Dell is jumping on the Chromebook bandwagon after Acer, HP and Samsung, but the company is hoping to stand out by focusing on students rather than all laptop shoppers. The textbook-size Dell Chromebook 11 puts Intel Haswell power and a great keyboard and touchpad into a gorgeous shell that students will love. At $299 (as configured; starting price $279), this Dell laptop is pricier than some competing Chromebooks, but overall, it's an excellent choice.
Grade-school kids or teenagers who want to look grown-up will appreciate the sleek, sexy Dell Chromebook 11. Covered in matte-black plastic, the laptop features seductive straight edges with slightly rounded corners. We couldn't resist running our fingers along the notebook's smooth body, which, thankfully, rejects fingerprints.
Lift the lid, and you'll be treated to a glossy 11.6-inch screen facing an island-style keyboard and rounded-rectangular touchpad. The black-plastic deck also features the same faux soft-touch treatment as the rest of the body, making for a pleasing, uniform aesthetic.
A series of ports lines each side of the Chromebook. Power, HDMI and two USB 3.0 ports, as well as a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack, are on the left, and there's a Kensington lock and SD Card reader on the right.
Measuring 11.6 x 7.9 x 0.91 inches and weighing 2.8 pounds, the Chromebook 11 is chunkier and heftier than competing systems. The Acer Chromebook C720 is wider, but thinner and lighter, at 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.75 inches and 2.6 pounds, while HP's Chromebook 11 (11.7 x 7.6 x 0.7 inches; 2.2 pounds) is narrower, thinner and lighter.
We measured the gamut of the Chromebook to see how much color it could display. At 60.6 percent (the closer to 100 percent, the better), the Dell Chromebook beat the Toshiba system (60 percent) and the Acer C720P (59 percent).
The Dell Chromebook 11's reflective display resulted in some annoying glare. That's a trade-off for the protective glass layer Dell put in to guard your screen against damage. Viewing angles are limited, as colors washed out when we tilted the screen beyond 45 degrees.
At just 168 lux on our brightness meter, Dell's Chromebook 11 is dimmer than the Toshiba Chromebook 13-inch (183 lux) and the HP Chromebook 11 (218 lux). However, the Dell did outshine the Acer C720's weak 123 lux.
You'll be able to hear almost anything on the Dell Chromebook, because it delivers booming audio of decent quality. We could clearly make out Christina Aguilera's sultry voice against the drums in "We Remain," although the instrument-heavy chorus in "Sleeping with A Friend" by Neon Trees was a clanging mess of sound. The music was loud enough that our roommate could hear it from the other end of a midsize apartment.
On Laptop Mag's audio test, which involves playing a tone and measuring it from 13 inches away, the Dell Chromebook notched 94 dB, louder than the 84-dB ultraportable average, the 85-dB Acer C720 and the 89-dB HP Chromebook. It's on a par with the larger 94-dB Toshiba Chromebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The 4.0 x 2.25-inch, black, buttonless touchpad below the keyboard is roomy and responsive. You can press any part of the pad to click, and different gestures can be configured within Chrome OS. By default, tapping with two fingers triggers a right click, while swiping with two fingers lets you navigate back and forth between pages.
You'll be able to use the Dell Chromebook on your lap comfortably for longer periods of time. After streaming a video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the laptop's touchpad and underside reached a cool 75 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. That's well under our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Ports and Webcam
The integrated 720p webcam on the Chromebook 11 delivered lackluster images and video. On a video Hangouts call, our lime-green phone case with hot-pink lettering appeared pastel green and purple. Edges of doors behind us also appeared fuzzy.
On the bottom right of the screen is a clock and a set of symbols indicating Wi-Fi connectivity, battery level and the active user. Clicking on the user icon brings up a list of options for User Account, Accessibility, Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth toggle, Volume, Settings, Battery statistics (percent and time remaining), Help, Shutdown and Lock.
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Guest mode lets anyone use your Chromebook without a password in a bare-bones environment. The guest will not be able to install apps, and will only be able to access Chrome, Store and Files, but he or she will be able to download files.
From games such as "Angry Birds" and "Murder Files" to multimedia editing tools like Magisto and Pixlr, you'll find a wide range of apps. Unfortunately, because most of these are HTML5 apps, their functions are somewhat limited.
Students looking to use a Chromebook for work will find Google Drive perfectly suitable. Docs, Spreadsheets and Slideshows make Google's suite a viable substitute for Microsoft Office, even if it lacks such functions as Pivot Tables and Macros.
Many apps that tout offline capability work well, including Pixlr Touch Up, Calculator and "Cut the Rope." Some so-called offline apps, such as "Offline Solitaire" and Weather Bug, require you to start them while you have a connection before being able to use them offline. Others, such as the New York Times app, are limited without the Internet, displaying just text without images.
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The Dell Chromebook 11's 16GB SSD booted in a blazing 7 seconds, which is faster than the average for ultraportables (16 seconds), the Toshiba Chromebook 13-inch with the same chipset and 2GB of RAM (11 seconds) and the 1.7-GHz dual-core Exynos-powered HP Chromebook 11 (11 seconds). Acer's C720, with the same CPU, booted in the same amount of time as the Dell Chromebook.
On browser-based benchmarks, the Dell Chromebook continued to impress. Its score of 2,969 on Peacekeeper bested the C720 (2,955), the Toshiba (2,920) and the HP Chromebook (1,134).
Our version of the Dell Chromebook 11 came with 4GB of RAM and costs $299. Dell also offers a model with the same processor and 2GB of RAM for $279.
For about $100 less, the Acer Chromebook C720 offers similar performance and an anti-glare screen but shorter battery life and a cheaper build quality. Or, you could step up to the C720P for the same price as the Dell Chromebook 11 and get a touch screen, albeit with an hour less juice and a mushier keyboard.
Our top choice in the Chromebook category remains the 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook, which has a bigger and brighter screen than the Dell for the same $279 price. But if you're looking for a well-designed machine tailor-made for students, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a capable device that will be sure to please.
|CPU||1.4-GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell|
|Operating System||Google Chrome|
|RAM Upgradable to|
|Hard Drive Size||16GB SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed|
|Hard Drive Type|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics|
|Touchpad Size||4 x 2.25|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||SD card slot|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Kensington Lock|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Warranty/Support||Limited Hardware Warranty|
|Size||11.6 x 7.9 x 0.91 inches|