Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on the Dell Inspiron 14z

The Dell Inspiron 14z is one awesome looking notebook. I've seen quite a number of designs over the years and none have really made me want to use them. Which is the whole point of a computer: to use them. If a notebook makes you want to avoid using it, it's failed. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so this is merely my opinion.

So let's start with the juicy evil bits, shall we? This is just after using my Inspiron 14z for a few days.

Dell Backup and Recovery is a mess. Sure, the UI is interesting but it fails at it's primary purpose: to burn a set of Factory Restore DVDs. The Inspiron 14z needs 2 DVDs for the factory restore discs but the software only successfully burns the 1st. Pop in the 2nd blank DVD and it'll spit it back out. I've tried it on numerous blank DVDs all with the same results. I'm not the only one and it's not only this particular model that has issues.

In the end I resolved it by rebooting Windows 8 into Safe Mode then creating the factory image discs. Something's interfering with the software. Since the very 1st thing  did was to attempt the factory image discs creation I can only assume it's something preloaded by Dell. I've seen this on Dell notebooks running Windows 7 as well when Windows 7 came out so this has been around a long time. That's not a good thing.

The other thing is not really Dell's issue but Windows 8's. The control panel applet to manage wireless connections seems to have disappeared. Sure you can create new connections. That's easy. But you can no longer manage the wireless profiles on your desktop manually. This is something I happened across during initial setup since I mistyped my wireless configuration and needed to manually correct the settings. It's just not there anymore.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Windows 8 does allow manual WiFi profile management. It's just that it's all based in the command prompt. That's right, no more easy UI for us. Want to manage things manually? Head over to the console.

Aside from these I haven't noticed any major problems yet. The new Start Screen being what it is will take some getting used to. Since this isn't my primary computer, it'll just take me longer than usual to acclimatise myself. I wouldn't consider it a big issue right now, but we'll see.

Design-wise I certainly love the slimness of the new notebook. Dell advertises the Inspiron 14z as an Ultrabook so maybe I should refer to it as such. In any case, I think Ultrabook is just a fancy name for "expensive".

Performance-wise Windows 8 certainly feels fast. Start up time as well as general response times are good. I haven't tried getting any hard numbers yet but subjectively the notebook does feel much lighter on its feet than my desktop running Ubuntu 12.10. Canonical has a lot of work to do.