Big-screen convertible laptops are heavy and ungainly to use as tablets, with their screens folded completely behind the keyboard. But plenty of people still opt for big laptops like the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition for other uses. With a 15.6-inch 4K display and a built-in holder for the included digital stylus, it could serve as a capable canvas for digital artists. But competition in this laptop category has heated up since we last reviewed the Black Edition in 2019, and while the new model ($1,567.99 as tested) is an improvement, packing one of the first implementations of Intel’s Iris Xe Max discrete graphics, it can’t match the excellent HP Spectre x360 15 on value, performance, or features.
Dell’s Most Premium 2-in-1
Dell doesn’t currently offer a 2-in-1 convertible version of its XPS 15 laptop, so the Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition is the company’s most premium large-screen convertible for consumers. The “Black Edition” moniker evokes this premium perch in the lineup, but it also is a literal description of the machine itself. Unsurprisingly, the Black Edition is quite black, though not inky. The paint scheme, which Dell calls “Element Black,” actually has a hint of shininess, and appears almost silver in bright light, as you can see below. That makes the Inspiron look sleek and modern, rather than stodgy and corporate.
The Black Edition comes in the single configuration and color scheme reviewed here. But Dell also offers a standard Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 that lacks some of its big brother’s features (notably, there’s no included stylus), but offers configurable components. The base model, with a Core i5 and a full HD display, starts at around half the price of the Black Edition. Meanwhile, the Black Edition features the premium components you’d expect from a more expensive laptop. This includes a crisp 4K display with a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. You also get a Core i7-1165G7 from Intel’s latest (11th Generation “Tiger Lake”) processor family, as well as 16GB of RAM and a roomy 1TB SSD. The Black Edition is also notable for being among the first laptops to come with Intel’s new Iris Xe Max discrete graphics processor, although we find its performance to generally be lackluster when compared with the entry-level discrete GPUs from Nvidia that are available on the Spectre x360 15.
The Black Edition is rather large and it weighs 4.2 pounds, which places it firmly above the 3-pound limit we apply to the ultraportable laptop category. But the dimensions aren’t out of character for models with 15-inch screens. The Inspiron measures 0.65 by 14 by 9.4 inches (HWD), which means it’s roughly the same size as the Spectre x360 15 and the Lenovo Yoga C940, its other main competitor in the 15-inch 2-in-1 arena. The XPS 15 is also roughly the same size and weight.
You can get 15-inch laptops in smaller packages, but they typically lack 360-degree hinges. For instance, the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 measures 0.57 by 13.4 by 9.6 inches and weighs 3.4 pounds. These machines are lighter and easier to hold with one hand, but since you can’t flip the screen over, the added portability isn’t as useful. Such is the paradox of large-screen convertible laptops, which has some exceptions but generally holds true. You can either have a heavy, flexible laptop or a lighter, slimmer one that doesn’t have a convertible hinge and therefore isn’t as flexible.
A bit of added heft should go hand in hand with a sturdy, well-built, and well-engineered chassis, and the Black Edition does not disappoint on this front. The build quality is rock-solid, with minimal flex in the keyboard deck and the display. The hinge is satisfyingly stiff, with a screen that hardly moves when you tap or draw on it.
A Potent Digital Canvas
Tapping on the display is the Black Edition’s signature feature (other than the striking black color scheme). You can do it with your fingers, or with the included digital stylus, whose prominent home in a groove beneath the screen means it’s always close at hand. There’s a lot to like about the stylus, which magnetically attaches to its storage dock without cajoling, and even recharges its internal battery while it’s stored. It has the standard 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity we expect from premium digital pens, as well as tilt detection and a button to activate the eraser feature in some apps. The Black Edition’s digital pen, which isn’t available on the standard Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1, also has some drawbacks. It’s much smaller than a standalone digital stylus like the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Surface Pen, so it may be difficult to use for artists already accustomed to a larger accessory. While its decagon profile prevents it from rolling off your desk when you set it down, I found it uncomfortable to hold for extended periods. The many ridges started digging into my middle and index fingers.
The Inspiron’s display is a canvas worthy of spilling some digital ink upon. The 4K resolution sets it apart from most other laptop panels, even premium ones like the Dell XPS 13 whose base configurations come with lower-resolution full HD displays. Dell says it can deliver the entire sRGB color spectrum, and colors did indeed appear brilliant while I watched short YouTube clips. The panel also features Dolby Vision HDR, for inkier blacks that are in keeping with the Black Edition theme.
The only downside to the screen is its relatively low maximum brightness level of 300 nits. I kept the brightness turned up to the maximum during my entire time testing the Black Edition in daylight hours.
An Uncomfortable Keyboard and Touchpad
Above the screen, there’s a webcam that offers adequate quality for informal videoconferencing in brightly lit rooms. It also features IR sensors for face recognition. This lets you log in to your Windows account without typing your password. As an added bonus, the IR sensors that flank the camera lens leave enough room for a sliding privacy door, which provides extra peace of mind for people who are constantly videoconferencing throughout their day of working from home.
You can also log in to your Windows account using the power button, which has a built-in fingerprint reader. The button is located in the upper right portion of the keyboard, above the dedicated number pad. Spreadsheet jockeys will appreciate the dedicated number pad, once a standard feature on 15-inch laptops. But the reason the number pad is disappearing on such laptops is painfully apparent on the Black Edition, whose board feels cramped to accommodate the extra keys on the right. I would have preferred standard-size keys instead, though your preference may differ depending on how much you type and how often you need to enter numbers.
I also find the Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1’s buttonless, clickable touchpad to be uncomfortable. I appreciate its large size and its position centered beneath the space bar, but its clicking mechanism is too stiff. Clicks are easy enough in the bottom half of the pad, but impossible to accomplish in the upper portion without applying enough pressure to bend the keyboard deck.
Audio quality from the Black Edition’s stereo speakers is above average for a laptop. I encountered dimensional dialogue and a reasonable supply of bass during my time testing the laptop. Sound emanates from two grilles on the underside of the machine, along the lower right and left edges. This means the sound profile will be slightly different when you’re using it propped up as an easel, since in that mode the grilles won’t be directly facing your desk and bouncing the sound off of it.
More USB-C Ports Would Be Nice
The bigger the laptop, typically the more room it has for input and output ports. The Black Edition’s offering is somewhat disappointing, however. It does include a microSD card slot, a full-size HDMI port, and two USB Type-A connectors, all of which are often missing from ultraportable designs. But it includes only a single USB Type-C port, which could cramp your style if you’ve got several peripherals that use this newer standard, or were hoping to charge the laptop via USB-C. At least the USB-C port does include Thunderbolt 4 support for lightning-fast data transfers.
There’s a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack on the left edge, and a dedicated power port for the AC adapter’s proprietary plug. Meanwhile, wireless connection options on the Black Edition include Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth.
Dell supports the Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition with a standard one-year hardware warranty. Extensions and additional options, like accidental damage coverage, cost extra.
Testing the Black Edition: Decent Performance, But Xe Max Is No Scorcher
Besides the additional screen real estate, one of the key reasons to choose a larger laptop is better performance. With more room for fans, heat pipes, and other thermal management techniques, manufacturers can fit more-powerful silicon in their larger enclosures. That’s not quite the approach Dell has taken with the Black Edition, however. It includes a Core i7 meant for thin and light laptops, not the more powerful H-series Core i7 that requires better active cooling and is typically found in 15-inch machines. (See more about how we test laptops.)Graphics capabilities are also limited. While the Inspiron does have the upgraded “Max” version of Intel’s Iris Xe graphics silicon, performance is still much less than you can expect from an entry-level gaming GPU like the Nvidia GeForce GTX series. To see how the Black Edition’s specs compare with its predecessor and some of its key competitors, check out the chart below. Both the Spectre x360 15 and the Yoga C940 are equipped with the potent combination of an H-series Core i7 and a GeForce GTX 1650.
Productivity and Media Performance
These more powerful components don’t necessarily put the Inspiron at a disadvantage when it comes to handling basic everyday tasks like word processing. Our PCMark 10 test shows that the latest Black Edition is far more proficient at such tasks than its predecessor, and essentially equal with the HP and the Lenovo. (PCMark 10 measures office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing.)
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. Again, the Black Edition shows no deficiencies here.
But on more resource-intensive tasks like rendering an image using all available CPU cores and threads in Maxon’s Cinebench, the Spectre and Yoga are clearly better. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-transcoding trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. The Black Edition is about five minutes slower than the Spectre and the Yoga on this test.
While photo manipulation in Adobe Photoshop is also resource-intensive, it doesn’t tax components in the same way that video rendering does. As a result, the Black Edition holds its own with the Spectre and the Yoga on our photo editing trial, which involves applying a series of filters and effects to a JPG image.
Gaming Performance and Battery Life
The Intel Iris Xe Max is no gaming powerhouse, as our 3D graphics simulations show. The new Black Edition is slightly better at rendering detailed 3D gaming-style graphics than its predecessor is, but it’s far worse than either the Yoga or the Spectre on the Superposition and 3DMark tests.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff.
Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, and a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Battery life is one bright spot for the Inspiron Black Edition. It lasted more than 13 hours on our rundown test, which involves playing a 720p locally stored video with W-Fi and Bluetooth turned off and screen brightness set to 50%. This is comparable to the Yoga C940’s time, and an excellent result for a machine with a power-hungry 4K display. The Black Edition’s efficient processor and relatively dim maximum brightness likely helped significantly in this test.
A Sleek Digital Canvas
The Black Edition’s key strengths are straightforward. It’s a large digital canvas for artists or other creative types who like to interact with their laptops the way they would pen and paper. The 4K screen and included stylus are admirable tools for these types of tasks. And the sleek black color scheme will help you stand out while you write or draw on the screen.
However, there are disappointing elements to the Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition as well. The keyboard and touchpad could use a rethink, and the decision to forgo an Nvidia graphics chip and an H-series Intel processor means that the Black Edition is underpowered compared with its competitors. Most people looking for a 15-inch convertible notebook would be better served by the Spectre x360 15.