it does support Apple AirPrint for those of you who run your business from an iPad.

Print / scan speed and quality

The Brother MFC-L2713DW came alive and started printing documents very quickly, whether from the computer or a mobile phone. It also led to a quick turnout of the document, something very similar to most of the small monochrome laser printers.

The printer was able to handle a double-sided print job but it doesn’t turn them out as quickly as a simplex print job. This is something you would notice more with light-duty monochrome lasers that have this functionality. It turned out these documents without jamming or dropping pages.

The Brother MFC-L2713DW does satisfy the output-quality requirements for a small entry-level monochrome laser printer. Here, it would yield clear easy-to-read text that would be part of an office document.

But I wouldn’t expect it to yield high-quality output when it comes to photos and similar presentation-grade work. Here I noticed banding along the narrow edge of the sheet when I printed out a picture of a landscape, but it was able to maintain proper fidelity when it came to the image’s contrast.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature I would like to see continual improvement on for the Brother small laser printers is to have auto-duplex printing with a speed similar to simplex printing jobs. Similarly, I would like to see Brother move away from the “single-sheet” approach for the manual bypass function on these printers so as to cater for multiple-sheet print runs using special stationery.

A feature that could benefit this class of light-duty monochrome laser multifunction would to permit “two-machine” copying across the network. This is where you could scan a document on a multifunction like this one and it is then printed out on a colour printer or multifunction connected to the same network. This would also allow for other applications like enlarging documents to A3 / Ledger with the A4 / Letter or smaller original on a machine like this and the large A3 copy emerging from an A3-capable printer or multifunction. This feature could make use of setups where you have multiple document machines with complementary capabilites whether in page size, printing type or colour / monochrome printing.

As well, the Brother MFC-L2713DW and its peers could benefit from at least SDXC card storage to provide enhanced fax-storage functionality such as to cater to busy workloads, large documents and the like. Brother could also work towards creating a T.38 IP-fax endpoint functionality in their fax-capable multifunction printers and push the telecoms industry to lead towards simplified provisioning for this technology.

Similarly, Brother could exploit the separately-replaceable drum unit approach that applies to their laser printers by providing heavy-duty variants of these parts as an upgrade option. This would please users who buy laser printers suited for their current duty levels but install heavier-duty parts in them if they are faced with a heavier workload.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would position the Brother MFC-L2713DW monochrome laser multifunction printer as an economy-priced office printer for workplaces that don’t have a heavy document throughput. This would also include it serving as a “private” document printer / copier for a professional’s or manager’s office or simply as a document-focused multifunction for a home office.

Here, it would earn its keep as a replacement for a small inkjet multifunction that is used just for turning out documents or a small plain-paper fax that uses thermal-transfer printing. I would also see it as a direct upgrade for an economy laser printer or multifunction that isn’t able to do duplex printing.

I have also compared the price for the Brother MFC-L2713DW against the price of replacing its drum unit with the genuine replacement part and found that it is worth buying that part rather than replacing the machine with one of the same standard and functionality level when it comes up for replacement.

Update: I have updated the prices to the manufacturer’s recommended retail prices for the consumables.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop (Intel 8th Generation CPU)

Introduction

I am reviewing the latest version of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 8th Generation which replaces the Inspiron 13 7000 7th Generation models that I previously reviewed. Here, this is based around implementing the Intel Kaby Lake Refresh technology which is a step towards making mainstream portable computers capable of doing most computing tasks without being seen as underpowered cousins of desktop computers.

There is also the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 2-in-1 series which omits the USB Type-C connection and the Intel RealSense camera but available at a cheaper price. These are available in three different configurations, one with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD; a step-up variant with a Core i7 CPU and the top-shelf model with 16Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

Price
– this configuration
AUD$2399
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor All CPUs:
Intel Kaby Lake R
Installed option
Core i7-8550U
cheaper option
Core i5-8250U
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8 Gb
Secondary storage 512 GB SSD
cheaper option:
256Gb SSD
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 Integrated Graphics
Screen 13.3” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-band two-stream
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.2
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with Power Delivery and DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security RealSense camera
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Now with 8th Generation Intel silicon

Thee Dell Inspiron 13 7000 8th Generation convertible laptop has the same aesthetics and build quality as the previous two generations. This means that it has the same metal finish and housing but also comes across as being very durable. As well, Dell have embraced the narrow display bezel trend started with the XPS 13 Series and implemented it in to this lineup, making for an effectively larger display space in a relatively compact machine.

There is still a smooth action involved when converting it between a laptop and tablet mode which makes for something that can be easily used by most people.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU - presentation mode

… as a presentation viewer

Like with the prior generation of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000, the cooling vent is located near the hinges yet there is a bit more heat build-up that can occur with basic gaming. It doesn’t exhibit this kind of heat buildup during basic computing tasks. This is even though I am dealing with the newer Intel Core i7 silicon which is known to be more powerful than prior versions.

User Interface

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 uses an illuminated keyboard that lights up as needed. But it is wide enough to type with accurately and has a shallow key throw but that is enough for proper tactile feedback.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU - tent mode

… as a tent mode

Like with most laptops, the function keys default to the volume, multimedia and display controls. But with this one, press the Fn key and ESC key to toggle on the normal function-key behaviour.

The trackpad and touchscreen work properly and effectively. In the case of the trackpad, I have not noticed any situation where the pointer moved around while I was typing, thus being less of a distraction.

Audio / Video

The Waves MaxxAudio sound-tuning software does improve the sound but the internal speakers have that tinny sound common with laptops. But I would find best results when you use the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 with with headphones, external speakers or sound system. Most likely, you will end up needing to use headphones to avoid distracting others when you use this computer in a public place for multimedia, videocall, gaming or similar activities.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics provides the kind of performance you would expect for most computing tasks including the occasional gaming and similar tasks that most of us would do. Here, you would see smooth video playhack for most of these tasks.

Like with all consumer-grade computers, there is still the glossy display which can become dirty very quickly and show reflections easily.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left-hand side – USB Type-C, USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm headset jack

Like with the prior iterations of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1, the connectivity options are essentially the same with the 2 USB 3.0 ports and the 1 USB Type-C port as well as the HDMI video port.

Personally I would like to see Dell implement the Thunderbolt 3 port in the Inspiron 13 7000 Series computers but this will have to wait for a full model-level revision rather than a silicon-level refresh.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Intel 8th Generation CPU laptop Left-hand side - USB 3.0 Type A, SD card reader

Right hand side- USB 3.0 port, SD card reader

The whole of the Inspiron 13 7000 range offers the kind of capacity on the solid-state drives that would be expected for most people to benefit from with these drives living up to the promise of quick access. This also includes the fact that even the haseline variants have that healthy 256Gb capacity that would suit most users even as a main or sole computer.

Battery Life

The use of Intel 8th Generation silicon for the CPU and graphics hasn’t made a difference to the Dell Inspiron 13 7000’s battery life although you are really allowing the computer to perform better using the newer technology.

Other Usage Notes

One of the men who run the Melbourne Men’s Shed was impressed with the Dell Inspiron 13 7000’s specifications even though the review sample is the top-shelf model. He was also impressed by the convertible design that this unit has.

Similarly some hotel staff wore impressed by the convertible design and described it as looking similar to a recent iPad when they saw it at first glance.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could “carve out” the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 product range for those of us who aren’t necessary after a very light ultraportable 2-in-1 but want something that is portable enough for most applications.

Here, they could implement the 8th-generation Intel Core processors across the range as well as providing some of the premium models in the lineup with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. This is more so for those of us who want to run them with external graphics modules.

Similarly, Dell could offer one or two configurations with Intel Iris higher-performance integrated graphics as a product differentiator. This would appeal to those of us who want that bit more out of the graphics abilities.

As for enablement of options like PowerShare “sleep and charge” or anything that is only available in the computer’s BIOS, Dell could provide an app that allows some of these options to be manipulated from the Windows interface rather than having to reboot your computer to achieve that goal.

Conclusion

I would recommend this variant of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 comvertible computer for those of us who want value for money and want something that is powerful for most computing tasks. Even the improvement that Dell offers by implementing the Intel Kaby Lake R silicon still underscores the value for money that they are known for with the products.

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Product Review–Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook

Introduction

Dell has established the XPS 13 as a value-priced Ultrabook that ticks the boxes when it comes to the kind of functionality that it offers for its product class. There was some doubt that they would offer a “2-in-1” ultraportable computer under this banner alongside the traditional “clamshell” model, due to there not being an essential need for that class of computer.

Now they have offered a 2-in-1 convertible variant of the XPS 13 and it is what I am reviewing. There are two different configurations being offered for this model, one with the Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state storage alongside the premium variant which comes with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook at Rydges Melbourne

Price
– this configuration highlighted in bold
RRP price
AUD$2798.99
(i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM, 512Gb SSD)
AUD$2599.99
(i7 CPU, 8Gb RAM, 256Gb SSD)
AUD$2299.99
(i5 CPU 8Gb RAM 256Gb SSD)
Market Positioning Premium Consumer Ultraportable
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option: 8 Gb
Secondary storage 512 GB SSD
cheaper option:
256Gb SSD
MicroSD XC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD Graphics 615 integrated display Can support eGPU modules
Screen 13” widescreen touch display (3200 x 1800) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves MaxxAudio Pro
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual stream
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.2
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with DisplayPort and Power Delivery including Sleep and Charge
1 x Thunderbolt 3 with Power Delivery including Sleep and Charge
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Digital audio via DisplayPort (USB-C)
Authentication and Security Fingerprint Reader
RealSense camera
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook in presentation viewer mode

Presentation Viewer mode

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook in tablet mode

Tablet mode

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 had the same build quality as the XPS 13 clamshell where it came across as being very durable. The outside is finished in aluminium while the keyboard surround maintains that rubberised finish that provides that tactile non-slippery feel. The only disadvantage I see with this is a combination of oily hands and fine dusty materials may have it look dirty.

This convertible smoothly swivels all the way from closed to a tablet position and even closes up neatly and tightly. This again makes for something that has the smooth feel to it.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook in tent mode

Tent mode

I paid attention to how this computer kept its cool, with respect to system performance, battery runtime and user comfort. Here, I haven’t noticed any overheating going on even after I viewed video content on this system. This is thanks to the metal housing and the way the system is architected to work in the context of an ultra-thin design.

User Interface

The illuminated keyboard has that distinct feedback that allows for accurate typing especially if you are a touch-typist. It lights up in an “on-demand” manner that avoids excessive battery drain but can be turned off. The way I have seen the keyboard light up means that the keys are more discoverable especially for those of us who are one-finger or two-finger typists.

The multi-touch trackpad works as expected and doesn’t act in a hair-trigger manner, so you don’t have to worry about disabling it if you are working on your lap. The touchscreen works as expected for a tablet screen but at times can be a bit unresponsive especially if you have your hands on the edge.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 comes with a one-touch smartphone-style fingerprint reader just under the keyboard where you just put your finger in the one place for it to be recognised. This works in conjunction with the Windows 10 Hello functionality that allows for fingerprint recognition and Dell also supplied the Keeper password vault for those of us who want to keep our online service passwords on a secure digital keychain.

Here, it is the second consumer-focused computer that I have come across for review to be equipped with such a device, something typically associated with business-grade computers. What I had found from my experience was that it was reliable to scan even if you had something like the oil from deep-fried food on your fingers. But you have to scan your finger lengthways as well as pointing vertically during the Windows Hello setup procedure so it works when you are using the XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook as a tablet.

Audio / Video

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 implements the MaxxAudio sound-tuning but I have tried it with playing music using the Spotify online music service. Here, the sound from the internal speakers is very typical of what is offered for laptops, especially the “thin-and-light” units thanks to the small chassis. This means that you don’t get the full sound reproduction when you use these speakers and it may be good enough for notification sounds or dialogue, but I would recommend using external speakers, headphones or a sound system if you want to enjoy playing music through this laptop.

The video playback behaviour for this computer has come through very smoothly especially with on-demand content and can show that you could use it for any class of video content. It would also work well for gaming environments that aren’t too demanding.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left-hand-side connections – Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C port with PowerShare and USB Power Delivery, audio input-output jack

The peripheral-connectivity options for the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 are a pair of USB-C connectors. One of these is a Thunderbolt 3 connector that comes in handy with equipment like external graphics modules while the other is equipped with DisplayPort alt connectivity for use when you want to connect an external screen as long as  you use the appropriate adaptor or expansion module dock. Both of these ports implement the USB Power Delivery specification and also implement the PowerShare “sleep and charge” option, only enabled through the BIOS user interface rather than a Windows program.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB-C as the power connection

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has become the first computer model that I have had access to for review which implements the USB-C connections exclusively as a peripheral connection and power-input connection. It is a sign of things to come with laptops that are designed to be thin and light where this kind of connection will be the only peripheral connection type. But I am pleased that there are the two connections compared to just one of them, thus still allowing you to connect more devices at once.

Right-hand-side connections – USB-C port with DisplayPort alt video mode, USB Power Delivery and PowerShare; MicroSD card reader

There is also an audio jack as the other device connectivity option, compared to the XPS 13 which implements standard USB connections for other peripherals. Let’s not forget that the XPS 13 2-in-1 comes with a short adaptor cable that allows you to connect devices with the traditional USB Type-A connector to one of the USB-C sockets. If you are wanting more connectivity, I would consider using the Dell DA200 USB-C connector module if it is just external displays, USB peripherals and an Ethernet networks segment you want to connect or the Minix Neo C USB Multiport Adaptor if it’s your digital camera’s SD card you want to download while being able to connect external displays, Ethernet networks and other peripherals.

The secondary storage options available are adequate for most portable-computing needs. This is through the entry-level variant coming with a 256Gb SSD and the premium variant coming with the 512Gb SSD. Personally, I would like to see Dell offer a step-up variant or mid-tier option with the 512 Gb SSD as the only incremental feature over the entry-level model to court those of us who aren’t chasing the performance expectations but want something that can make it appeal as a sole-use computer.

Thanks to the slimline design goal, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible laptop has a microSD card slot as its integrated removable-media option. This will be a limitation for those of us who use digital cameras or camcorders and want to download images to the computer by removing the SD-card “film” from the camera and inserting it in the computer. In this case, you would have to use an SD card reader that plugs in to the computer’s USB-C port with or without an adaptor.

The Wi-Fi network adaptor still works effectively even if it is on the fringe of a Wi-Fi network segment and still provides the necessary throughput.

Battery Life

The non-removable battery in the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook is able to satisfy general-purpose computing tasks for a day without the need for you to carry the charger with you. I even ran a TV show from SBS On Demand for an hour and found that the battery had 68% capacity left in it after that.

These results may be typical for a relatively-new machine and the battery may not last as long for a unit that has been in service for many years.

Other Usage Notes

The people in the different communities that I associate with whom I have shown this computer to are impressed with the fact that this computer answers the thin-and-light market call while also being an elegant 2-in-1 convertible. At the moment the only thing that will put them off the computer would be the price.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

As far as the USB-C connections go, an improvement I would like to see would be to provide the same advanced connection types i.e. Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort alt on both ports. This may involve having the computer effectively have two Thunderbolt 3 host interfaces and two DisplayPort connections off its Intel HD integrated graphics circuitry, but could allow for simplified error-proof connectivity of display devices and Thunderbolt 3 peripherals.

In relation to the Thunderbolt 3 connection, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 could implement a high-power performance-focused stance while it is connected to an external graphics module that supplies the right amount of power. This would then make it able to handle advanced graphics tasks like gaming at home, but this may be limited by issues regarding heat management for a thin-and-light chassis.

A feature that would improve the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1’s useability would be to have dedicated volume buttons on the edge of the screen or as touch buttons on the bottom of the screen to allow the user to instantly regulate sound volume when playing multimedia. This would be more of importance when the computer is operating in a tablet, presentation viewer or tent mode.

Similarly, providing a standard SD card reader in a 2-in-1 Ultrabook like this may be a challenge but could be looked at especially for those of us who use these computers to download pictures or footage from our good digital cameras or camcorders

Conclusion

I would see the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook as a viable option for someone who is after a “Yoga-style” convertible notebook but want something that conveys a thin, light and elegant image. The configurations that are available at least put its RAM and storage capacities above average for its peers offered by its competitors and definitely underscore value for money for its product class.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s attempt to achieve a popularly-priced large 2-in-1 laptop that can appeal to all users. There is the Del Inspiron 13 5000 variant of this 2-in-1 which omits the USB-C and Intel RealSense camera and is sold for $200 cheaper normally. It is a system that reminds me of the first 13″ Dell Inspiron laptop that I had reviewed where there was a sense of value for money along with the durability in that product.

The model I am reviewing is equipped with the Intel 6th Generation Core processor which is the previous generation CPU. You may be coming across these computers through the sales and may want to see this as a chance to assess the bargain that is being offered. But I have quoted prices for the newer models that have been refreshed with the 7th generation (Kaby Lake) hardware.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop at Rydges Melbourne hotel

Price
– this configuration
Current generation:
AUD$1699 (Intel i5)
AUD$1899 (Intel i7)
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Previous Generation
Intel Core i7-6500U
Current Generation
similar option:
Intel Core i7-7500U
cheaper option
Intel Core i5-7200U
RAM 8 GB
better option:
12 Gb
Secondary storage Previous Generation
256 GB SSD
similar option:
256 Gb SSD
better option:
512 Gb SSD
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD Graphics 620
Screen 13” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Realtek HD Audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual band
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with Power Delivery
1 x USB 3.0 with Sleep and Charge
1 x USB 2.0
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security RealSense camera
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in presentation-viewer mode at Rydges Hotel MelbourneI have found that the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 convertible laptop is well built and uses an aluminium keyboard surround and palmrest that feels cool to the touch.

It has the similar weight to the typical recent-issue 13” mainstream laptop computer thus not being too heavy to carry around. To convert it between a tablet or laptop setup, I have found that it requires the right amount of effort for this process and it works smoothly. The experience would be similar to opening or closing most of the conventional laptops.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in tablet modeAn issue that I keep an eye out for with laptops is how they keep their cool. Here, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 uses vents located near the hinges to disperse waste heat. Here, it also allows the computer to be comfortable to use in all modes. As well, I had not noticed that there was excessive overheating even with playing video content through the computer.

User Interface

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in tent modeThe Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1’s keyboard is easy to work with even if you are touch-typing. This illuminated keyboard has the right spacing but also has just enough tactile feedback so you can type quickly. But some users may find that they have to have the illuminated keyboard on to make it easy to see the letters.

The multi-touch trackpad works as expected and isn’t prone to being hair-trigger. Let’s not forget that the touchscreen works properly although it is glossy like on other consumer laptops.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop - Left-hand side - Power, USB-C, HDMI video, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio jack

Left-hand side – Power, USB-C, HDMI video, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio jack

The Intel integrated video system even could handle video playback from something like a Facebook home video without underperforming. This was even with the Dell 2-in-1 laptop running on its own batteries and sipping the current.

Although this laptop implements the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning, the sound quality is very typical of most computers of its size. Here, it would be good enough for personal content viewing but don’t expect much especially if you want good-quality music playback whereupon I would prefer to use it with external sound systems.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop - Right-hand side - USB 2.0, SD card reader

Right-hand side – USB 2.0, SD card reader

The complement of connections on this computer allows for it to be future proof without requiring you to buy extra accessories.

Here, all the variants of the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 have a USB-C socket with Power Delivery both ways, but I would like to see a top-shelf variant of this model offering the Thunderbolt 3 connection rather than the standard USB-C connection. It would then open up the path towards external graphics modules and similar devices as a performance-improvement path. Of course there is the support for connecting monitors using this connection thanks to the DisplayPort alt support the connection has.

This is in addition to a standard HDMI port along with two USB Type-A connections – one being a 3.0 variant for external hard disks and the like and another for larger keyboards and mice. Dell still offers a USB-C expansion module that adds on another HDMI port, a VGA port for that old data projector they continue to use, a Gigabit Ethernet port that can work if your place is wired for Ethernet or with a HomePlug powerline network and a spare USB 3.0 port. This is something I would consider if I was valuing extra connectivity and can be tucked in to your backpack or messenger bag.

The Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1s offer the right mix of RAM and storage even in their baseline variants. This would be 256Gb for SSD storage and 8Gb RAM which means that you aren’t being starved when it comes to performance and data storage. Here, the SSD on the review sample had lived up to its performance expectations.

For those of you who have digital cameras, the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 comes with an SD card reader so you can easily and quickly download your pictures or footage on to the computer’s storage.

Battery Life

In most situations, the battery was able to last a day of regular computing without the need for me to have the power adaptor connected to the computer.

Other Usage Notes

Most people impressed by the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 as being a representative of the convertible 2-in-1 class of computer.  This is although these computers are not often purchased and once someone buys a touchscreen laptop or a 2-in-1, they will miss these features when they go back to a traditional design.

There are some users, typically those who moved to the Apple environment, who expressed worry about the keyboard on these computers ending up being damaged if the computer is used as a tablet or presentation-viewer setup. It typically represents a staid expectation amongst users when it comes to mobile personal computing where they are comfortable with a traditional clamshell laptop and a mobile-platform tablet.

Personally, I found that if I wanted to browse the Web at a table, I could simply have the computer in the “presentation—viewer” mode so that I am not taking up much room on the table.

I showed the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 computer to a representative from InfoXchange who visited the Melbourne Men’s Shed as part of a digital-literacy survey amongst its members. Here, they were impressed by the touchscreen in the context of older computer users and the use of a tablet as a personal computing device for this user class but liked the idea of the detachable form factor for those who have back issues. She  tried the fold-over aspect but may not have noticed it as offering the same advantage. They appreciated the idea of a keyboard so that these users can also do document-creation work but also liked the idea of the tablet or presentation-viewer modes being suitable for Web browsing or video viewing (think Netflix or catch-up TV).

Subsequently I met up with a new friend of mine who is of an older age group and they were impressed with the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1’s form factor including the touchscreen. Here, one of the features that intrigued them was the ability to zoom in to text with their fingers, something that appealed to them as they didn’t have the full vision that we take for granted.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One way that Dell could improve on the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 family would be to offer a Thunderbolt 3 connection as an option for the premium variants like the 7000 Series. This is while they use a USB-C with full Power Delivery for the affordable variants like the 5000 Series. It is alongside maintaining the commonly-used connections like the USB 3.0 connections or the HDMI video connection.

But I would still want to see Dell keep the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 family as a value-priced “Yoga-class” convertible computer with the right mix of features that pitches towards what most people want. Here, they need to focus on a well-built affordable machine that can survive a lot of use but can appeal to most people without being the ultra-cool computer that answers Apple’s products.

Conclusion

A well-built 13″ 2-in-1 convertible notebook that represents value for money

Like I have seen with most of the Dell Inspiron laptop computer lineup, I have found that the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 convertible laptops have represented something that offers value for money in its product class.

This is something that is durable but is light enough to carry and is priced in a manner to have you think of it as a main or sole computing device which you can purpose as a large-screen tablet. The RAM and storage capacity offered in the available configurations underscore something that befits this use case whether you choose to run with the package based on the value-priced Intel i5 processor or the one based on the performance Intel i7 variant.

If more of those apps that appear on most iPads could be ported to Windows 10 and made available on the Windows Store, then the 2-in-1s like this Dell could be a viable alternative to the iPad that is kept at home.

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Product Review–Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook (Kaby Lake version)

Introduction

Previously I have seen a lot of coverage and given some space to the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook especially in response to it being seen by the computing press as a value-priced ultraportable computer that “ticks the boxes” as far as consumer expectations are concerned. Also I had reviewed the first iteration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook and now I have a chance to take this latest iteration for a test drive and to review it on HomeNetworking01.info.

I am reviewing one of the premium variants that has an Intel Core i7 CPU and a 13” touchscreen display with a 3200×1800 resolution. But there is a value-priced variant available with the Intel i5 CPU and has a Full HD non-touchscreen display.

Price
– this configuration
AUD$2499
Market Positioning Consumer ultraportable
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U CPU
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-7200U CPU
RAM 8 GB
Secondary storage 256 GB SSD SD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics
better option:
Intel Iris Graphics 640 integrated graphics
Can support eGPU modules
Screen 13” widescreen touch display (3200×1800)
cheaper option:
13” widescreen display (Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Sound tuning options
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2
Bluetooth 4.1
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x Thunderbolt 3 with Power Delivery
2 x USB 3.0 – 1 with Sleep and Charge
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The review sample of the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook has a rose-gold finish on the outside and this was able to maintain a new look even though it has been taken around. The monitor has a narrow bezel that allows for a larger display in a small housing. Being a slimline computer, it may appear to to users as being flimsy but is very well built.

As for the keyboard, it has a surround around it that has a rubber-like texture but conveys some form of robustness about it. But this may look a bit too dirty over time and acquire an oily look.

A question that always rises regarding laptop use is whether the computer can keep its cool whether with ordinary tasks or with advanced tasks like video playback or game playing. The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake didn’t become too hot when it was used for ordinary word-processing or Web surfing. Even to watch video-on-demand content that was being streamed didn’t cause the computer to overheat. This is primarily because of the way this ultraportable computer has been engineered so as to avoid heat buildup and the metal housing with its heat-dissipation characteristic has an important part to play..

Dell has underscored the narrow-bezel look for this Ultrabook’s screen, as being something that can lead towards a relatively-small 13″ ultraportable computer. But there were issues raised regarding the positioning of the Webcam below the screen due to this design. It can be worked further by preserving a larger margin above the screen primarily for use with a Webcam and the branding.while the narrow bezel is preserved for the vertical edges of the screen.

Even the power charger that comes with the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook is so small that it doesn’t occupy much space in your bag. Here, the lightweight design makes this computer more suitable to carrying around in most shoulder bags or satchels.

User Interface

The keyboard has a shallow feel thanks to the slimline design but it has that same key spacing that allows for comfortable touch typing. It is an illuminated keyboard that only lights up while you are actually typing, thus saving on battery power.

The trackpad didn’t come across as being “hair-trigger” in any way and you didn’t have to fear the pointer moving around while you were typing. The touchscreen is also very responsive and works as expected.

Audio / Video

I have used the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook to watch some video-on-demand content and it had streamed the content smoothly without any stuttering. As well the visuals had come across with the proper amount of response.

There is the Waves MaxxAudio sound-optimisation software that comes with the Dell laptops like this one but it doesn’t really allow for a full sound through the integral speakers – this can cause the unit to play music with a sound quality not dissimilar to a small portable radio. This will still be a problem with most of these ultraportable laptops due to the small size that they have. If you expect to have better audio performance from any content you play through this computer, you will still need to use headphones, external speakers or a better sound system.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, USB 3.0 and headset jack

Left-hand-side connections – Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, USB 3.0 and headset jack

The Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook is the first computer to come my way that is equipped with a USB-C / Thunderbolt-3 port. Here, I would like to be able to try this out bout don’t have any hardware to try it with. It facilitates data transfer at USB-C (USB 3.1) or Thunderbolt 3 speeds, support for the external graphics modules along with USB Power Delivery for both an inbound and outbound context. The same port is capable of working in DisplayPort alt mode to connect this computer to external displays via a suitable adaptor.

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultraook - Right had side - USB 3.0 port and SDHC card reader

Right had side – USB 3.0 port and SDHC card reader

Dell infact sells for AUD$60 an optional highly-portable expansion module for computers equipped with this port that has a comprehensive set of connectors. These are in the form of a USB 3.0 socket, VGA socket for the old data projector, HDMI socket for up-to-date displays and a Gigabit Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV network segments and connects to the XPS 13’s USB-C socket using a short captive cable.

All variants of the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake laptop have a 256Gb solid-state drive which would suit most needs for a secondary computer without the user worrying about storage space or deleting many files. You may find that you have to use an external USB hard disk if you are expecting to use it as your only computer and pack a lot of data on the computer.

Dell has also provided an SDHC card reader at last for those of us who have the good digital cameras or camcorders. This was a feature that was omitted from the first iteration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook. This came in handy when I took a “teaser picture” of this computer at the QT Melbourne hotel to put up on this site’s Facebook page to announce the upcoming review.

Network and modem

The review sample had come with all the latest drivers on board and was able to work as expected. Yet, like most ultraportables, you may not get good Wi-Fi reception at the fringe of your Wi-Fi segment’s coverage when you deal with a baseline router. This is something that I would be seeing the likes of Intel and co working on to make these computers perform properly with the typical Wi-Fi network, especially if an access point or router is being pushed “to the end”.

Battery Life

I have been able to run this computer for most of the day without the need to run it on the charger. This involved me using it for a mixture of regular computing tasks as well as setting the power-saving options so as not to “go to sleep” when I close the lid at the end of a usage session.

Even to watch an hour of streaming video didn’t put much impact on the XPS 13 Kaby Lake’s battery runtime. This is showing that with these ultraportables, there is an emphasis on the long battery runtime

Other Usage Notes

Most of the people whom I have shown the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook to were impressed by the slim design that this unit has. It is although a lot of the people don’t see many people using Windows-based ultraportable clamshell laptops these days.

Another feature that impressed some other people like one of the men from the Melbourne Men’s Shed was the use of a touchscreen which is not common in a traditional clamshell-style laptop computer, let alone an Ultrabook-style ultraportable computer. It is something I have observed whenever other clamshell-style laptops equipped with touchscreens came in to my possession for review purposes especially after Windows 8 came on the scene.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

There hasn’t been much that I could require Dell to work on as part of developing the XPS 13 series of ultraportable laptops. Here, this model range had underscored the fact that it “ticked the boxes” for a product of its class. This is although they have recently offered this series also in a convertible form as a way to appeal to that market.

Personally, I would like to see Dell offer one of the XPS 13 clamshell-style Ultrabooks with a Full-HD (1920×1080) touchscreen as either a subsequent low-tier or step-up configuration centred around the “value” model of the Intel Core i family of mobile CPUs like the i5. But they may preserve this screen for the top-shelf configurations. As well, an emphasis can be drawn to the “graphics upgrade path” offered by Thunderbolt 3 when marketing this or subsequent generations and refining these generations.

They could also work towards offering a business-class ultraportable derivative of the XPS 13 with the security and manageability features that business users would like to have. This could be simply offered under a Vostro or Latitude name and underscored with the fact that it is based on the XPS 13 that answered most people’s needs.

Conclusion

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook rear view

Rear view

I would recommend that the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook serve as either a secondary travel computer, a “work-home” laptop computer that you use to do the same work both in the office and at home or something you regularly take between your main office and your “secondary office” cafe or bar when you prefer to hear the trendy music and the sound of that barista making the coffees rather than the sound of office workers engaging you in gossip while you work on that special document. You may find that offloading the bulk of your data to somewhere else such as to a USB hard disk, NAS or online storage may work well for your needs if you expect to run it as your sole computer.

Most users who run it in these contexts could get by with the baseline variant with the Intel Core i5 processor and Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics powering a Full HD non-touch display, along with 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state storage for this kind of use. Here, Dell are offering this suggested baseline configuration for AUD$1699.

As well, I would recommend the purchase of Dell’s USB-C expansion module or a similarly-specced device if you are finding that you are likely to hook this up to a variety of equipment like external displays or Ethernet networks. This also includes if you have an intention to run the XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook as part of a workspace setup with a large screen or better keyboard.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer which is part of Brother’s newest generation of colour business inkjet printers that follows on from the MFC-J5720DW that I previously reviewed.

There is a cheaper model in this lineup, known as the MFC-J5330DW that has a single A4/A3 tray, a paper bypass feed that only handles one sheet, doesn’t come with the single-pass duplex scan, and has a smaller user-interface screen But this printer uses the same high-capacity ink cartridges and is able to print to A3 using that same landscape-printing technique.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200×2400 dpi resolution (platen) ID Copy
Book Copy
100 sheet A3 Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex Single-Pass Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based T.37 IP Fax
Scan-to-email
Print-from-email
TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing USB – PictBridge PDF
JPG
TIFF
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
Windows Mobile printing
MoPria support
Brother iPrint&Scan native app
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Facebook
Evernote
Flickr
SMB NAS
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Multiple Users for Online Services Yes
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$369

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$46.45 550 AUD$68.95 3000
Cyan AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Magenta AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Yellow AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500

The printer itself

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer control panel

Control panel with touchscreen and traditional keyboard

Unlike the Brother MFC-J5720DW, the Brother MFC-J5730 doesn’t convey the sleek looks that make printers of this class attractive. Here, the unit is styled in a more conventional approach that is very similar to Brother’s laser multifunction printers with the control panel keyboard that you use for entering numbers very similar to most other office-grade printers. This may be more user-friendly for those of us who are confused with touch-panel keyboards that light up on an “as-required” basis.

Connectivity and Setup

The printer can connect directly to your computer via a USB cable. But it can connect to your home or small business network using Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless that supports most connection setups. It can even create its own Wi-Fi access point which just exists for printing and scanning, but I personally would like to see the ability to be its own access point to “extend” coverage of a wireless network with this feature able to be disabled by management IT along with supporting “business” access point requirements. The network functionality is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 addressing, a real requirement as we run out of public IPv4 network addresses.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer detailed function display

Black-on-white detailed function display

Like all of the recent Brother inkjet printer generations, the cables for the USB or Ethernet connections is snaked in under the scanner rather than being connected to a socket on the back of the printer. The same holds true for the phone and line connections that you would need to use if this machine is being used as a fax.

The setup experience is very similar to the previous Brother printers but this is improved thanks to the larger LCD display that the printer is equipped with. Some of you may find that the black-on-white display which is implemented in this generation of printers  may be a bit awkward to use when working the menus.

Paper Handling

The Brother MFC-J5730DW implements the same paper-feed options as its predecessor model that is: to use two paper drawers up front as well as a bypass feed slot on the back of the printer capable of handling many sheets of paper. These drawers can be extended out so you can load A3 or Ledger paper in the machine, but they leave the paper exposed, which can cause it to attract dust, thus leading to unreliable operation. Here, Brother could answer this problem by integrating a larger slide-out flap in each of these trays which comes out whenever you load the tray with larger paper sizes.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer output tray

Output shelf separate from the upper paper tray

Printed documents end up on a separate output shelf rather than one that is integrated in one of the paper drawers. This makes the job of topping up the paper supply in that drawer easier because you are not having to extend or collapse the output shelf.

The ability for the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer to print to A3 or Ledger paper from either the bypass feed or any of the paper trays. This has been due to Brother implementing the “landscape” paper feed for the standard document sizes. This means that the print head works along the long edge of the paper and has allowed for documents to be printed very quickly while allowing for a relatively-compact printer design.

The scanner’s automatic document feeder doesn’t share that same compact look as the previous generation of A4 business inkjet printers that Brother issued. Here, it looks like the automatic document feeder installed on Brother’s “full-A3” inkjet multifunction printers or their laser/LED-based multifunction printers. The other missing feature for this model is that the glass platen for manual scanning is still only able to handle A4 or Letter document sizes, where I would prefer these units to have a Legal-sized glass platen for documents that are on Legal or foolscap paper sizes.

The automatic document feeder in this model implements single-pass duplex scanning but the paper path is still the “U-shaped” path which can be of concern when you are dealing with brittle paper like thin letter-writing paper. Here, it is a design limitation associated with scanners that are required to support manual and sheet-fed scanning, but could be improved upon by supporting a “two-way” feed setup.

Like with the previous models, the scanner lid on the Brother MFC-J5730DW can be pulled up at the rear so you can scan or copy thicker documents but I would like to see this improved upon by allowing you to lay the multipurpose feed tray flat so you can easily position thicker originals further up the back.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-J5730DW only supports USB-connected media like USB thumbdrives or SD card readers for local data storage. This can be a limitation if you deal frequently with digital photos, where I would like to see it support PictBridge “direct-from-camera” printing or printing from SD and CompactFlash cards.

You also have the Brother MFC-J5730DW able to work as a capable up-to-date colour fax machine with T.37-compliant email-based Internet fax functionality.

This includes the fact that Brother MFC-J5730DW offers a “fax-to-cloud” feature for standard faxes where incoming documents can be forwarded to a folder on an online storage service as soon as they arrive. This offers an Internet-based “fax-vault” functionality so that the machine isn’t printing out every fax that comes in, making it easy for others who have access to your office like contract cleaners or night-shift workers to be snooping on your confidential incoming faxes when you are not there. This is also in conjunction to being able to have faxes forwarded to a fax number or email address or sent to your regular Windows computer, functions that Brother had offered for handling incoming faxes.

Speaking of cloud services, Brother offers access to the common online services for scanning and printing. This means that you could print a photo from Facebook, a document from Dropbox or scan a document to OneDrive for you to work with on your laptop.  The cloud services also include the ability to print notepaper, graph paper, music manuscript paper and similar form documents, a feature that competing printer vendors have been offering for a while. But these documents can be improved upon such as simply providing the music paper without any clef markings so you could write manuscript for different instruments and ensembles.

Computer functions

At the moment, Brother still supplies model-specific drivers for their printers rather than offering a monolithic driver that can cover a product range. This applies to the desktop operating systems although they offer a single piece of software for the mobile operating systems. A single piece of software that covers one or more product ranges could make it easier for those of us who standardise on a particular manufacturer’s devices to set a computer up for newer printers.

But these drivers installed properly on my Windows 10 computer without throwing any error messages. They also provide the same “at-a-glance” dashboard that Brother uses for their printers. The print jobs had come through properly and reliably as would be expected.

The scan software that Brother provides hasn’t been improved upon for a long time and could be worked on, especially in the context of “editing” multiple-page scans. Here, it could support the ability to do things like re-scanning a single page so as to correct scanning mistakes like skewed pages or “splitting” a scan job to two or more documents. The latter situation may be of benefit if you are using the machine’s automatic document feeder to expedite the scanning of multiple documents and would earn its keep with the Brother MFC-J5730 and other machines equipped with a single-pass duplex scanner.

I have used this printer with my Android phone and it worked properly when I wanted it to print out an email attachment. This was using the Brother-supplied Android Print Services plug-in for the Android platform, but the printer can work with Mopria-compliant print-service plug-ins.

Print / scan speed and quality

Like most inkjet printers, the Brother took a similar amount of time to get going with the first page of the print job.

Pigment-based inks and pipe-based ink-distribution are part of this generation of Brother inkjet printers

But I have focused the print-quality tests in a way to show up the print quality offered by the new pigment-based ink setup that Brother implemented in this generation of inkjet printers compared to the previous generation machines. Here, this generation of business inkjet printers integrates the pipe-based ink-flow system, piezo-based printhead design and the pigment-based ink chemistry in to equipment designed to offer value for money at a price most people and businesses can consider.

As well, I have allowed for a firmware update to take place to assess the print quality for these newer machines.

The Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction printer was able to turn out regular office documents very clearly and there wasn’t much difference in the quality of these standard print jobs.

But when it comes to presentation-grade printing, be it a poster to put up on that noticeboard, a presentation handout to give to your attendees or a photo to put in your album, this is where the real tests show up. This also applies to those of us who use these printers to turn out inkjet proofs of documents we intend to have printed by someone else before we engage the printing service to have them printed.

You may have to use the “vivid” setting in the printer driver to make sure that presentation-grade work doesn’t look dull, as I have tried with a noticeboard “tear-off” poster to promote this Website.

But I have compared output quality for photo printing against the MFC-J5720DW which represents Brother’s previous generation of printers. Here, the photos came across with slightly more saturated with flesh tones coming across slightly more red compared to the previous model. This is a very similar look to what comes across with magazines or with most TV broadcasts where there is that stronger colour effect.

What is happening is that Brother is pushing their business inkjet printers towards the same standard as the HP OfficeJet 8600a which was a printer of this class that was known for sharp vibrant presentation-grade image quality.

As for scanning and copying, the Brother MFC-J5730DW had yielded a clear sharp image for the documents that were scanned. But it needed to be configured for the standard A4 paper size when you set up the scan software for working with most office documents if you are in Europe, Asia, Oceania and other areas where these sizes are normally used. This was because it was set up by default for the US Letter paper size, normally used in North America.

Brother hasn’t yet rectified a problem that I find with copying or scanning from the glass platen. This is where the document edge is clipped by a few millimetres and can affect jobs where you deal with documents are printed “to the edge” like credit and ID cards or news clippings, but you want to align the document against the platen’s edge to avoid skewing.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Brother could equip this printer with a Legal-size scan platen rather than the standard A4 / Letter platen. Here, it could cater towards situations where you are dealing with documents written on Legal-size or foolscap-size notepads which can be a reality when you are digitally archiving very old material. As well, they could support “to-the-edge” scanning so that documents that are placed against the edge of the glass aren’t clipped.

Brother could make better use of the network connection on these printers so people can benefit from these connections especially where there is on-premises network-storage options available to that network. This is more so for small businesses and community organisations who may prefer to use a small desktop network-attached-storage system or file server in addition or in lieu of an online service for this purpose.

For example, they could provide a walk-up print option that allows you to print documents that exist in a folder shared via your network or an Internet location using SMB, FTP or HTTP protocols using the machine’s LCD control panel. This feature could allow an organisation to create a “document library” or “stationery library” shared using an on-site server or NAS that has documents or pro-forma stationery which can be printed as required. This idea can extend to public Websites or organisation-specific intranet sites that host a collection of “download-to-print” resources.

These “print from network” setups could be configured through the printer’s Web-based admin dashboard or through the printer’s control panel. There could be the ability to remember resource-specific passwords for network shares or Web pages that are protected with passwords or require the user to supply them each time they print documents from these resources while allowing for SSL encryption where applicable. Here, it avoids the need just to rely on Dropbox & co to provide these resources.

To the same extent, the Brother “MFC-series” fax-capable multifunction printers could use a network-shared folder to hold incoming or outgoing faxes for later printing or sending. Here, this can capitalise on the idea of a “fax-vault” used to assure confidentiality when it comes to inbound documents, or to allow an organisation who does a lot of overseas business to hold the overseas faxes to be delivered to the partners according to their “local morning” time.

Similarly, Brother could support PictBridge camera-based digital printing for their business printers. This is where you can print pictures from your digital camera using a suitably-equipped printer just by connecting the camera to that printer and using the camera’s control surface to print the pictures. Such a feature can come in very handy if you need to turn out “proof-quality” prints of the photos you had taken in order to show them to others.

Brother can also use some of the neat-looking design aspects from the previous generation of business inkjet multifunction printers along with the new print-engine design to develop a range of consumer-focused A4/Photo inkjet multifunction printers that use the same consumables as these business printers. Here, these machines could be positioned as a secondary printer for the home network or as an entry-level printer for one’s home-computing setup.

Similarly, they could offer a single-function A3/Ledger printer based on these printer designs to allow people to add large-sheet printing to their document-handling needs without having to replace their existing A4 multifunction that has served them well.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Brother has just about achieved its goal in yielding a business inkjet printer that can excel with presentation printing as well as regular office-document printing tasks. This was more important for me where the goal was to see something answer HP’s well-known OfficeJet 8600 series of business inkjet printers when it comes to this task. As well, I placed importance on this feature with these printers due to the fact that the Brother MFC-J5730DW and its peers can print on A3 or Ledger paper, a size that yields very strongly with presentation-grade printing jobs.

What the printer manufacturers need to do is to keep themselves interested in maintaining their business inkjet printer lineup as something that is about high-quality presentation-grade printing especially on A3 paper as well as turning out ordinary office documents. It can encourage everyone else in the small-business desktop printer game to compete against each other when it comes to presentation-level output quality as well as their equipment’s functionality. What it can lead to is companies like HP, Brother, Epson, Canon and others to keep a viable product class for machines that can satisfy small-businesses’ and community organisations’ small-run printing needs without losing the quality aspect.

Here, I would recommend the use of the Brother MFC-J5730DW as an all-round small-run workhorse printer for a home office or other small office. This is more so if you expect to doe a significant amount of A3 printing such as to place posters on that noticeboard. You may be able to get away with saving money and buying the cheaper MFC-J5330DW if you rarely do A3 print jobs or don’t place value on double-sided scanning.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop which is a gaming-optimised variant of their 15-7000 Series laptops which are considered as the top of their mainstream consumer laptop range. These traditional-style laptops are pitched towards students and other users who like the traditional clamshell look rather than a 2-in-1 computer because they are more likely to ask for the power and capacity that these units offer without going “full pelt” towards an aggressively-styled gaming model.

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming range of laptops are positioned in a similar manner to the “sports sedans / sports saloons” or “hot hatches” that most vehicle builders were inserting in to their popular passenger-car lineups for a long time to maintain appeal to younger drivers. But these vehicles were optimised for power, being powered by some powerful engines and equipped with gearboxes suitable for competitive driving. Such vehicles would exhibit some sporty detail work inside and out and tended to carry model-name suffixes that conveyed “GT” or “Sport” driving.

I am reviewing the premium variant that comes with the Intel Core i7 processor, 16Gb RAM and secondary storage in the form of a 128Gb solid-state drive and 1Tb hard disk. There is a cheaper “value-priced” variant that comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8Gb RAM and only a 1Tb hard disk as its secondary storage.

They underscore the high performance by offering a larger amount of system RAM for the processor class that what a typical laptop would offer for the processor class such as an Intel i7 CPU machine being kitted out with 8Gb RAM or an i5 or i3 CPU being matched with 4Gb RAM. As well, these computers are equipped with a discrete-graphics chipset known to offer very high performance for a mobile-class chipset.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Market Positioning Gaming laptop
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ 6th Generation
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-6300HQ 6th Generation
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8Gb
Secondary storage 128 GB SSD + 1 TB hard disk
cheaper option:
1 TB hard disk
SD card slot
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M graphics
– 4Gb display RAM and Optimus automatic switchingIntel HD 530 integrated graphics
Screen 15” widescreen display (1920×1080 Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves by MaxxAudio Pro sound tuning 2 speakers + 1 bass driver
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band single-stream
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth BT 4.2 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 3 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Video HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

Where a computer of the same screen size and in the same product range is offered with different variations in its configuration, I highlight the options that the review unit has in boldface text and list the variations available for the computer under the review unit’s specifications, As well, I write whether the alternate specifications are cheaper options or come at a more expensive premium compared to what I am dealing with.

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop rear vents

Rear vents to improve cooling for a high-performance computer

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming comes across as a relatively-heavy machine, with the extra venting on the back of the unit similar to the air scoops integrated in to the above-mentioned performance-tuned passenger cars. The venting is primarily to allow the machine to stay relatively cool even when playing advanced games, and also underscores that it is optimised for performance. But there is still a chance of heat build-up taking place and this can be felt from underneath the laptop.

The outside of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is finished with a feel not dissimilar to rubber. This coveys that rugged look that is also about durability. But the finish has a disadvantage where it can easily look dirty and harbour stains associated with real portable use.

Another symbol of this computer’s durable construction is the use of a single thick hinge pin for the lid.  This makes the computer feel less flimsy to use when you open and close it.

User Interface

There is a hard tactile feedback that the keyboard exhibits which conveys that it can work with a lot of data entry or game control activity. There is still that chiclet keyboard design with a similar feel across the keyboard which can make things awkward if you value touch-typing or similar tactile-driven operation.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming - WASD keys for gaming

Highlighted W, A, S. D keys for gaming

For gamers, the “W”, “A”, “S” and “D” keys are highlighted so you can easily control your game using those keys. This is more so for games where these keys actually are used to control the current game character while you use other keys for other control purposes like swapping the weapon or tool your character uses or changing the current game character. If you want to use the traditional function keys, you have to use the Fn key all the time but it could be made easier to add a dedicated “Fn lock” button to allow switching between traditional function keys or the media keys for the top row.

The multi-touch trackpad is highly responsive and works as expected. This is without it being too “hair-trigger”. Most gamers may find that a gaming-optimised USB or Bluetooth mouse or trackball may do the job better for navigating around the field of play.

Audio / Video

I played a video clip hosted on Facebook using the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop and had found that the sound had come through clearly and with some “punch” in the hass. giving a fuller sound to voices as well as treating the music properly. The sound level would he strong enough for personal listening thou, and this is brought on thanks to the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning.

The display could handle most video playing tasks, even fast-paced action, in a very smooth manner. The only problem I had with running video from Windows 10 Universal Windows apps is that I couldn’t push this infrastructure to use the higher-performance NVIDIA chipset over the integrated graphics to give it a real test.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left hand side connections – Power, USB 3 with PowerShare “plug and charge”, SD card reader

There are three USB 3.0 sockets with one that is capable of being enabled for “Powershare” sleep-and-charge functionality. This is where the Dell laptop can supply power to charge gadgets connected to that port, identified with a lightning bolt, while it is switched off and on its own batteries.

Let’s not forget that the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop has the ability to be connected to an HDMI display as its external display.

The premium version of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop comes with a 128Gb solid-state drive and a 1Tb hard disk while the cheaper variant comes just with a 1Tb hard disk. This storage capacity is being maintained by Dell for most of their 15” mainstream laptops with the view of allowing these to serve well as a portable option for one’s main or sole computing device. Although, the computer doesn’t have much data beyond what is initially supplied with it, the hard disk and the solid-state drive came out as being very quick.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop - Right-hand side connections - audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

Right-hand side connections – audio jack, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet port

These fixed-storage devices are augmented with just an SDXC card slot for camera cards and the like. It is symptomatic of a trend regarding newer portable computer equipment where this kind of equipment doesn’t come with an optical drive of any sort. It is thanks to software being delivered using download services like Steam. Still I would recommend the purchase of a USB 3.0 external Blu-Ray burner as an essential accessory for this computer, whether to make an optical-disc backup / archive of your data, deliver some of your data on an optical-disc form to others or view collectable video content on this computer.

The Wi-Fi network works as expected with it being able to pick up properly even at the fringe of an existing Wi-Fi network. At the moment, I haven’t had to install any new drivers to make sure that the network works properly. Like most 15” mainstream laptops, this computer has a Gigabit Ethernet connection that you can use with Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks.

Battery Life

You may expect that a gaming laptop may be more thirsty when it comes to battery power but this would happen only when running demanding software thanks to the use of NVIDIA Optimus technology using the appropriate GPU setup for the job. It is  in conjunction with the illuminated keyboard lighting up when you are actually using it while the system is on battery power.

One key limitation with this computer’s battery is that the user can’t replace it themselves. It can be of concern if you intend to keep this computer going for a long time but have to deal with a battery that is at the end of its useful life. Similarly, this situation precludes Dell from offering a higher-capacity battery pack as an aftermarket option for those of us who want that high-performance gaming or video-editing ability away from power.

Other Usage Notes

The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop can be seen to be too large but the red detailing can be seen by some as giving it that “cute” appeal. I had used it at a Docklands cafe that is opposite a marina and the staff reckoned that it could have some appeal to people who spend a long time on those boats in the marina.

Another man who is in charge of a “Men’s Shed” community support organisation for men has liked the rubberised housing that this computer has when I presented it to him. Here, he remarked that it conveyed a highly-durable feel about the computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could improve on the Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop range by providing at least one Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection and optimising it for use with external graphics docks. Here, gamers could choose to use the “card-cage” graphics docks to implement the high-performance desktop graphics cards which are most likely to offer more performance than mobile graphics chipsets. Similarly, those of us using a gaming-grade laptop as an entry to mobile-workstation territory, like engineering students or people dabbling with video editing or animation could use a “card-cage” graphics dock with a workstation-grade graphics card to give the CAD or animation program that expected level of performance.

“Gaming” series computers could be equipped with user-replaceable batteries to allow for a long usage life that reflects their premium prices. It can also allow Dell and others to offer higher-capacity batteries as an option during the model’s lifetime.

Conclusion

I would see the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop being suited as a sole or main computing device for consumers and students who place value on a portable computer that is all about performance. This idea of portability may be about a computer you can stow away quickly and easily when not in use, or those of us who live a nomadic life and want something that can be easily transported.

Here, I would recommend the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptops as being fit for gaming but without the aggressive look, or for people starting out a hobby or small-time business effort with photo, video or animation work but don’t necessarily want to go the Apple path. Students who are studying courses that deal with advanced graphics like animation or engineering may consider it as a starting point for this kind of work.

The high-performance variant with the Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD would be the answer for those of us who want to work the computer hard like advanced gamers, video / photo editors, animators and the like. On the other hand, the lower-tier variant with the Intel i5 processor may be good for those of us who want the taste of high performance computing.

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