Design and Features
The Inspiron 15 (3558) is a basic-looking black plastic laptop, with few design choices that many shoppers could find objectionable. The lid and keyboard deck are covered in a dotted textured plastic that doesn’t scream high-end and I don’t personally like much, but I do think it’s preferable to an entire body of cheap, shiny plastic. Instead, only the edges of the laptop feature a glossy finish, which strikes me as a smart choice that gives the budget system a sharper look.
Measuring 0.9 by 14.7 by 10.2 inches (HWD) and weighing 4.96 pounds, the Inspiron 15 (3558) is not chunky or unwieldy. It’s no slim, super-light ultraportable, but if you’re shopping in this category, that’s not your chief concern. The Inspiron 17 5000 Series Non-Touch is a bulkier 17-inch laptop that measures 1.1 by 16.2 by 10.6 inches and weighs 6.6 pounds—a much more daunting prospect to take with you anywhere. The 14-inch Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14 falls on the opposite end, measuring 0.7 by 13.36 by 9.25 inches and weighing 3.46 pounds, perhaps a more attractive option if you really plan to move your desktop-replacement laptop around often.
As a whole, build quality is fairly strong, particularly the responsive touchpad and keyboard, and the body itself is good. There is, however, a lot of flex on bottom of the lid when it’s open. The display is supported by two hinges set on each end of the laptop, so pushing down at all in the middle easily bends the screen inward. You shouldn’t be applying pressure there often, really, but I managed it a few times while carrying the laptop around. The flimsiness is worth noting.
The 15.6-inch touch display itself features a 1,366-by-768 resolution, which is all you can expect at this price. Full HD is generally reserved for laptops that cost a few hundred dollars more, but for 720p resolution, the Inspiron 15 (3558)’s display is actually pretty nice, and touch support is a plus. The screen is sharp and wider viewing angles are okay, though it is quite reflective. The Inspiron 17 5000 Series resolution is higher at 1,600 by 900, so though it’s also short of 1080p, the picture quality is a little sharper and there’s more room to work with, but the 15 inches here should suffice for most users.
A 1TB 5,200rpm hard drive provides plenty of storage—that’s twice as much as on the Inspiron 17. Port offerings are solid. On the left edge are an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, and an SD card slot. On the right, there’s a DVD drive, two USB 2.0 ports, and a headset jack. The laptop integrates Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11ac wireless. Dell supports the Inspiron 15 with a limited one-year warranty.
Equipped with a 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-5015U processor, 6GB of memory, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400, performance was what you’d expect in a budget system: not super fast, but without noticeable hang-ups or freezes. The laptop scored 2,472 points on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test, which measure productivity. This is better than the Inspiron 17 5000 Series (2,097) and the Aspire One Cloudbook 14 (1,561). It also performed better than the competition on multimedia tests, shaving whole minutes off of the Photoshop and Handbrake tests in comparison. As I experienced during anecdotal testing, these results mean it can handle day-to-day tasks without causing you frustration.
As you can guess by the price, the Inspiron 15 isn’t too well suited to gaming, though it did fare better than many other budget laptops. Performance with 3D was okay for the category, but the Heaven and Valley gaming tests returned 17 frames per second (fps) at best on medium quality settings, while 30fps is considered smooth. You could turn down the settings on some less-demanding games to get playable frame rates, but that’s about the best you can hope for. If that does appeal to you, the Inspiron 17 5000 Series and Cloudbook couldn’t crack 10fps, so you’ll have more luck with this system.
Finally, the Inspiron 15 (3558)’s battery life was good; it lasted 8 hours, 44 minutes, on our rundown test. That’s a lot longer than the Inspiron 17’s time of 5:20, which is shorter due mainly to its larger, higher-resolution (and thus more power-hungry) screen. The Aspire Cloudbook had both Inspirons handily beat with a time of 13:59.
The Inspiron 15 (3558) is a fully functional, well-made laptop with good speed and a low price point. It’s not packed with features and keeps things simple, but for $329, it’s not missing anything essential. Its newer processor provides a noticeable bump up in performance over the Dell Inspiron 17 5000 Series Non-Touch’s CPU, and it boasts superior battery life and double the storage. You’re getting a smaller screen, but that’s really the only downside, and increased portability may be preferable to some. For these reasons, the Dell Inspiron 15 (3558) is our new Editors’ Choice budget desktop-replacement laptop. For a smaller and less expensive alternative, the $180 Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series (3162) is well worth a look.