Dell Inspiron 14z Review (N411Z 2011 Update)

Dell Inspiron 14z (N411z)The new and updated 2011 version Dell Inspiron 14z, model number N411z, is right in the sweet spot of features for a student laptop.  The Inspiron 14z has the latest 2nd generation Intel Core i3 and i5 processor technology (Intel’s Sandy Bridge technology), a thin and sleek new design similar to the earlier released XPS 15z and has new technology such as a USB 3.0 port and Intel WiDi.  Best of all though?  This is an Inspiron and still has a price that will fit a students budget as it starts at $599.99 before any deals or coupons are applied.

Here are the tech specs on the Inspiron N411Z under review:

  • Screen: 14-inch 1366 x 768 LED display, glossy finish
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-2330m 2.2GHz (2nd generation Intel Core i3)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage: 500GB 5400RPM HD
  • Graphics: Intel HD 3000
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Ports: Media card reader, HDMI, Ethernet 10/100 LAN (RJ45), Mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0 (2), USB 2.0 with Powershare (1), headphone / microphone combo (1)
  • Weight: 4.23lbs
  • Dimensions: 9.7” x 13.6” x 0.998” – 0.94” (Depth x Width x Thickness)
  • Speakers: SRS Premium Surround Sound
  • Battery: 65 WHr 6-cell Li-Ion
  • Warranty: 1-year

Inspiron 14z Ordering, Shipping and Packaging

The Inspiron 14z I have was purchased direct from Dell.com, this was a fast ship unit priced at $599.99 before tax and after ordering it was delivered to my home just 3-days later via FedEx Ground.  The package it arrived in was a little beaten up, but the laptop inside was well secured and in good shape.

Inspiron N411z box Inspiron N411z unboxing

 

Inspiron 14z Design and Build

Inspiron 14z / N411z top viewThe Inspiron N411z uses a much different design to that of the “regular” Dell Inspiron 14R, most notably the Inspiron 14z has an aluminum body for extra durability while the cheaper Inspiron 14R uses a mostly plastic case.  Also important to note is that the Inspiron 14z is under 1-inch thin, significantly thinner than the 1.3” thickness of the Inspiron 14R.  Finally, if you’re a student carrying a laptop around all day you’ll be happy to know that the Inspiron 14z is a back friendly 4.23lbs, much lighter than the 5.25lbs the Inspiron 14R starts at.

The Inspiron 14z comes with two color finish options, you can either choose the diamond black or fire red.  I went with the diamond black as it fits my slightly more conservative personality, red is a little loud for my tastes.  The finish is a brushed aluminum look, it’s an appealing look until you get greasy fingerprints all over it, yes even though this isn’t one of those dreaded glossy paint finishes on the body it still suffers from being a fingerprint magnet.

Inspiron 14z / N411z hingeThe hinge design is somewhat unique for the Inspiron 14z, instead of the hinge being at the very back edge of the laptop the screen actually sits forward about an inch from the back.  It seems this screen hinging design was used to help keep the overall profile thin, the hinges and screen are actually somewhat recessed in the keyboard area.  Overall I think this look is a little odd, but if it gets the job done to keep the laptop thinner then who am I to argue?

The build quality of the Inspiron 14z is certainly above that of the regular Inspiron line and “R Series” Inspiron laptops.  Since the body is aluminum the case is very rigid, there’s no flex in the palm rests area.  I did find some flex in the middle and right side of the keyboard, nothing drastic but a firm push will cause the keys to sink a little.  The bottom of the laptop is solid and will provide good protection to the laptop internals.

Dell Inspiron 14z Weight

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I put the N411z on the kitchen scales and the total weight was measured to be 4lbs 8.7 ounces, or 4.54lbs for those that prefer decimals.  Overall that’s not too bad a weight for a 14-inch laptop, here’s how it compares to other 14-inch laptops I’ve recently reviewed:

14-inch Laptop Model Laptop Weight
HP Pavilion dm4x 4.3lbs
Dell Inspiron N411z 4.54lbs
Lenovo ThinkPad E420 4.6lbs
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 4.8lbs
Dell Vostro 3450 5.0lbs

Dell Inspiron 14z Performance

pcmark-vantageThe Inspiron 14z at the time of this writing is available with two different Intel Sandy Bridge processors, the Intel Core i3-2330m 2.2GHz processor and Intel Core i5-2410m 2.3GHz processor.  The Core i5 is an expensive $100 upgrade, and although I’m a big fan of the Core i5 2410m processor as it offers Intel TurboBoost overclocking potential, that price was too much to justify the upgrade.  Nonetheless the Intel Core i3-2330 offers more than enough power for a typical user just looking to use productivity and media entertainment applications.   If you don’t do any gaming or need to use any other 3D software applications then the Core i3-2330m will have plenty of get up and go power for your needs.  Playing HD 720p YouTube video, a demanding task for the processor, resulted in seamless video playback.  The Core i3-2330m processor had no issues churning through the high definition video.  Multi tasking with several browser tabs open in Google Chrome, Microsoft Word open, and Windows Media Player playing music still left the processor utilization around 35% so there’s lots of cushion room when you need extra performance under normal usage situations.

As far as start up and shut down.  The Inspiron 14z took about 50 seconds to go from a powered off state to having the desktop loaded and usable.  However, it was still sluggish and loading background applications even after 2-minutes, Dell has installed an application called “Dell Stage” that puts program shortcut widgets on the desktop and that seems to take a long time to load.  If you disable a few startup applications such as Dell Stage you can likely get a faster boot up time, all-in-all the bootup is rather slow and requires user intervention of removing startup programs to improve it.  Shutting down was much faster and only takes about 20 – 30 seconds depending on how many programs are open.

The Inspiron 14z faired well in the PCMark Vantage overall system performance benchmark test, it scored a respectable 5,285 PCMarks.  Below is a table comparing the Inspiron 14z PCMark Vantage score to other recent 14-inch laptops:

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

Note that the Intel Core i3-2330m is not all that far off in performance from the Core i5-2410m and is much better performing than the entry level Intel Core i3-2310m processor.  For those that like to see the Windows Experience Index score, that result is shown below:

Inspiron 14z windows experience index score

As you would expect, the graphics are the slowest aspect of the Inspiron N411z component performance as it uses an Intel integrated graphics solution, the Intel HD 3000.

Dell Inspiron 14z Battery Life

When you’re shopping for a laptop to be used on campus the battery life should be one of the top considerations.  If you have to make it through four classes in a day and not rely on an electrical outlet you’ll need at least 5-hours of battery life to ensure you can take notes during all lectures.  So the good news is the Inspiron 14z does well in the battery life department and can surpass the 5-hour mark on a single charge.  I set the screen brightness to 4/16, wi-fi on and did some light work and left a browser open that refreshed every 2-minutes which resulted in a battery rundown time of 6 hours and 15 minutes.   Even though the 4th level brightness of 16 notches sounds dim, it’s actually a very bright screen and that level was more than comfortable for viewing.  I think most people will easily be able to squeeze out 5.5 – 6 hours of battery life when doing basic things like taking notes.  You can turn off wi-fi and Bluetooth to save more on battery life, I didn’t bother to do that and could certainly have stretched the battery even further by doing so.

Dell Inspiron 14z Screen

The screen on the Dell Inspiron 14z is a 14” variety LED backlit screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution that supports up to 720p resolution video.  The screen has excellent brightness at the top level, I was actually able to comfortably read and view the screen even on low level brightness settings.   The screen is a glossy variety screen which means the color contrast is great, rich blacks and bright whites prevail which makes photo and video viewing a real pleasure.  However, the downside to the glossy screen is the amount of reflection you’ll get if you have strong backlighting, such as a bright light or window behind you.

The screen is a typical laptop screen in that the best way to view it is directly on with your eyes perpendicular to the screen.  Viewing from a side angle the colors remain quite good and true, but if you tilt the screen down or up the colors quick invert or become washed out due to the viewing angle.  Below is an example of various viewing perspectives of the Inspiron 14z screen and how it affects color representation:

DSC_0204 DSC_0207
DSC_0206 DSC_0205

And for those that need a demonstration of what happens to the screen when you have a strong backlight behind you in a dimly lit room, see the below picture:

DSC_0208

The screen becomes a virtual mirror as you can see the curtains and outside world due to the fact the light source there is so strong.  This is a downside to any glossy screen and not just the Inspiron N411z, so it’s not a knock against it, just a fact of this screen technology.  Overall the Inspiron 14z is very good and a pleasure to view.

Inspiron 14z Keyboard and TouchPad

Inspiron 14z / N411z keyboard

The Inspiron N411z uses a chiclet style keyboard, just like almost every other consumer targeted laptops these days.  The keys are black with white lettering, there’s no option for a backlit keyboard unfortunately.  Overall the keyboard is pleasing to use, the keys are responsive and have nice travel.  There is a little bit of flex to the keyboard in the center and on the right side, but not enough to effect typing efficiency, you really have to push down hard to notice the flex.  There are 3 dedicated shortcut buttons at the top of the keyboard that come in handy, the first key with gears on it launch the Windows Mobility Center application where you can do such things as toggle wireless on/off, adjust screen brightness, control sound volume and numerous other handy controls.  A second button with a wrench on it launches the Dell Support Center software that makes it easy to recover your system, check PC health, download drivers and various other utility options.  Finally the 3rd button is a quick launch button that you can easily program to control what it does, I set it so when pushed it launches a browser with my homepage displayed.  So overall, the keyboard is nothing to write home about, it gets the job done, and the dedicated short cut keys on the top right are a nice bonus.

The touchpad is another story, I don’t know why PC makers continue to produce laptops with horrible touchpad functionality, but you can add the Inspiron N411z to that list.  I had to disable the zoom and pinch touchpad functions as it seemed nearly every time I touched the touchpad it thought I was zooming in or out.  Even after disabling the advanced touch features, the simple task of using two finger scrolling is a nightmare to get to work.  Overall performance of the touchpad was erratic and frustrating, you can help things out by downloading drivers from Synaptics (the maker of the touchpad) instead of using the Dell supplied drivers and controls, but you shouldn’t have to do that and the average user won’t bother to.  On top of all this the mouse buttons are stiff and hard to use.  I’d consider a wireless mouse a very wise investment to use with the Inspiron 14z – it’s what I ended up going with.

Dell Inspiron 14z Heat and Noise

The Inspiron N411z is not the silent type, its fans kick on quite frequently and they’re definitely audible in a quiet room.  If there’s enough ambient noise such as a TV on in the background you might not notice the fans as much, but in a quiet lecture hall I’m afraid to say the rate and noise level with which the fans kick in might be bothersome – if not to you then maybe your neighbors.  The N411z also gets quite warm on the underside, the palm rests stay nice and cool but if you were planning to use the Inspiron 14z in your lap on the couch then it would be wise to invest in a LapDesk.

Dell Inspiron 14z Port Selection

Dell took an interesting approach with the ports on the Inspiron 14z 2011 edition, they used a flap to cover the ports up so they’re not exposed when not being used.  Although I think the intentions are good, and that’s to prevent unnecessary extra dust getting into the ports and making for a cleaner outside body look, it’s actually kind of a pain to have to pull the flap down to attach a device.  That said, the selection of ports is very good, let’s take a tour around each side to see what you get:

Ports: Media card reader, Ethernet 10/100 LAN (RJ45), Mini DisplayPort, USB 2.0 (3), USB 2.0 with Powershare (1), headphone / microphone combo (1)

Inspiron 14z left side

On the left side of the Inspiron 14z is a Mini DisplayPort, HDMI and USB 2.0 with PowerShare port.  On the front left side is a 3-in-1 media card reader slot (SD, MS, MMC)

Inspiron 14z right side

On the right side of the Inspiron 14z is the optical drive, then the headphone / microphone combo port and 2 USB 3.0 ports

Inspiron 14z back side

On the back side of the Inspiron 14z is the power jack and Ethernet LAN port

Dell Inspiron N411z front view

On the front side of the Inspiron 14z there are no ports, there is a speaker on the left and right underside at the front

It’s nice that Dell included the latest USB 3.0 port technology and also very cool to have both HDMI and DisplayPort available.

Dell Inspiron 14z Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 14z 2011 model update turns out to be a mixed bag.  While it has a lot going for it in terms of interesting design, nice build quality, great blend of ports and new technologies, it also has a couple of big gotchas.  The touchpad implementation is really pretty bad, making for a frustrating user experience.  The amount of fan noise the N411z produced was also a major annoyance during testing.  Both of those problems might be able to get resolved with some driver updates though, I literally purchased this laptop the day it came out and it tends to be the case the early adopters are the ones that get to experience the buggy drivers that are soon updated.  Those cons aside, if you want a 14-inch laptop with great battery life of up to 6 hours, thin profile and quality aluminum case build, nice bright screen and a price starting just under $600 then the new Inspiron N411z update to the Inspiron 14z is an option worth considering and comparing to some other 14-inch laptops out there.

Where to Buy the Inspiron 14z

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Filed Under: Dell Student Laptop, Feature Articles, Student Laptop Reviews

About Ian Rowan

Ian Rowan is a freelance writer who’s worked and written for Men’s Journal, The Village Voice, Switched.com and Vice Magazine. When he’s not traveling or writing his premature personal memoir, he specializes in technology trends, social media, web 2.0 and gadgets.

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8 Responses to Dell Inspiron 14z Review (N411Z 2011 Update)

  1. J.D. September 1, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Wow, really nice review… thanks for posting it!

    I was trying to decide between the new 14z and the new Dell Vostro V131.

    Your review helped me decide on the V131 because it has a matte screen (which I prefer over glossy), I haven’t heard of any problems with the trackpad nor fan noise (on the i3 model), and the slightly less weight/bulk will be a nice perk.

    Thanks again, keep up the great work!!!

    • Andrew September 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      great, the Vostro V131 definitely does look interesting, in fact I’m tempted to order one myself to try it out :D Hope it works out well for you.

  2. lambert J. October 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I bought one of these about two weeks ago and it’s still in production at Dell. So if you order one, be prepared to wait and wait and wait. I’m going to wait it out, see if it fits my needs. On the plus side, I got it at a good price, $699 for the 8gb, 750gb hd version. I sure hope it’s worth the wait.

    • Andrew October 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

      Wow, that’s a quite a delay. I often configure laptops at Dell or HP and then have them on my doorstep 10-days later, even if they quote much longer. That stinks, but usually once it’s built the process of shipping and delivery is only a matter of 5 – 7 days. Hope the wait is worth it, a good price adds some solace but still, you would hope a company would quote accurate production and delivery times at the time you order so you have all the information to weigh then.

  3. Aaron October 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Got my 14z about 3 weeks ago.
    Seems to be cool. I got the i3 / 6gb / 640gb model. Got special 18 mo financing, too; that’s why I went for this model instead of the i5. This one will serve my needs sufficiently.
    Mouse buttons are stiff, but what the heck.

    It’s my first laptop 7 i’m liking it so far.

  4. Lambert J. October 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Well, I just got mine Friday. It’s nice, small, lightweight, relatively fast. The keyboard has good response to it. But the screen’s a bit dim for my taste, at least compared to my old Macbook. The fan seems to be blowing all the time. It’s not too terribly loud, but you can hear it none-the-less.

    Two issues that are major are the touchpad buttons and the on/off switch. My touchpad buttons don’t even work…they don’t push down, like they’re frozen in place. It’s aggrivating. Also, my on/off switch takes about three or four pushes to get the computer to come on, so there’s some sort of disconnect there.

    Sadly, I think this guy is going back. I like the computer, but I feel that it’s not a quality-built piece of machinery and eventually I’m going to pay for repairs in the future. Anyway, my ten cents worth.

  5. Lambert J. October 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    More to add to my previous post. The fan on this little guy never stops. It blows and blows and blows, many times at high speed. It’s 65 degrees in my house right now, so I don’t think it’s overheated.

    The little rubber flaps on the side that cover the USB ports, etc., are just annoying. Not sure why they are there, but I bite my fingernails, so I have to use a thin knife blade to get the flaps open. They’re that tight.

    On a positive note, I love the keyboard. It’s crisp and full of feedback. I just wish it was back-lit, which by the way, is an option now. But that’s okay. I rarely find myself using my computer in the pitch of dark.

    I’ll post back with more opinions as I get them.

  6. Ian H. October 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Nice review – bought it today and looking forward to getting it soon. I always liked Dell laptops, I’m finally retiring my 4-year-old D620 for this one! I also like getting deals and I found a coupon code for the 14z at http://www.computercoupondeals.com/Dell/Inspiron_5.php that saved me a few more bucks. Keep up the good reviews.

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