The new Inspiron 16 Plus offers most of the XPS 15’s features and ability but at half the price
- Easy to upgrade
- Outstanding value
- Impressive 3K display
- One USB-C port
- Display is 60Hz only
When we recently reviewed the latest incarnation of Dell’s XPS 15 we found it a little lacking. The high price, less than stellar battery life and colour-inaccurate display all rather took the shine off Dell’s evergreen flagship.
So what would you say if I told you that Dell makes another laptop costing half as much, with better battery life, the same performance and a display that’s in some ways better? Well, it does. Let’s hear it for the Inspiron 16 Plus.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: What you need to know
Traditionally, the Inspiron range has been Dell’s bread and butter home user lineup: laptops that did the basics but were largely devoid of any interesting features. But no more. The latest addition to the family, the Dell Inspiron 16 Plus, has features and capabilities that its predecessors could barely dream of. I’m rather surprised Dell has stuck with the Inspiron name.
With a powerful Core i7 processor, discrete graphics, a 3K resolution 16:10 aspect ratio display and a large battery, this Dell is a jack of all trades and a master of most, too. If you want a laptop that can transition from workstation tasks to gaming to productivity to media consumption or creation and you don’t fancy spending much more than a bag of sand, then this new Inspiron is the laptop for you.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Price and competition
The Inspiron 16 Plus range starts at £740 for a basic machine with an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 chip, integrated graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD and runs all the way up up to £1,159 for a Core i7 model with an Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Our review device sits in the middle with the same spec as the range-topper but with the less powerful RTX 3050 GPU. That will set you back £1,049 although this was showing as a £200-off discount at the time of writing. All models come with a 3K (3,072 x 1,920) display.
Before we get stuck in, let’s take a look at some alternatives. If your primary requirement is a 16in screen, then the Honor MagicBook 16 has a lot to recommend it. Its 144Hz Full HD display is colourful and bright, while the AMD Ryzen 5 chipset gives it useful performance, there’s no discrete GPU. The impressive keyboard is backlit, which is not always a given at £850, but the battery life is unimpressive and there’s no numeric keypad.
The HP Victus has a 16.1inch screen with a 165Hz refresh rate and the entry-level model with the same Nvidia RTX 3050 GPU as the Inspiron 16 Plus can be picked up for just £849. The problem with the Victus is that the display is dim and drab, which puts the kibosh on using it for anything that demands a colourful or accurate panel.
If your pockets are deep then the Inspiron 16 Plus’ big brother, the Dell XPS 15 may be worth considering especially as you can now specify it with a sumptuous 3,456 x 2,160 15.6in OLED touchscreen display. At £1,889 it’s much more expensive, however, and the absence of any USB-A ports is a niggle.
It’s a testament to how good the Inspiron 16 Plus is that the 16in MacBook Pro can be considered competition, despite the Apple machine starting at £2,399. The display is wonderful if only a little sharper than the Dell’s, while the performance, sound system and battery life are all stand-out features. But is it £1,200 better than the Dell? Not in my opinion.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Design and build quality
Inspirons of yore tended to be big, styleless lumps but the new 16 Plus is a far cry from that. A solid all-aluminium affair, the design is understated and business-like. The designers have been allowed to let down their hair with the chrome strips that separate the keyboard deck from the base and surround the trackpad but, otherwise, it’s fairly plain to look at.
For a 16in machine, this Inspiron is not overly large or hefty. At 2kg it’s no heavier than the XPS 15 or MacBook Pro 16 and at 355 x 248 x 19mm it’s barely any bigger. Both those machines are far more expensive and make great play of their compact form.
The compact size owes a lot to the slender screen bezels which are only 4mm wide at the sides. If I had to find fault in the design it’s that the lid doesn’t open back beyond 135 degrees but I realise I’m being very picky here.
The range of ports is best described as adequate. On the left, you get a Thunderbolt 4 port along with an HDMI 2.0 connector and a USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 socket. There’s another USB-A on the right along with an SD card reader and an audio jack. I’d have liked to see another USB-C port but I could live with what’s there.
Remove the aluminium base plate and you can easily access the two SODIMM memory slots, the two M2 SSD bays (in the review machine, there was an empty 2240 slot and a 2280 slot occupied by an SK hynix PC711 drive) and the wireless card.
The SSD recorded sequential read and write speeds of 2,842MB/sec and 1,542MB/sec, which is absolutely par for the course for a machine with a PCIe 3.0 interface. Wireless communications are handled by Intel’s ubiquitous AX201 Wi-Fi 6 wireless card and there’s a Bluetooth 5.1 radio.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
While the keyboard deck is solid, the key travel is a little shallow for my taste at just 1.3mm, although I dare say familiarity would take the edge off.
The keys are well-spaced and there’s a full numeric keypad, the only small blemish being the half-height up and down cursor keys. The fingerprint reader is built into the power button, which isn’t my favourite location – on one occasion, I clumsily put the Dell to sleep instead of logging as I had intended.
The large 135 x 90mm touchpad is offset to the left and has a plastic rather than glass face but is otherwise a pleasure to use. Like the touchpad on the Dell XPS 15, you can click quite high up the Inspiron’s pad, almost to the very top.
The 720p webcam, on the other hand, is basic at best. In all but the best light, video looks washed out, grainy and dull. There is a privacy shutter that you can slide across the lens to protect you from prying eyes, however, which is a nice touch.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Display and audio
All Inspiron 16 Plus models come with a non-touchscreen 16in 16:10 aspect ratio IPS display with a resolution of 3,072 x 1,920 (or 3K). That gives the panel a pixel density of 225dpi which is impressively close to the MacBook Pro 16’s 254dpi, although it can’t match the 4K Dell XPS 15’s 290dpi.
Pixels aside, the Inspiron’s panel has all the bases well-covered with a maximum brightness of 285cd/m2, an excellent contrast ratio of 1,403:1 and colour reproduction that runs to 101% of the sRGB gamut. I measured the average Delta E colour accuracy was at an impressively low 1.4.
The display also has TÜV Rheinland Low Blue Light Hardware certification that claims to reduce harmful blue light emissions to optimise eye comfort over extended viewing periods.
Make no mistake for a £1,000 laptop, the display is extremely good, with high definition video playing in pin-sharp clarity and glorious colour. Watching the final battle scene from Avengers: Endgame was an absolute treat. The only holes I can pick are the basic 60Hz refresh rate and lack of a touch interface.
The sound system more than holds up its end of the job with the brace of 2W speakers delivering a punchy and nicely balanced sound no matter what the playback. It’s loud too, delivering an average of 78dB from a pink noise source measured at a distance of 1 metre. Incidentally, the speakers fire downwards from the front corners; that grill you can see above the keyboard in the pictures is a heat vent.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Performance and battery life
Even the most cursory glance at the spec sheet is enough to inform that this new Inspiron is a potent machine. Powered by an 11th generation Intel Core i7-11800H octa-core chip with 16GB of 3,200MHz DDR4 dual-channel RAM a discrete RTX-series Nvidia GPU, it should be able to turn its hand to most tasks without getting bogged down.
The Inspiron scored 254 points in our in-house productivity test which is a very respectable result, only 15 points shy of the Dell XPS 15, which uses the same processor but the slightly more powerful RTX 3050Ti GPU. There’s enough performance on tap to credibly call the Inspiron 16 Plus a budget workstation. It managed to work through the SPECviewperf2020 3dsmax 3D rendering test in 50.6 seconds which again is highly creditable for a laptop in this price range. It runs the Dell XPS 15 very close in the GeekBench 5 CPU test, too.
Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 may be the runt of the RTX family but that doesn’t preclude serious gaming. With the resolution knocked down to 1,920 x 1,080, video quality set to High and DLSS set to Balanced, Metro: Exodus benchmarked at an average of 40.5fps.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood simply wouldn’t run at the highest ‘Mein Leben’ video detail even at 1,920 x 1,080 due to a lack of video RAM; the RTX 3050 card has a meagre 4GB. However, dropping the video detail to High and running at native 3K resolution with Ray Tracing and DLSS engaged, allowed me to run the benchmark, returning an average of 59fps, which of course is the highest frame rate the 60Hz display can render.
Our usual battery rundown test using VLC drained the 86WHr battery in 9hrs 30mins which wasn’t a bad performance, all things considered. The Inspiron will certainly get you through a full day at the office provided you don’t thrash it and that’s all I expect from something with a 16in 3K display and a discrete GPU, neither of which are features known to aid efficiency.
Dell says the 130W charger will get the battery from dead flat to a 35% charge in as little as 20 minutes, which was broadly my experience, but if you don’t fancy carrying the rather large Dell power brick around with you, the Inspiron charges quite nicely via the Thunderbolt / USB-C port.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review: Verdict
Whichever way you look at it, the Inspiron 16 Plus is a lot of laptop for the money and is the most usable budget workstation I’ve come across. I’ll go further and say it’s the most competent multi-purpose laptop for around £1,000 that you can buy.
There’s nothing it can’t do. Demanding productivity? Check. Excellent media playback? Check. Decent Triple-A gaming performance? Check. The fact that all that ability is wrapped up in a smart aluminium body with a great keyboard and ample opportunities to upgrade post-purchase are just the cherries on the cake. I can’t recommend it highly enough.