Dell offers a line of convertible laptops with 13.3 inch touchscreen displays and a special hinge that lets you push the screen back 360 degrees and hold the tablet like a tablet. Prices for the Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 start at $500 for a model with an Intel Pentium processor and a 1366 x 768 pixel display.

Want something a little more powerful? Dell also offers an Inspiron 13 700 Series 2-in-1 Special Edition for $750 and up at Dell.com and Best Buy.

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What’s so special about this version? It features a 1920 x 1080 pixel display, an aluminum case, and a backlit keyboard, among other things.

There are certainly cheaper notebooks on the market, or more portable tablets. And after using the computer for a few weeks, I’m pretty confident in saying that its battery life rarely comes anywhere close to the 9 hours of run time that Dell promises.

But if you’re looking for a powerful notebook that can occasionally serve double duty as a tablet, there’s still a lot to like about the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series Special Edition. On the other hand, if you’re primarily interested in using the computer as a tablet, you’d probably best look elsewhere unless you relish the idea of using a 13.3 inch, 3.9 pound tablet with mediocre battery life.

Dell loaned me $999 model with a Core i7 Broadwell processor, Windows 8.1, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive to review. Sadly Dell discontinued this particular model when making the switch from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10: You can’t buy a new model with an SSD anymore, although you could buy a model with a 2.5 inch hard drive and replaces it with a faster SSD. Dell’s service manual shows that both the storage and memory are user replaceable.

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Or you could save some money and buy a refurbished version of the model featured in this review for around $829.

Just note that if you buy a model with a hard drive, it will likely have slower read/write speeds and may have shorter battery life than the model featured in this review Dell does plan to offer models with solid state drives again in the future… but not until the Inspiron 13 7000 Series special edition is updated from Broadwell to Skylake chips.

It’s a laptop! It’s a tablet! It’s… both! (But mostly it’s a laptop)

There are a few different types of portable computers that get labeled as 2-in-1 systems these days. There are systems that are basically tables with detachable keyboards, and there are notebooks with special hinges that let you move the keyboard so that it’s out of the way when you just want to use the touchscreen.

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With a few exceptions, tablets with detachable keyboards tend to be thinner, lighter, and less powerful (although they sometimes get longer battery life thanks to lower-power chips), while models with built-in keyboards tend to have the kind of power you’d expect from a traditional laptop… plus you’re a lot less likely to misplace the keyboard or forget to throw it in your bag when it’s permanently attached to the display.

The Inspiron 13 7000 Series notebooks fall into the latter category. It feels so much like a notebook that it’s easy to forget at times that this computer also has a tablet mode.

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It’s a notebook with a 13.3 inch, full HD display and a body that measures 13″ x 8.7″ x 0.75″ and which weighs about 3.9 pounds according to my scale (which makes the laptop a tad heavier than the 3.7 pounds listed in Dell’s official spec sheet).

There’s a fairly large bezel around the display, a decent number of full-sized ports, rubber bumpers on the bottom of the case to keep it the base from directly touching your desk or table (which helps control heat and keeps the bottom from scuffing), and other touches that make the Inspiron 13 7000 feel more like a notebook than a tablet.

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But if you reach up to touch the screen, you’ll notice that it supports 10-point multitouch input, which allows you to tap the screen, long-press to bring up a context menu, or swipe to scroll, switch apps, or perform other functions.

You can also push the screen back until the lid of the computer is resting against the bottom of the PC, allowing you to pick up the system and hold it like a tablet. The keyboard will automatically shut off in this mode, allowing you to use an on-screen keyboard without worrying that you’ll accidentally hit Enter, Delete, or another button while holding the PC in your hands.

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In between notebook and tablet modes, there are also “tent” and “stand” modes, which let you prop up the computer on a flat surface so you can use it as a touchscreen device without futzing with the keyboard and without having to hold the system in your hands.

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While I primarily tested the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series Special Edition in laptop mode, from time to time I have found myself picking it up, flipping the screen around, and holding the computer in landscape or portrait mode to rear long news articles. It sometimes feels more comfortable to read for an extended period of time on a device that feels more book or tablet-like than on a laptop screen.

tabletYou could also play touch-only games, have a distraction-free media experience, or perhaps read recipes in the kitchen by using tablet, tent, or stand modes.

But at a time when 10 inch and smaller tablets tend to weigh 1.3 pounds or less, it’s hard to imagine holding a 3.9 pound laptop in my hands for more than a few minutes at a time.

If you want a tablet… you should buy a tablet. And arguably if you want a laptop, you should buy that too. The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series is for someone that wants both… but primarily wants a laptop.

You could probably find a standard laptop with similar specs for the same price or lower. But every now and again it is nice to have a touchscreen display, if for no other reason than that you can download Angry Birds or other casual, touch-friendly games from the Windows Store to play from time to time, open up eBooks, PDF documents, or long magazine articles and read them in tablet mode, or generally use the machine without the keyboard when the mood strikes.

Design and specs

The demo unit Dell sent me includes an Intel Core i7-5500U Broadwell processor, 8GB of DDR3L 1600 MHz RAM, a 256GB solid state drive, a 43 Whr battery, and a full HD IPS display. It has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The company no longer sells this particular laptop with an SSD option, but you can still find a variety of configurations with hard drives, Core i5 or Core i7 chips, and 4GB to 8GB of RAM. Just note that some models might not be quite as fast as the one I reviewed, and some may have shorter battery life.

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On the sides of the laptop you’ll find an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, a full-sized SD card reader, a mic/headset combo jack, and a power jack. There are also volume and power buttons near the front right edge of the laptop.

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Those buttons seem awkwardly placed on a notebook, but they’re easily accessible in tent, tablet, and stand modes. Since they’re hard to see when the computer is propped open in laptop mode though, I often find myself pushing the volume button when I’m aiming for the power button.

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Below the screen there’s also a Windows key which brings the Windows 8.1 Start Screen (or Windows 10 Start Menu). There’s not much reason to push that button if you’re using the Inspiron 13 7000 Series as a notebook, but it could come in handy in tablet mode.

Dell includes a spill-resistant, backlit keyboard on all Special Edition models. The chiclet-style keys are reasonably well spaced and the keyboard is comfortable to type on. But there is a little bit of flex that’s noticeable if you push down hard in the middle of the keyboard, and there’s a fair amount of space on the left and right sides of the keyboard that leave me feeling like Dell could have included slightly larger keys.

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The lights that shine through the keys can also seem awfully bright when viewed from an angle. You can dim or disable the backlights by pressing the F10 key, but even the lowest illumination level can be a bit bright for comfort.

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When I started using this laptop, the Backspace, arrow, `, and \ keys all felt unnecessarily cramped. But after a few days, I found myself forgetting my initial complaints and now I can type at full speed on this keyboard with no more typos than I’d probably make by typing on any keyboard.

The palm rest and area around the keyboard is made of aluminum and feels sturdy, cool to the touch even during heavy use, and generally comfortable.

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The computer has a “precision touchpad,” which means it supports all of Microsoft’s touchpad gestures for Windows 8 and later, including single and multi-finger actions for scrolling, pinching, selecting, tapping, and edge-swipes. I generally use a wireless mouse with laptops, but when I did find myself using the touchpad to scroll, tap or swipe, it seemed perfectly serviceable.

Of course you can also perform most of the same gestures by touching the screen instead of the touchpad. But it’s worth noting that the screen does wobble a bit in laptop mode, so if you reach up to touch the display, you might notice it shake a bit in response to your tap. This won’t be as much of an issue if you’re holding the computer in tablet mode.

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Speaking of tablet mode, it’s easy to transition from laptop to tablet states simply by folding the screen all the way back. There are hinges on the left and right side that hold the screen to the laptop base, but which are flexible enough to bend over backward.

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The rubber bumpers on the bottom of the laptop would also keep the back of the lid from scraping the base of the computer. But if you don’t hold the screen and base tightly together, they won’t actually touch.

I don’t know if this is by design or not, but it’s another reason why the Inspiron 13 7000 Series always feels like a notebook and never really feels like a tablet, even when you’re holding it like one.

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While you can touch the screen with your fingers, Dell also offers an optional Active Stylus using technology from Synaptics. The pen lets you write or draw on the screen or hover over the screen to move the pointer without using a mouse. It also supports palm rejection, which means you can place the palm of your hand on the glass display while using the pen, and only the pen input will be recognized, not your hand.

Dell didn’t loan me an Active Stylus, so I can’t say how well it works, but other reviewers seem to think it’s not bad for a $35 accessory.

There’s a speaker grille in the side of the case where the screen meets the base. It’s well positioned so that the speaker shouldn’t be blocked no matter how the screen is positioned. And the speakers are among the loudest, and best sounding I’ve heard on a 13 inch notebook.

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Keep in mind… that’s not saying much. Laptop speakers tend to be awful. But these are less awful than most. You’ll still want a pair of headphones or external speakers to truly enjoy music, movies, or video game audio. But for the occasional YouTube video or casual game, the built-in speakers with Waves MaxxAudio sound are surprisingly decent.

Above the screen there’s a 720p webcam which you can use to snap pictures or make video calls. You probably won’t want to replace your DSLR camera with this camera anytime soon though. There are also dual microphones, which should come in handy when making voice or video calls or using Cortana with Windows 10.

Using the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Special Edition

Dell loaned me a model with a Core i7-5500U Broadwell processor with Intel HD 5500 graphics. This is a relatively low-power chip, but it’s one of the highest-performance processors in Intel’s 2015 line of 15 watt, dual-core, 64-bit chips, and it can handle HD video, light-duty gaming, and most basic tasks pretty well.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve bought a laptop, odds are the Inspiron 13 7000 Series Special Edition will feel blazing fast, whether you get a model with a Core i5 or Core i7 chip.

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The model I tested is also equipped with a pretty fast 256GB solid state drive and 8GB of RAM. In a nutshell, it’s not the fastest computer on the market but it’s certainly one of the most powerful I’ve ever tested (since Liliputing is generally a site that covers affordable portables, rather than bleeding edge gaming rigs).

But I should point out again that unless you buy a refurbished model, you probably won’t be able to buy an Inspiron 13 7000 Series with an SSD until Dell starts selling models with Skylake processors and Windows 10 software later this year. So the unit I tested might be a little faster than the units that are available for purchase right now when it comes to activities that involve reading and writing data to a disk.

You may also need do something to get the most out of your machine: uninstall some of the apps that are pre-installed.

The laptop Dell shipped me came with Windows 8.1 Home software, which is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10. But it also includes a free trial version of Microsoft Office, a trial of McAfee LiveSafe, Dell Backup and Recovery software, a Dell Update utility, an Amazon app that adds a shortcut to your taskbar that you can use to quickly search Amazon, and a number of other programs that you didn’t ask for.

Some of these apps have a habit of popping up and interrupting you when you’re doing something else, asking if you’d like to activate a feature, sign up for a subscription, or be reminded later. Others, like the Dell Shop app are just hanging out in your app list, waiting for you to eventually load up the app and maybe think about buying something.

I’d recommend removing many of these apps, especially the annoying nagware programs like McAfee LiveSafe (you can always install free security from Malwarebytes, BitDefender, or other companies if you want more protection than Windows Defender offers).

Once the computer stops bugging you with pop-ups periodically, it does feel pretty fast. Benchmark results show that it outperforms most other recent PCs I’ve tested in audio and video transcoding tests, a file zip challenge, and at gaming benchmarks (although the Intel HD integrated graphics will be no match for a system with a recent NVIDIA or AMD discrete graphics card… or even one with Intel Iris graphics).

But benchmarks and speed only tell part of the story. There are a few other things you might want to know about the experience of actually using this laptop:

Battery Life

Dell says you should be able to get up to 8 hours of battery life from an Inspiron 13 7000 Series notebook with a hard drive or up to 9 hours from a model with an SSD. I’m using the discontinued SSD model and I’ve never managed to get more than 4.5 hours of battery life… and often get closer to 4.

To be fair, the one app that I’m running pretty much non-stop is Google Chrome — which is known to be a battery hog. And I’m usually using it to search the web and read content in 6-12 browser tabs at a time while editing Liliputing blog posts in another of those tabs. Sometimes I also play music or YouTube videos at the same time… often in one of those browser tabs.

You might be able to get longer battery life if you’re using less demanding applications… with the screen dimmed, the keyboard backlights turned off, the wireless features disabled, and… I dunno. I just have a hard time imagining what you would have to do to get to 9 hours.

Dell’s estimate comes from the company’s own tests with the Mobile Mark 14 test, but in real-world conditions, the Inspiron 13 7000 can barely get half the estimate battery life.

Noise

While some recent laptops with Intel Broadwell chips are fanless, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series is certainly not. There’s a vent on the bottom of the case, just below the speaker. An internal fan blows hot air out through that vent to keep the system from overheating.

The fan rarely runs for very long, but when it starts to whir it can generate a lot of noise. You might not even hear the fan in a loud coffee shop setting, but when sitting in a quiet office, it can be pretty noticeable.

The cooling system does seem to work though: I never noticed the top or bottom of the computer getting particularly hot. And after running the PC non-stop for a few hours, I checked the CPU temperature and found it well within acceptable range.

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Since there’s no optical disc drive or hard drive with spinning platters, the fan is just about the only component of the laptop that does make any noise (unless you count the speakers of the clicking sounds the keyboard and touchpad make).

Display

Another thing to consider when buying any laptop is the display. On the one hand, the 13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel screen on the Inspiron 13 7000 is bright, sharp, and offers wide viewing angles.

On the other hand, when I say it’s sharp, it might be too sharp in some situations.

Windows does a pretty decent job of letting you adjust the size of text or of “all items,” these days– but some Windows programs are less cooperative. As I mentioned above, the application I use more than any other is Google Chrome, and as of mid-2015, the Windows version of Chrome still doesn’t play all that well with displays that have high pixel density.

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You can adjust the “size of all items” setting in Windows to 125 percent so that text and icons don’t look incredibly tiny. But by default, text and toolbars in Chrome will still look incredibly tiny. You can alleviate the problem by delving into Chrome’s advanced settings menu and setting the default page zoom left to 110 percent or 125 percent. But the toolbar icons will still be super tiny.

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One solution is to switch browsers: Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Edge don’t have this problem. But Chrome is just the first example that springs to mind. Other Windows programs suffer the same problem.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone buy a laptop with a 1366 x 768 pixel display specifically to avoid this issue. Images, videos, and other graphics look substantially better on higher-resolution screens.

But I really wish there were more 13.3 inch laptops with 1600 x 900 pixel displays to help nitpickers like me to bide the time until Google (and other app makers) update their software to better respect the default Windows DPI (dots per inch) settings.

Verdict

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 is a solid choice if you’re looking for a speedy notebook that’s reasonably light-weight, and which can also occasionally be used in tent or tablet mode.

But before plunking down $750 or more to buy this particular model, you should keep in mind that it gets kind of lousy battery life, has a non-removable battery (which means that it’ll be easier to replace the laptop than the battery in a few years), has a somewhat noisy fan, and is a little too big and heavy to use as a handheld tablet for an extender period of time.

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That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider this laptop though: there are plenty of people who think 9 hours of battery life would be overkill since they’re used to plugging in their laptops most of the time. And if you plan to use the tablet mode while sitting on the couch with the PC resting on your lap while you watch TV, the weight might not be a problem.

This isn’t a no-compromise machine… but it is a pretty powerful machine that can be used in a variety of different ways.

 



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11 replies on “Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 Special Edition review”

  1. I got the i5-5200, 500GB hard drive version with Windows 10 two weeks ago. The first thing I did was put in an SSD and installed Linux. I set the window drive aside in case I ever need it. The battery is removable, but a screw driver is required. The memory is also removable, but there is only one slot. So I think 8GB may be the max.

    Linux runs fine with no hoops to jump through. I get about 9 hours out of the battery. That’s mostly web browsing with the screen dimmed and a few powertop tweaks.

    1. did you install the 256 gb or the 512 gb ssd hard drive,,,,i bought the same laptop model as you and probally everyone else lol,, just orederd mine from dell,,,, it has the 5th gen i7,,8gb memory,, 1920 x 1080 screen,, 500 gb hybrid hard drive ,,,I just bought a crucial 500 gb ssd hard drive for more speed,, hope it will work on mine,, I paid 636.00 for my 2 in 1 laptop,, ,,, I am using mine for college hope it will last a while,,,, first time buying dell.,,, and 8gb is the max. I might try linux

      1. I have a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO. I’m not dual booting so it’s plenty of room.

    2. Did linux disable the keyboard when the screen was flipped around? if So, what distro did you use?

      1. The keyboard and touchpad are disabled automatically. I’m using Arch Linux, but it also worked on an Ubuntu live usb.

    3. Cool! I hope you don’t mind me asking but:
      * The keyboard lights work on linux?
      * Do linux automatically rotate the screen when you rotate the device?
      * How’s the touchscreen? does it work nice?
      Thanks!

      1. The keyboard lights are independent of the operating system and are controlled with the Fn-F10 keys.

        The screen does not rotate automatically. The data from the accelerometer is readable, so scripts can be written to rotate the screen. Once the screen is rotated the touchscreen has to be calibrated for the new orientation.

        The touchscreen works good without extra configuration. Different programs treat touch differently. For example dragging on Chrome scrolls, but dragging on Firefox highlights.

        1. Thank you for your quick response! I’m considering to buy one of these Inspirons and install Fedora on it. I know the screen can be rotated in ordinary computers with ‘xrandr -o’, but how do you calibrate the touchscreen? I’ve seen people using a lot of different ways to do that, so I’m a little confused about it.

  2. Brad, thanks for the review…I really appreciate those made after the product is actually assimilated, rather than as pre-consumer samples. I bought one (model 7848) of these refurbished with the full HD screen and a 5th-Gen i5 CPU at the Dell Outlet for under $500. At that price I can only sing praises (even on battery). It does have a few quirks, but then what laptop doesn’t? I like all the input and transformer options….it feels special. The biggest downside to it is that it runs a Microsoft OS, which I can only hope joins the ranks of oblivion after my need for it has passed. Every time I buy a Dell, I think this is my last one. Then I try out a Lenovo or Asus, and go back to Dell for best bang for the buck, especially in the refub’d with warranty category.

  3. Thanks for the review. Too bad about the battery life, but like you mentioned Chrome is known to be a power hog. I wonder how long it would last if Chrome was not installed and Firefox or Opera or just IE was used instead?

    Is the entire laptop aluminum or just the palm rest? If you pick it up by the corner can you feel any flex or creaking?

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