I didn't spend too much time with the Inspiron 1520 because I was afraid I'd get lead poisoning (I also heard that chewing on a Dell produces an effect similar to a date-rape drug).
I may be exaggerating a little, but I'm being serious when I say that the new Dell laptops have to be the cheapest-feeling computer my hands have ever hovered over. I don't know about you, but I consider my notebook computers (less so, my desktops) a core possession like a watch or a car. Just like I'd spend a little more on those items, I'd gladly shell out a few extra bucks to type on a computer that gives me that little rush of pleasure when I open it up. The Dell 1520 elicits "ughs." The main problem is the low-quality-feeling plastic used all over (no contrasting textures); it just doesn't feel like superior material.
Although the laptop is quite heavy at 6 1/2 pounds, and it seems strong under the aforementioned plastic, the hinges still creak and the gaps aren't uniform. The multimedia buttons on the front panel are much worse than the previous generation Inspiron, E1505. Instead of the round, protruding, and easy to find round ones on the E1505, the 1520 has toy-like, recessed buttons on the front that are harder to find and whose click quality varies from button to button.
Not quite as bad as the case is the keyboard. It works well enough, but is a notch below those from HP and IBM. After typing a few minutes, I noticed that my fingertips would occasionally grab the corner of a key on the way up, a disconcerting feeling. Most computer manufacturers use a different material for the touch pad, either a textured or near-metallic plastic. The Inspirons' work well, but feels as plasticy-cheap as the rest of the computer, with the buttons making a timid-sounding click. At least the touch pad has a vertical and horizontal scroll.
If you can believe it, Dell managed to make the new Inspiron uglier than the E1505. It's truly the Pontiac Aztech of laptops. The lid has colors! Weeee! But the keyboard is painted the same color gray as the body-an ugly effect (Maybe they saved the keyboard paint for the lid.)
Dell made the lid thinner than the one on the E1505, but allowed the laptop to be only .03 inches more slender and bigger overall without adding any new ports: Good job.
The screen is of the controversial glossy type. Dell calls it "TrueLife." I call it an annoying Rube-magnet. Dell:
"A TrueLifeTM display has up to a 10% higher contrast ratio than the same display with an anti-glare coating. Dell TrueLife technology delivers darker blacks and colors that pop for vivid graphics and lifelike video..."
O.K. But, since the only difference is the coating, you don't actually get better quality- you just get shinier. Are you willing to put up with annoying glare 90% of the time for that one quiet weekend a month you bust out your Special Edition Superman II? Even without glare, I think a matte screen has a more inviting, comfortable illumination. Unlike the previous generation Inspiron, however, you can ask for a matte screen.
Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut
Dell gives you an option of three resolutions. WSXGA (1680x1050) WXGA+ (1440x900) and the one you're likely to encounter at Staples and Walmart, WXGA (1280x800). The higher the resolution, the more you fit on screen (good), but the smaller everything is (maybe not good). For a 15.4", I think WXGA+ is best for most people.
I compared the glossy screen with some of the Sony and HP offerings. I brought up the same wallpaper picture on each computer and concentrated on it for about two or three minutes. I understand it's totally subjective, but I found the Sony screens to be the sharpest followed the HP and then the Dells. The Dells have a soft haze about them that's barely perceptible when placed next to its competition.
Speakers are still on the base which means that you can listen to the computer while the lid is closed (and admire its beauty), but the sound is projected downward instead of strait at you.
While Dell looks bad, it has a good personality. Its components are top notch. You get the latest Intel Core 2 Duo Processors with the 1520 and the Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Mobile Technology with the 1521 (Although the benchmark chart below is a little dated, the Intel mobile processors are still much better than the AMD ones.)
For 1520 benchmarks, go here.
Where the Dell stands out- and this will drive a majority of its sales- is in the graphics department. Computer companies don't think much of people who buy their computers in retail stores. Besides the emphasis on shininess, computer manufacturers don't include components that increase the price, but stand a chance of not getting noticed. The average buyer looks at processor speed, memory, and maybe hard drive space. They don't normally look at video processing speed which is why its been difficult to find a laptop with good video at a Best Buy or Circuit City.
In the past, only gamers cared about it, but with Vista's ridiculous Aero interface requiring 3D acceleration, it's something people need to consider. For games, DirectX 10, which only runs on the 8 series nvidia cards and the 2 series ATI cards, may count for something in a couple of years (when you'll be shopping for your next laptop).
Anyways, Dell has video power in spades. You have the option of an NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS with 128MB of memory or its bigger brother, the Go 8600 GT with 256MB. This is the only reason to buy this computer over another one. If you still want this computer for some reason, don't game, and want to save some money and battery life, you can go with an ATI Radeon Xpress with shared memory. The 1420 only comes with the 8400 GS which is much better than most 14" notebooks.
Another thing that's hard to find, but I like to have is Bluetooth. With Bluetooth, you can sync your phone, use dongle-less mice, and connect GPSs and stuff. It also has a cool Bluetooth remote control and something that lets you watch movies and view photos without booting up called "Easy Media Access" which I've never used in my life and don't think I would if I had four more.
Unlike the Thinkpads, the Dell 1520 only comes with the newer Express card slot. If you use a PCMCIA PC card wireless modem, you're out of luck. Everything else is about what you'd find on any modern laptop (The memory card will still not accept Compact Flash).
There's a 14" version available called the 1420 and if you want maximum ugly, you can get the 17" 1720 or 1721.