The best all-in-one currently available is Dell’s XPS One 27. Big, beautiful, powerful and packing a high-res display, the XPS One 27 has twice received four and a half stars from us, and earned an Editor’s Choice in its most recent review. Few computers come closer to perfection.
Yet, in spite of all it offers, Dell’s biggest all-in-one has a problem: the price. The base model goes for $1,599, and more powerful variants with discrete graphics start at $2,099. You get what you pay for, but also pay for what you get.
Walking this tightrope between affordability and quality is difficult, and like so many others, the Inspiron 23 trips and tumbles off.
Now Dell is trying to take the XPS experience down-market with its new Inspiron 23. Though its name is similar to the older Inspiron 23 One, this new model is completely re-designed, boasting both new hardware and an entirely new chassis.
Pricing starts at a more affordable $999, which buys a Core i3-4000M processor, 6GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Our review unit, the top-shelf variant, boasts a Core i7-4700MQ and Radeon HD 8690M graphics, upgrades that bump the price to $1,399.
That’s not exactly budget-friendly, but it’s a good $200 less than the entry-level XPS 27, and those without a need for discrete graphics should not feel ashamed for buying the $999 version. The question, however, is whether lowering the price has also lowered quality.
An Inspiring Inspiron
The Inspiron brand has always felt a bit odd: The name hints at inspiration and innovation, but Dell applies it to only the most basic laptops and desktops. The new Inspiron 23 is, for once, an exception to this rule. Clad in thick plastic and supported by a beefy metallic stand, this all-in-one feels very much like the XPS 27’s little brother. Indeed, it in some ways feels even sturdier, as the more compact frame allows for a tighter, more secure feel.
This impression carries over to build quality. Panel gaps are almost non-existent when the system is viewed from the front, and while they’re more easily located from the rear, consumers will rarely see the system from that angle. Unfortunately, the attractive design doesn’t allow for much ergonomic adjustment; height and tilt are the only options, and height adjustment is very limited.
Unlike the XPS 27, which follows traditional all-in-one construction by placing the hardware behind the display, the Inspiron 23 crams everything into the stand. This means the ports are located there, too, which has pros and cons. The right-side connections, which include two USB 3.0 ports and a card reader, are a bit more convenient and less awkward than they would be along the side of the display. Yet the rear connections, which include two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and audio, are more difficult to access than they would be on the rear panel.
There are two other connectivity features to note. First, the bundled mouse takes up one USB port, effectively leaving the user with only three to choose from. And second, there are two HDMI ports; one for video-out, one for video-in. This means the Inspiron 23 can be a monitor for an external source, such as a cable box or a game console.
Dell makes some of the world’s best monitors, and that technology often trickles over to the XPS line of laptops and all-in-ones, most of which have amazing displays. The Inspiron 23, however, is not an XPS, and this unfortunately means it has to make do with an unimpressive touchscreen.
The problem is not color gamut, which in our tests proved strong, rendering 95 percent of sRGB. Nor is it brightness, which at about 240 lux, is more than adequate. Instead the trouble is depth of black, which led to a disappointing overall contrast score of 200:1 with the screen at maximum brightness.
Subjectively, the lack of deep blacks leads to a washed-out look which doesn’t show media or games in the best light. Areas which should be dark are bright gray and shadow detail is often obscured, a problem particularly noticeable in movies. While the 1080p screen offers a sharp picture, it’s not the best choice for entertainment.
The Inspiron 23’s speakers are found in the base and provide decent volume but, like the display, are otherwise unexceptional. Sound staging is a problem, as with most all-in-ones, and distortion starts to become noticeable as the volume exceeds 75 percent of maximum. Mid-range sounds, including spoken dialogue, can sometimes be lost in the attempt to reproduce base. Once again, this is a flaw most noticeable when enjoying movies.
Though not branded with the XPS label, the Inspiron 23 ships with a pair of quality peripherals commonly found alongside Dell’s most expensive desktops. While the keyboard only has basic multimedia function keys, and the mouse has just three buttons, both have a solid feel and are pleasing to use for hours at a time. The mouse also uses a laser sensor from Logitech, which means it is more precise than most of its bundled brethren.
Star of track and field
The Core i7-4700QM in our review unit, though technically a mobile processor, scored very well in our benchmarks even when compared to other all-in-ones. SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark turned in a result of 108.3 GOPS while 7-Zip reached a combined score of 19,054. These numbers almost tie the last XPS 27 we reviewed and virtually double the scores we received from Acer’s Aspire Z3.
PCMark 8’s Creative benchmark, which simulates a stressful workload, also looked favorably on the Inspiron 23 with a score of 3,597. That’s the highest we’ve seen so far, though to be fair, all the systems we’ve run the benchmark on thus far have been laptops. The PCMark storage test came to a result of 4,682; good, but not above average.
While most versions of this all-in-one use Intel HD 4600 graphics, our review unit arrived with a Radeon HD 8690M that turned in a 3DMark Cloud Gate score of 7,091 and a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 1,092. These numbers are about 40 percent better than Intel’s integrated solution, and that means the Inspiron 23 can play most any game, though detail settings will have to be kept low to achieve an enjoyable framerate in the most demanding titles.
Efficient, but loud
Power testing showed this all-in-one returning average results. Consumption at idle was up to 32 watts, while consumption at load reached as high as 77 watts. The idle result is close to other all-in-ones we’ve recently reviewed, like the Acer Aspire Z3 and Vizio CA24T, but the load number is high. This is obviously a result of the hardware, as the Inspiron 23 blows both those systems away in benchmarks. We expect that the entry-level version of this system, which has a dual-core processor and lacks discrete graphics, will consume far less power at load.
Unfortunately, the added performance and power draw also leads to excess heat, which keeps the system fan busy. A subtle whirr can be heard at all times, even at idle, and the noise rises to a racket during load. While our decibel meter indicated a moderate 44.7 decibels, the fan has a high-pitched tone that is unusually annoying. Buyers with sensitive ears might want to spring for the Dell XPS One 27 which, unlike its little brother, is almost silent in most situations.
Dell’s Inspiron 23 is a confused product. On the one hand it’s an Inspiron, and in the company’s brand mythology that means affordable. Yet on the other, this clearly isn’t an entry-level product. Pricing starts at $999, already more than most consumers want to spend, and stops just south of the bigger, more powerful Dell XPS One 27.
Walking this tightrope between affordability and quality is difficult, and like so many others, the Inspiron 23 trips and tumbles off. The problem is value. At $1,399, our review unit is only $200 less than the Dell XPS One 27 and Lenovo IdeaCentre A730, a pair that offers better displays and, in the case of the XPS 27, even faster performance. We have a hard time seeing why a buyer shouldn’t spend the extra money for those bigger, better alternatives.
The $999 model is priced more competitively with other 23-inch systems like the Lenovo A520, HP Pavilion 23 and Acer Aspire Z3. Yet this version is still at the high end of the category and, in the process of reaching the sub-$1,000 market, completely loses its performance advantage. This makes the Inspiron 23 yet another unremarkable mid-range computer.
One fact saves this Dell from irrelevance: The mid-range AIO market is a bit of a mess. Most systems in the category suffer from poor performance and sub-par display quality, making them hard to recommend. Still, if you really must buy an AIO, and you can’t spend more than $1,000, give the Inspiron 23 a look.
- Attractive design
- Supports HDMI-out and HDMI-in
- Fast, well-rounded performance
- Low-contrast display
- Poor audio quality
- System fan is annoying at load
- Expensive for a 23-inch AIO
- Affordable models lose performance advantage