Dell Chromebook 11 review: Too good to be left to the kids

Dell Chromebook 11 review: Too good to be left to the kids

Summary: Dell's Chromebook 11 may be aimed at education but its combination of solid, elegant design and good battery life gives it appeal beyond the classroom.

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Chromebooks have been carving out a niche in education — Google recently said that schools bought one million in the second quarter of this year.

Price is clearly a key consideration. Kids can be tough on hardware, so a Chromebook that's dropped, lost or used as a goalpost or a cricket bat is much less expensive than a standard notebook. Dell's Chromebook 11 comes in two models differing only in the amount of memory: a 2GB model at £179; and the 4GB at £199 (ex. VAT). But although Dell markets the Chromebook 11 as 'for education', we think this system is far too good to be left to the kids.

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Dell's 11.6-inch Chromebook 11 comes in 2GB (£179) and 4GB (£199) models. Image: Dell

Hardware

Even closed, the Chromebook 11 is a stylish package. The Dell logo is understated, and the Chrome badge provides a splash of colour against the lid's 'Foggy Night' shade of matte grey. And while the chassis of the Dell Chromebook 11 is plastic with no hint of 'chrome', the designers have certainly taken the 'book' bit to heart — the curve of the lid down towards the hinge could be a gesture towards the spine of a novel, while the rounded edges evoke a well-thumbed text. The matte plastic helps the Chromebook 11 retain its smart look, saving it from becoming a fingerprint magnet.

Open it up and the system's high-quality, thoughtful design continues. Around the inside edge of the lid is a slightly raised border, which provides a snug fit that should keep dust and dirt from getting inside when it's closed. The lower-case characters on the island-style Scrabble-piece keyboard give it a relaxed look.

It's also a keyboard built for the internet. A custom Google search button replaces Caps Lock, while a set of web-centric keys — back, forward, refresh and full-screen — replace the standard function keys. The touchpad is responsive and consistent — although, for me, the keyboard could have done with a bit more travel.

The most obvious compromise is the Chromebook 11's 11.6-inch screen, which has a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels (135ppi). The bezel is sizeable at around 2cm, and the viewing angles are limited. I also found it hard to distinguish darker colours. On the plus side, audio quality is good, the speakers producing loud, clear output when necessary. The only thing that's too loud, on occasion, is the fan. Build quality is good though — perhaps with that education market in mind. This is a solidly built device.

The Chromebook 11 is powered by Intel's 1.4GHz dual-core Celeron 2955U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics and, as noted above, either 2GB or 4GB of RAM. There's 16GB of internal storage and an SD card slot, plus two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector and an audio jack. There's no wired Ethernet port. For wireless connectivity there's dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software

The 4GB Chromebook boots very quickly (less than ten seconds) and wakes up in just a couple of seconds. But more than, say, a Windows notebook or a MacBook, you are tied into the Google ecosystem from the off as you are prompted to sign into your Google account to get the full benefits (although you can browse as a guest). Whether you find this reassuring or slightly claustrophobic will depend on your attitude towards the search giant.

There's no doubt this is a device built with the assumption of constant connectivity. Switch off the wi-fi and there's a limited amount you can do with it, unless you've planned ahead.

But that's a bit like saying you can't do much with a smartphone without a mobile signal — Chromebooks are designed to be connected, and they assume that you'll be living in the browser. And if that's what you do, you'll see little to complain about. Enterprise users requiring a specific piece of desktop software (or an installed version of Office and a traditional desktop) will be out of luck.

The 1.4GHz Celeron processor keeps everything moving along nicely — perhaps the secret of Chromebooks is that, unlike some budget laptops, the modest hardware isn't overwhelmed by the weight of the operating system. Chrome doesn't put too much pressure on modest hardware, which means Chromebooks can be cheap but not compromised — at least when it comes to web-based applications. That also helps with battery life — Dell claims ten hours, and we found that it performed pretty well (see below).

Performance & battery life

As noted above, the Dell Chromebook 11 boots up pleasingly quickly, and we found it responsive in general use. For the record, its average score on the Sunspider 1.0.2 JavaScript benchmark was a respectable 340ms. It scored 3,233 on Rightware's Browsermark 2.0 test, a result described as 'better than 51 percent of systems tested'.

As far as battery life is concerned, our tests using a multimeter to measure power consumption under different screen brightness/workload conditions produced estimates between 10.3 hours (25% brightness, system idling) and 3.5 hours (100% percent brightness, running a demanding workload) for the system's three-cell 51Wh battery. On this basis, you can expect the Chromebook 11 to last for around seven hours on average — almost a full working day.

Conclusion

Dell's Chromebook 11 offers sturdy but stylish design, reasonable performance and good battery life. Screen quality is the only significant drawback, unless you must have an Ethernet port. If you're comfortable living entirely online in the browser, it's an excellent option — especially at $179 or £199 (ex. VAT). If you're looking for more in the way of traditional desktop processing power (for photo editing and other demanding workloads for example), you'll need a notebook running Windows or Mac OS X. But even these users could consider a Chromebook as a lightweight secondary device at this price.

Pros

• Price: £199 for this quality is remarkable
• Elegant design
• Good battery life

Cons

• Screen quality is underwhelming
• Requires buy-in to the Google ecosystem

Specifications

Dimensions and weight   29.46cm x 2.46cm x 20.07cm, 1.3kg
Processor  Intel Celeron 2955U (dual core, 1.4GHz)
Operating System  Chrome OS
Memory  4GB DDR3L
Display  11.6-inch LCD (1,366x768 pixels)
Storage  16GB SSD, SD card reader
Battery  three-cell (51 WHr)
Wireless connectivity  802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Other details  Two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI port, Kensington lock slot, stereo headphone/microphone combo jack, 720p HD webcam
Price and availability  £179 (ex. VAT) 2GB version available 11 August; £199 (ex. VAT) 4GB model available 15 August 

Verdict: 9/10

Further reading

Topics: Mobility, Dell, Google, Laptops, Reviews

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107 comments
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  • Chromebooks are boring

    Chromebooks probably had a purpose pre-2010, but tablets with docking keyboards are far more modern. Chromebooks should have competed with Netbooks back in the day. If you want a tablet + computer, just get a Surface.
    Sean Foley
    • Your comments

      Are boring and repetitive.........
      Boothy_p
      • Errr

        And your comments are repetitive, boring and annoying.
        Gisabun
        • Amazing Laptop for an Amazing Price!

          I love my Dell Chromebook! I will never go back to Windows 8.1 again. This thing is amazing fast. The boot time is ridiculous. Less than 5 seconds to boot up. Everything that required a Windows program to accomplish is now available on Chrome. Even if I didn't want to use Chrome, I can still access ALL the programs that I need via iCloud site or the Microsoft Office site. Word, Pages, Excel, Numbers, Powerpoint, Keynotes, Messaging apps, Evernote, etc. The list goes on and on.

          They are all available to you online for FREE! And yes these apps work offline as well. Don't let these retards tell you that this machine is useless if your not online. Because that's simply false. The Chromium OS works offline too. It has internal memory and a slot for external memory as well. When you purchase it Google even gives you 100 GB's of storage for free as well.

          I got more storage online through all the clouds that I use than I have on my iMac 2013 at home. Its crazy! Windows is worthless compared to this. And Chromium OS is almost 100% immune to Malware and viruses just like the Mac too. That's another reason not to go with a Windows based system anymore. I have a brand new MacBook with Retina, an iPad with Retina, and a new iMac at home. And I find myself using the Dell Chromebook as my primary goto device for school and research. It's a great device and it's lots fun to use. Get it, you won't regret it!

          Recommend to check its best price at: laptopgood.wordpress.com/dell-chromebook-11/

          Hope it helps.
          Major-Manchester
    • Why not

      A chromebook, a mid range smartphone, a laptop with an i5, a 7 inch tablet and a 10 inch tablet - similar price (without going low-end brands).
      Not saying an all in one isn't better sometimes, but is it better all the time? Is the majority really interested in a multipurpose device. Asus convertibles were never much more than a niche, like it was surface so far.... I suppose Lenovo is not selling much also - their prices are close to "insane".
      AleMartin
      • What purpose is a chromebook if you already have a laptop?

        Honest question, because it doesn't offer anything a typical laptop cannot already do. Simply installing chrome on any computer and you have replicated the full range of features a Chromebook offers and all the limitations are removed.

        A chromebook is an appliance that sits between a tablet and a laptop without offering the strengths of either while introducing new limitations.

        It really is a solution looking for a problem to solve.
        Emacho
        • Re: installing Chrome on a Laptop the downside....

          The downside being you still have the mess that is Windows 8.
          5735guy
          • right, because Chome only runs on Windows8. Oh wait...

            Heck Install Linux on the Chromebook and suddenly the Chromebook goes from being an appliance to being a computer.

            Fast, secure, reliable and no Google to spy on your every keystroke.

            Of course you could install Linux on an entry level laptop and get more power and storage, but looking at that would really make the Chromebook look deficient.
            Emacho
          • ....OS: Chrome OS

            Windows costs more than the notebook. Google put their OS on it according to the article.
            Bryce Steiner
        • I need a traditional PC

          But a chromebook would be a perfect fit as a 2nd pc. I think many users would fit in my case, many others would be better with a chromebook.

          I told before in this forum that more is not always better. Maintenance and easy of use is a major plus.
          While the number/quality of web apps is still not sufficient, I believe that's the way the future goes. Cloud solutions seems to be set to be a major thing and a device like a chromebook is ideal in that environment.

          Many don't like google (and those normally like MS :) ) , but I remember MS itself is pushing cloud computing very strongly. I wouldn't be surprised to see MS releasing similar devices - not in the next year though I'm positive sure.
          AleMartin
          • Still not seeing the purpose of the chromebook

            A tablet works better as a secondary device to a laptop, because it actually offers up versatility.

            The Chromebook doesn't give you anything more than you already have. It is simply a second device that doesn't do as much, lack quality apps and such.

            Saying chromebook is fine as long as you have a real computer isn't a very good endorsement.

            Repeating "more is not always better" is just speaking clichés. When "more" includes something as simple as plugging in a printer we are not talking about high level advanced features here.
            Emacho
          • It's a good 1st and only device for many

            Just not for me.... I'm far from being the majority in my usage.
            The traditional form factor for computing devices (aka traditional laptops) have a lot of advantages still. Tablets are great but sometimes not so great.

            The propose of a chromebook is the same as a traditional PC - no key differences. The ecosystem is just a lot less mature... yet.

            Browse the web - check
            Having a good keyboard and the best pointing device - check
            Editing/creating documents - check
            Editing pics - check
            Social networking - check
            CRM - check
            ERP - check
            Health care info systems of many countries are already in the cloud - check
            Online shopping - check
            ...


            The question is more about what you don't get - all the "crap" associated with the traditional OSes.
            AleMartin
          • The form factor doesn't dictate the functionality

            Putting Android on a laptop doesn't make Android any more functional.

            It is disingenuous to call anything the Chromebook can't do as crap.

            Tell someone that wants to print to a printer or scan a document that their expectations of a computer are crap.

            This article suggests that Chomebooks are "too good for kids". Now you tell me what kids limit their computer use to just web, email and what you mention.

            I do 100% agree with you the Chromebooks need to mature. That has always been my point. The notion that a user should scale down their needs and expectations of a computer in order to justify its choice is just not rational.
            Emacho
          • You got my post wrongly

            I didn't say the things you're trying to associate with my post.
            AleMartin
          • Still not seeing the purpose of the chromebook

            Then quite trying to figure it out and go play with Windows....
            BoxOfParts
        • if there's so little point to Chromebooks

          won't they die off?

          What's the point to 3-wheel motorized vehicles? They'll never be as safe or stable as 4-wheel autos nor as fuel-efficient as 2-wheel motorcycles. Nevertheless, some people buy them.

          Here's a thought: let consumers decide.
          hrlngrv 
        • best throw away the Windows laptop.

          Because Chrome does it all and better.

          Get a nexus 7 for the truly mobile needs,and you're away. I'd never look at a laptop again.
          Heenan73
        • Chrome + Windows8 ≠Chromebook

          Just putting the Chrome browser on a Windows 8.x machine will not make it a Chromebook. You will not get the security features that are built into a Chromebook and as pointed out elsewhere, you still have to deal with MS Windows updates. Try to get sub 10 second boot and sub 3 second wake up on your Win* + Chrome laptop!
          Claude J Greengrass
          • Not to mention price

            A Chromebook is $200-$300. A $200-$300 Windows laptop will make you bang your head against the wall.
            redhaven
        • What purpose is a chromebook if you already have a laptop?

          You mean your laptop really has a 10-hour battery life?
          Darr247