Dell Inspiron 15 (3525) Review
Dell’s Inspiron budget laptop line aims to offer more-affordable machines for the mass market, in contrast to its premium XPS machines. The latest Inspiron 15 (model 3525; starts at $459; $659 as tested) keeps up that reputation, which leaves it with the more basic design and components you might expect. The laptop's performance is acceptable, but a bounty of promising, similarly priced midrange laptops, like the HP Pavilion Plus 14 and the Asus Zenbook 13, leaves little room for the Inspiron to shine.
Some budget laptops still try to look and feel like more premium models, but not the Inspiron 15. This is an all-plastic affair that leaves no doubts this is intended to be an affordable device. The plastics are fairly firm, but I noted some deck flex around the middle of the keyboard, and the screen can bend in disconcerting ways.
Beyond being flexy, the all-plastic build is slippery. The bottom has scant little grip on the table when opened up, as the grips on the hinge (its display lifts the base of the laptop up when in the open position) don't do much, leaving the laptop to slide around often on a smooth table or desk surface.
Unfortunately, this keyboard leaves little to love, without even simple white backlighting to make night typing easier. The keys are just shiny enough that they can be hard to see when positioned below certain overhead lighting. The keyboard also commits the sin of squeezing the up and down arrow keys into a tight group that makes them hard to use accurately. Some users, though, may appreciate this model's complete number pad, something that not all 15-inch laptops include—looking at you, 15-inch Surface Laptop 5—opting instead to just leave empty space on either side of the keyboard.
All told, the keyboard is serviceable, with everyday use in my testing not held back in the slightest...unless I’m in a dark room. The keys have an even feel and don’t wiggle much. They’re far from the best laptop keys I’ve typed on, but they get the job done, and I can comfortably hack away at over 100 words per minute with over 95% accuracy in Monkeytype.
For a laptop with a 15.6-inch display, the chassis, at least, is not overly large. It measures 0.83 by 14.11 by 9.27 inches, which is a tad on the thick side, but it's only a 3.65-pound laptop, reasonable for its size. Keeping the weight down shouldn’t have been a challenge given the system's low-power processor and lack of dedicated graphics, which would have necessitated heftier cooling components.
Dell sells the Inspiron 15 in a fairly broad range of configurations. At its base, the laptop will include a Ryzen 3 3250U quad-core processor, 8GB of DDR4-2400 memory, and a PCIe NVMe 128GB SSD for $459. That steps up as high as a Ryzen 7 5825U octa-core processor with 16GB of DDR4-3200 memory and 512GB of storage for $799 (though presently discounted to $649).
The model we tested fits right in the middle, with a Ryzen 5 5625U six-core processor, 8GB of DDR4-3200, and a 256GB SSD for $659 (though Dell is only displaying 128GB and 512GB storage configurations on its site). Curiously, Dell only allows Windows 11 Pro on the base model and only Windows 11 Home on the midrange model. The high-end model can have either OS version but will cost $60 more to get Windows 11 Pro.
All configurations of the Inspiron 15 (3525) come in Carbon Black and include the same display: a simple, 15.6-inch 1080p display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It has an anti-glare finish for easier visibility in varying conditions, but it’s not much to look at otherwise, especially with its bland, plastic bezels all around. The one perk of the screen is a 120Hz refresh rate, making scrolling and mouse movements feel extra smooth.
For basic use, the display is once again a serviceable aspect. The anti-glare finish goes a long way in making the display easier to see. It helps a lot that the 120Hz refresh rate makes everything on the display feel a little bit more responsive, especially scrolling and mousing around. But its visuals are paltry, lacking in color, contrast, and impact. The panel sucks the life out of TV and movies, cementing this laptop in its role as a productivity machine.
It’s a bit of a shame about the display, too, because the speakers are surprisingly poignant. Dell fits its speakers on the underside of the laptop near the outer edges. This will likely lead to them being directly covered by your thighs if used on your lap. Audio gets a little muddied when playing a lot of sounds at once, such as in busier music, and they can be a little harsh in the upper mids at high volume. Bass is also lacking, but they’re fairly loud and clear for down-firing speakers.
On a related note, the included webcam is the standard, forgettable 720p sort, though I have to say that it looks better in dim lighting than some I’ve seen. There’s no use-your-face-to-unlock support from the camera, but a fingerprint reader is built into the unlabeled power key at the top-right corner of the keyboard.
This laptop has more ports than the paltry selections on some high-end superthin laptops, albeit ones that aren’t all that exciting. It has a headphone jack, a single USB 2.0 port, and a full-size card reader on the right side. The left side includes a barrel power plug, a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port (i.e., not the fast kind), a USB-C port (also USB 3.2 Gen 1, and not for charging), and an HDMI 1.4 port that Dell rates for only up to 1080p at 60Hz, so no support for 4K or even 1440p external monitors.
Sadly, even the wireless connectivity isn't quite up to date, with an 802.11ac 1x1 Wi-Fi 5 adapter, leaving Wi-Fi 6 out of the equation and even the increased speeds available with a dual-band configuration.
To its credit, the Inspiron 15 (3525) doesn’t come with a lot of extra software to sift through. It has the My Dell software pre-installed, which provides quick access to some of the power controls of the laptop as well as some advanced sound and video streaming settings—not that those will do much good on a machine so poorly suited to entertainment.
The Dell Inspiron 15 (3525) avoids some dangerous competitors with its low pricing, but that doesn’t mean it can get off scot-free. We’ve tested a handful of midrange laptops that are within spitting distance of the Inspiron in price and feature comparable—and often better—specs.
One uses the same Ryzen 5 5625U processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage to match our test unit. That’s the HP Laptop 17 (17-cp1747nr), which puts those parts behind a bigger display at 17 inches and about the same price at $10 lower ($649).
A handful of the picks come with more capable configurations and even upgraded displays, but for not much more in asking price. These include the Asus Zenbook 13 (UM325)’s Ryzen 7 5800U with 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i’s Intel Core i5-1235U with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, and the HP Pavilion Plus 14’s Intel Core i7-12700H with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (specs you can find regularly on sale for $800). Both the Pavilion and the Zenbook can house OLED displays.
To get an idea of how a laptop stacks up in real-world productivity, we use UL's PCMark 10 to simulate office and content-creation workflows and measure overall performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and video conferencing. We also run PCMark 10's Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of a laptop's storage.
Three more of our benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon's Cinebench R23 uses that company's Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs' Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).
Our final productivity test is Puget Systems' PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe's famous image editor to rate a PC's performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It's an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.
Any score above 4,000 points in PCMark 10’s productivity benchmark we view as respectable and a strong sign that the machine will hold up well in everyday office work. All five of these laptops not only meet but exceed that metric. Unfortunately, at almost every turn, the Inspiron 15 (3525) is beaten by its four competitors.
For every single one of these tests, the Inspiron falls behind the ZenBook 13 (UM325), thanks to the latter’s upgraded processor and extra memory. The same goes for the HP Pavilion Plus, which has a huge leg up, thanks to its powerful Core i7-12700H.
The Inspiron trades some blows with the IdeaPad Flex 5i and HP Laptop 17, enough to feel like it has an even footing. However, it generally lags far enough behind the IdeaPad—an even more similarly priced and configured laptop—that it feels like Dell’s loss here.
To see how much graphical horsepower a system has, we test Windows PCs' graphics with a pair of DirectX 12 gaming simulations using UL's 3DMark Night Raid (low-intensity) and Time Spy (high-intensity) tests.
We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which stresses both low-level routines, like texturing, and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests are rendered offscreen to accommodate different display resolutions, exercise graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.
With integrated graphics on all five of the laptops explored here, there’s really not much to get excited about. They all perform rather poorly in our tests, but the Inspiron 15 (3525) and HP Laptop 17—the two using a Ryzen 5 5625U with only 8GB to share with their integrated graphics—stand out as the worst contenders by far.
The Inspiron 15’s Time Spy score is about half that of its competitors, though the HP Laptop 17 which simply couldn’t complete the test. It’s a similar story for Night Raid, with all the other laptops coming out about 50% to 75% faster, and the HP Pavilion Plus nearly doubling the Inspiron’s score.
In our GFXBench tests, the HP Laptop 17 stays well ahead of the Inspiron. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i failed one test at 1440p though came out faster in 1080p. Meanwhile, the ZenBook 13 doubles the Inspiron’s score, and the HP Pavilion Plus 14 more than triples it.
To put these scores in some perspective, the RTX 3050 Ti and Ryzen 7 5700H inside a ZenBook 15 OLED scored 4,741 in Time Spy and 34,536 in Night Raid, easily blowing integrated graphics out of the water here. It's safe to say that only the most casual of graphical tasks are ideal to run on this Inspiron 15.
To compare the battery life between laptops, we do a battery rundown test playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open-source Blender movie Tears of Steel) with the laptop’s display brightness set to 50% and audio volume at 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off.
We perform further display tests using a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure a laptop screen's color saturation—what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the display can show—and its 50% and 100% brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).
Dell's Inspiron 15 (3525) has decent battery life and a poor display, and it all just looks worse when facing the competition. Let’s look at the good news first. The Inspiron is happy to run for a while on its 41Wh battery, getting more than 9 hours on a charge in our testing. But all these other laptops were also happy to run for more than 9 hours. The IdeaPad can go over 10 hours, and the HP Laptop 17 hits over 11. These all pale in comparison to the ZenBook 13, which delivered a staggering 17 hours of runtime in our test.
Sadly, the Inspiron also has the worst display of the bunch. Maxing out at 258 nits, it’s not bright enough to use outdoors well, and its 66% coverage of the sRGB color space is too low to use for any sort of design work. The HP Laptop 17 and Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i aren’t much better, but at least the latter can hit up to 400 nits of brightness.
Meanwhile, the Asus Zenbook 13 and HP Pavilion 14 Plus have displays that are well ahead of the pack. They’re bright OLED panels, each capable of hitting over 400 nits (in SDR no less) and achieve complete coverage of the sRGB and DCI-P3 color spaces, with 97% coverage of the AdobeRGB gamut as well. The Pavilion’s display is also higher resolution and refreshes at 90Hz.
Dell's Inspiron 15 (3525) is a peppy-enough and affordable-enough home or remote work machine, but it's not very ambitious; it does little to go beyond the basics. More the concern: It’s readily overshadowed by a number of machines that outperform and outclass it. Even if the Inspiron can get the job done today, its competition has the mettle to keep doing the job tomorrow in a way the Inspiron simply can’t promise. Plus, those alternatives are much more enjoyable after work.
Many of its slightly higher-end rivals have to be on sale (and frequently are) to match it on price, but the Inspiron 15 (3525) is outclassed even by some similarly priced options, making it a difficult recommendation, with the Ideapad Flex 5i and bigger HP Notebook 17 offering a better value story.
The Dell Inspiron 15 (3525) is as simple as budget laptops come. While that may be enough for some, there are just too many excellent alternatives for not much more cash.
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