There's nothing better than an inexpensive laptop that looks stylish and performs well, and with the Dell Inspiron 15R N5110, that's exactly what you get. It's a sub-$600 notebook that's based on Intel's 2nd Generation Core i3 CPU, it's comfortable to use for the most part, and it also allows you to customise its lid design so that your notebook can stand out and look special.
Specifications and performance
Our pre-production Inspiron 15R came with a configuration that you won't be able to buy (2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive instead of 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive), but it still performed well in our tests. In the Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the notebook's 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M CPU recorded times of 57sec and 1min 8ec, respectively.
To put this performance in perspective, it's about as fast as a 2.53GHz first generation Core i3 CPU. For example, the Medion Akoya E7216, which came with a 2.53GHz Intel Core i3-380M CPU recorded 59sec in Blender and 1min 2sec in iTunes. The Medion also took 1hr 10min to convert a DVD file into a 1.5GB Xvid file, whereas the Inspiron 15R took 1hr 15min. So you can see that despite having a slower frequency, the Dell's CPU can still hold its own and it means you can use the 15R to convert videos for your phone and also for photo and video editing tasks.
The R N5110 makes use of the integrated graphics in Intel's Sandy Bridge CPU, and this graphics solution recorded 3316 marks in 3DMark06. It's a decent result for such a cheap laptop and it means that you can use it to play some games as long as you use a low resolution and low graphics detail settings.
Features and build quality
The connectivity options around the edges of the 15R N5110 are very useful; you get modcons such as HDMI, eSATA, and USB 3.0 (two of them), as well as stalwarts such as 10/100 Ethernet, VGA, USB 2.0, an SD card slot, and headphone and microphone ports. You also get a built-in DVD burner, a webcam, 802.11n Wi-Fi (up to 150Mbps) and Bluetooth. Basically, it's a well-stocked machine for the price you're paying.
We like the look of the Inspiron 15R. It has a nice rounded design, and the chrome around the keyboard is elegant. We love the unit's status lights, which are a nice white colour instead of a retina-burning, super-bright blue. The screen is glossy and it suffers from reflections, as well as poor vertical viewing angles; the glossy bezel can be distracting, too. On the other side of the screen, the lid can be swapped so that you can use a different design — it simply slides off. We're a bit wary of this design though, as the lid covers come off a bit too easily (a latch is present to hold them in place, but it didn't seem to work properly on our test model). You have to be careful when carrying the notebook, just in case you hold it the wrong way and the lid slides off and you drop the laptop!
The overall build quality of the Inspiron 15R N5110 is decent. It feels well balanced and not too heavy (it weighs around 2.6kg), but the left side is creaky. The chassis makes clicking noises as you put pressure on the palmrest, and the left side of the keyboard is also a little too bouncy and noisy when you hit the keys. The keys are soft and possess good travel though, so it's not uncomfortable to type on this notebook for long periods of time. It will get a little warm as you use it on your lap for long periods of time though — especially if you are running applications that require lots of processing.
The touchpad is huge (102x56mm) and supports plenty of single- and dual-finger gestures, and it has beautifully soft buttons. You can customise the gesture support to your liking through its driver program.
Dell Inspiron 15R N5110 Battery life
A 48Wh (Watt-hour) battery sits snugly in the spine of the chassis. In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Inspiron 15R lasted 3hr 33min. This is a good result for a cheap 15.6in laptop, but it's 17min off what the Core i5-equipped MSI CR640 achieved in the same test.
What you get in the Dell Inspiron 15R N5110 is a cheap notebook with lots of good features, decent speed, and good battery life. You also get a creaky chassis and an overly glossy screen with narrow viewing angles, and an ability to customise the way the laptop looks by installing a lid with a funky paint job. Overall, despite there being a few negatives in its build quality, the Inspiron R is a good notebook.