Dell: Best and Worst Laptop Brands 2013

A struggling Dell has decided to take itself private at a time its PC shipments have dropped nearly 13 percent over the past year. There have been some bright spots, including the very nifty XPS 12 convertible. However, Dell’s tech support was absolutely horrible during our last survey, with one rep pushing a sweepstakes on us. The result is a seventh place finish out of nine brands. 

Reviews (13/20)

Buoyed by Alienware, which picked up three Editors’ Choice awards in the last year and an even-rarer 5-star review (the M18x R2), Dell came in third for Reviews. The company managed a tie with HP, in part because of the 4-star XPS 12, which remains one of our favorite Windows 8 convertibles. Dell, Apple and HP were the only companies not to receive a rating of less than 3 stars.

[More: See most recent Dell laptop reviews.]

Design (11/15)

Dell’s designs have had mixed success in the past year. For instance, the Inspiron 17R SE 7720 was on the bulky side (even for a multimedia laptop), as was the Latitude E5530. Dell managed to break the business mold with the sleek and sexy Latitude 6430u. And the XPS 12’s rotating, magnetic display is a sleek take on the growing hybrid notebook trend. However, both the XPS 15 and XPS 14 draw a little too heavily from the MacBook Pro school of design.

Keyboard and Touchpad (13/15)

Dell’s laptops have consistently featured keyboards that offer excellent key spacing, travel and response as well as bright backlighting. Large wrist rests, such as the one found on the XPS 14, helped make the overall typing experience comfortable. Some models, such as the XPS 14z and 13z, however, suffered some from flex. Dell’s touchpads got high marks for their smooth operation and solid dedicated mouse buttons. The Latitude series’ sunken and concave pointing sticks didn’t impress. Alienware’s touchpads were generally nice and large, but the M14x R2 had trouble reading multitouch gestures and had spongy mouse buttons.

Tech Support (5/15)

Dismal phone service caused Dell’s tech support score to plummet this year to a last-place finish. Support.dell.com answered most of our questions, the live chat feature was successful and social networks gave us helpful responses. Phone reps, on the other hand, repeatedly gave us pushy and unnecessary sales pitches, even going so far as to fake a sweepstakes. It can only get better from here.

[More: Read Dell's Tech Support Showdown results.]

Display and Audio (7/10)

Overall, Dell’s notebook displays performed well, with a few standout notebooks, such as the Dell XPS 12’s beautiful and vivid Gorilla Glass screen. Unfortunately, the company’s score went down because the company swapped out JBL audio hardware for lower quality SkullCandy speakers like those found in the Dell Inspiron 13Z. Alienware continued to impress with outstanding video and audio, although we wished the Alienware M14X R2 featured a slightly higher-resolution screen.

Value and Selection (7/10)

Dell laptops can be purchased at Dell.com and other online marketplaces such as Tigerdirect, not to mention retailers such as Best Buy and even Walmart. The Inspiron brand targets multimedia users (the R Special Edition series), students (Z series) and anyone looking for touch (the 15z Ultrabook), while the Latitude line caters to the business crowd with durability and security. Dell lets shoppers configure many notebooks to order on its site, but we noticed some laptops are either missing key upgrade options or are priced too high relative to the competition.

Innovation (6/10)

Should Dell get credit in the Innovation category for reintroducing an idea? Yes, because the company nailed the execution with its XPS 12. The flip-hinge design Dell introduced with the Inspiron Duo makes a lot more sense now that Windows 8 is here. We found it delightfully simple to transform from laptop to tablet mode. Dell also deserves credit for being among the first to introduce the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered XPS 10 hybrid, though there hasn’t been much of an appetite thus far for Windows RT devices.

Software (3/5)

Dell usually keeps the preinstalled software load pretty light on its systems. Among Dell’s included programs are Dell Stage, a quick-launch dock and Dell Backup & Recovery. Systems that ship with fingerprint readers can be configured via Dell Access, but that won’t let you turn the system on with one swipe like Lenovo’s ThinkPads. The Latitude 6430u included Dell Smart

Settings, which tuned the display to match the environment in which the notebook sits, and Dell Battery Life, which can be used to adjust battery usage.

Best and Worst Notebook Brands 2013

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  1. Frank Says:

    Dell has the worst customer service in the industry. It intentional drags along phone conversations from purchase to tech. issues with no intention of solving your problem. On top of that, if you purchase one of there computers, there warranty has the same affect. Worthless. I have never dealt with a company the required 4 days of emails, phone calls and chat lines to purchase a computer. What speaks for itself, is that one is not able to buy a computer on the Dell website. Almost impossible to believe! Just try to configure a custom computer and see how far you get. Dell is not your friend. The “support people” will make your life miserable and what is odd, is that they seem to enjoy non resolution, conflict and hanging up on customers. IT departments take notice as you will need to find another manufacture!!

  2. Cappy Says:

    I have owned 5 dell desktops. This was my first laptop and have had nothing but problems. I will never buy Dell again.

    To be specific, the fist dell laptop had HD go in 2 weeks. They replaced this with a refurb. model which was refurbished incorrectly, and parts of Windows did not work, nor the touchpad, nor some function keys.

    Finally, thought the third one was going to be okay and the screen went. No, did not drop it. It just went.

    Tech support is polite and pleasant but a huge waste of time, hugely frustrating, and they are not the company they once were. I’d never deal with them again.

    That being said, I wonder why you rate them so highly? I have heard they and HP are the bottom of the barrel. And people I know with Samsung love their lappies as to those who have ASUS and Lenovo. So why are your results so seemingly “off”?

  3. Michael Wallace Says:

    I TOTALLY AGREE with both Frank and Cappy. I bought a Latitude D800 in 2004 and it ran GREAT for 7 long years – even after dropping the thing on a hard floor in year 3 and busting it up somewhat. Two years ago I bought an XPS15z and after two months of problems they finally replaced it. Countless hours wasted on the phone with tech support. NOW in 2013 I was STUPID enough to buy an Inspiron 17R January 9th – problems problems problems and they replaced it in April and I am STILL wasting HOURS on the phone with tech support with no satisfactory resolution. Dell is NOT the quality company they used to be! Don’t waste money and TIME and energy in anger and frustration!

  4. Melissa Says:

    Dell does have the worst customer service. I have had my computer for less than 2 months and my screen is cracked all the way across. They will not replace the screen. Says it is not covered under warranty. I was on the phone with them for over 30 minutes last night and got transferred to 4 different depts.

  5. Nevershopatdellagain Says:

    I ended up getting a Desktop computer in 2002, and 2008. The tech service was the worst I have ever dealt with before. I could hardly understand what some would say as they would not speak clear enough. They pester you to try and buy another product when all you want is help with what you have now.

    The billing was the worst of all. I would send in my payment every month and most of the time they would claim my money never got to them and sent a late fee. Often they would purposely wait and send the bill past its due and charge me a late fee on top of the bill which kept raising the price. After several years of dealing with their horrible service, I am done. I will never purchase from Dell again.

  6. Blue Man Says:

    Well I never thought it would be me. Im a brand loyalty person, like American cars, but buy Sony tvs, and up to last year always bought Dells. I have a company with 7-12 employees and 12-16 computers and a server. Always told people to buy dells. Problems started 2 yrs ago wanted to replace my server, they totally never followed up on a potential 15k sale! Bought a different server. Put almost 4k down on a precision laptop M6600 with next day pro support since I don’t want down time on my personal computer. What a disappointment. Had resume and video card problems, they eventually sent a tech to replace the mother board. Problems again in about a year. THey note this time there was a known problem with compatibility with the AMD graphics, 2 tech days later, and another set of motherboard, processor and graphics card change, its off to the depot now. This time more delays as they investigate a “liquid spill” which apparently in two days of work the tech in my office and I saw no evidence of. TRiued to resolve this but after telling me this just today, they cant get the depot any communication till MOnday,

    Former extremely loyal Dell Customer, Buying an MSI tonight, whatever that is. Maybe I’ll be a future loyal MSI customer.

  7. Nathanael Says:

    I like cute notbooks, another is simple enough!

  8. June Hale Says:

    HATE DELL IN ALL RESPECTS!

  9. Nick Says:

    Wow- I bought a dell years ago and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I’ve had a couple people tell me dells are now good computers, but reading these reminds me of the HORRIBLE experience I had– reading this was like re-living Naum (if I went there!)– I felt the ptsd.

    Dell was just on qvc— I thought, let me look us some reviews. I’m glad I still HATE dell.

    Never again. I’ll stick with HP where I’ve had NO problems and excellent customer support.

  10. Debra Buuse Says:

    Dell laptops SUCK. They overheat continuously, the cursor on the touch pad jumps all over the place no matter how you put the settings. The battery life runs out way to fast Do NOT buy a Dell… I hate this thing!!

  11. Julianna Says:

    Dell does have the worst customer service ever. I WAS a faithful dell customer for about 20 years. But they have lost my business. I recently purchased a Dell for a tax-exempt entity. Dell refused to exempt us from sales tax even though we had completed all of the paperwork. After 5 months of arguing with them we still don’t have our tax refund even though they admit in writing that we qualify, that we have completed necessary paperwork and are due the refund! What a scam

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