For about the same price as a tablet, you can get the Dell Inspiron 17 -- complete with a huge 17.3-inch screen and real computing power. That's a steal, experts say. It's their favorite cheap laptop.
No compromises required. Reviewers skip the base configuration with its less-than-desirable Pentium processor and instead look at a still-thrifty version that costs around $500. To get this bargain price, "you don't have to give up any performance," PCMag.com concludes. This Inspiron 17 configuration offers up a Core i3 processor -- and you can upgrade further to Core i5 -- that breezes through day-to-day tasks in tests as well as (or better than) like-priced rivals with smaller screens.
It "won't be great at 3D gaming," PCMag.com says, "but someone serious about gaming will be prepared to spend more than $500 on any PC in any case." As for battery life, testers clock just under four hours of web surfing or video streaming -- "decent for a 17-inch notebook," Laptop Magazine says.
Roomy, comfy keyboard and touchpad. Typing feels refreshingly comfortable on the Dell Inspiron 17, thanks to a full-size keyboard with nice, springy keys and even a full numeric keyboard on the right. The multi-touch trackpad is just as roomy and responsive. "Our fingers glided across the soft-touch panel. Multitouch gestures such as two-finger rotate, three-finger swipe and four-finger press were a breeze to use, as were the Windows 8 gestures," Laptop Magazine says.
You also get a full array of ports and a CD/DVD burner -- but no touch screen. "A touch screen would make Windows 8 easier to use, but alas even if it were available as an option, it would definitely boost the price of the system over $500," PCMag.com says. Configurations that come with Windows 7 are also available.
Looks more expensive than it is. The Inspiron 17 "doesn't look cheap," Laptop Magazine says. The textured lid and interior look good (and make the big Inspiron easy to grip, PCMag.com points out). The whole thing feels sturdy. The big screen isn't full HD, but at 1600 by 900 pixels, it's sharper than most budget laptops. Plus, its vast 17.3-inch size lets you easily watch movies with a couple of friends. The speakers aren't the best, though; they're loud, but tinny.
Strong warranty, but weak phone support. Dell backs the Inspiron 17 with a one-year warranty, including in-home service after remote diagnosis of a warranty-covered problem. "Premium phone support" (with faster answering times and more extensive help) is included for 90 days. Unfortunately, Dell's phone support flunks a test at Laptop Magazine.
Reps "repeatedly gave us pushy and unnecessary sales pitches, even going so far as to fake a sweepstakes" to sell an expensive extended warranty, testers say. They rank Dell dead-last among laptop brands for tech support. Although Dell does improve its tech-support score in this year's PCMag.com reader survey, it still doesn't win a Readers' Choice award (which also considers reliability).
A fantastic value. The Dell Inspiron 17 packs a lot into a low-priced package. With its big screen, big keyboard, full feature set and snappy performance, it's "a true home and student workhorse PC for about the same price as a tablet," PCMag.com says. Laptop Magazine agrees. "If you're looking for a budget machine with a big screen, the Dell Inspiron 17-3721 is a fantastic value."
1. Laptop Magazine
"Solid" performance, a big screen and a small price earn the Dell Inspiron 17 an Editors' Choice award here. The big, comfy keyboard and roomy touchpad are also well-liked. It's not built for gaming, but otherwise, Sherri L. Smith finds no real drawbacks in her real-world and benchmark testing.
Review: Dell Inspiron 17-3721 Review, Sherri L. Smith, March 12, 2013
The Dell Inspiron 17 is an Editors' Choice here, too. Despite its budget price, this cheap laptop doesn't skimp on features or performance, Joel Santo Domingo concludes after testing it against its rivals.
Review: Dell Inspiron 17-3721, Joel Santo Domingo, March 25, 2013
ConsumerReports.org ranks dozens of laptops (including the Dell Inspiron 17) from best to worst, based on its own unbiased tests. Editors rate laptops' performance, ergonomics, portability and more, explaining each one's pros and cons in a short write-up.
Review: Dell Inspiron 17, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
4. Laptop Magazine
Dell flunks this phone-support test. Laptop staffers can't get reps to answer simple questions, and one fakes a sweepstakes to push an expensive extended warranty. Dell's web-based tech support does better, but Dell still places dead-last among eight laptop brands for tech support.
Review: Tech Support Showdown 2012, Editors of Laptop Magazine, Sept. 17, 2012
Dell's tech-support score improves in this year's PCMag.com reader survey. That said, it still ranks below average among 10 laptop brands.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013 Winners: Laptops and Desktops, Ben Gottesman, Feb. 20, 2013