Kids are often clumsy, forgetful or both. The $219 Dell Chromebook 11 ($239 as reviewed) may not be a powerful machine, but it is MIL-STD-810G tested to withstand drops and shocks. It will also last an entire school day if your young student forgets to plug it in. Unfortunately, a bland display and the unresponsive keyboard means that older students may want to move on to something better as their workload increases.
You can sum up the Chromebook 11's looks in two words: gray plastic. It's a paint job that screams, "I'm meant to be used as a tool." The lid features Dell's logo in the center, the Chrome emblem on the top-left corner and an oblong LED (see more on that below) on the top right. The edges of the notebook are made of a rubberized black material.
Dell claims that the Chromebook 11 is MIL-STD 810G tested for durability, extreme temperatures, shocks, vibration and spills on the keyboard.
When you open the notebook, you'll see an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display; an island-style keyboard; and a large, lumpy hinge with speaker grilles.
At 11.7 x 8.6 x 0.8 inches and 2.8 pounds, the Dell is heftier than other 11-inch Chromebooks. The HP Chromebook 11 G4 (11.8 x 8.1 x 0.8 inches) weighs 2.1 pounds, the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (11.8 x 8.2 x 0.8 inches) is 2.5 pounds and the Asus Chromebook C202 (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.8 inches) is 2.6 pounds.
The Chromebook 11 has a few ports along the sides of its small frame. The left side of the laptop is where you'll find the power jack, USB 3.0 port, HDMI output, headphone jack and SD card. On the right side, you'll find a single USB 2.0 port and a Kensington lock slot.
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display on the Chromebook 11 is rather dull; it somehow managed to make the trippy trailer for "Doctor Strange" boring. When I watched the preview, a sorcerer's yellow robe didn't pop like it did on better screens, and Doctor Strange's spells, which are supposed to be a deep emerald, were lime green. The sparks in a spinning ring of fire appeared to be a blobby mass rather than individual specks of flame.
The screen reproduces just 54 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which makes it far less vivid than the ultraportable category average of 95 percent. It's a problem that plagues other 11-inch Chromebooks, too: The Asus Chromebook C202 and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (both tied at 58 percent) and the HP Chromebook 11 G4 (62 percent) weren't much more colorful.
Dell's screen has a Delta-E color accuracy score of 3.4 (the closer to 0, the better). That's worse than the category average (2.1), the Asus Chromebook C202 (2.8) and the Chromebook 11 G4 (3.2), but better than the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (4.6).
The Chromebook 11's average brightness is 253 nits, which means you have to turn up the brightness setting to get a decent view. The average ultraportable's brightness is 300 nits, but you could do worse: The Asus Chromebook C202 measured a dim 250 nits, while the Lenovo 100S Chromebook and the HP Chromebook 11 G4 had even gloomier results, at 244 nits and 192 nits, respectively.
I'm not sure how much homework I could get done with the Chromebook 11's keyboard. The keys' 1.3 millimeters of travel (we prefer 1.5 to 2 mm) and 58 grams of force required to press them made typing feel mushy. I managed to reach 106 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test (fairly standard for me), but my error rate increased from 2 percent to 3 percent.
The buttonless touchpad is smooth and responsive, and I had no issue using three fingers to scroll sideways between tabs in Chrome.
The Chromebook 11 pushes out some surprisingly clear sound that was just loud enough to fill a small conference room. When I listened to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," the vocals, drum and tambourine were crisp and lively, though they occasionally overpowered the guitar. The bass, unfortunately, was nowhere to be found.
Our Dell Chromebook 11 packed a 2.16-GHz Intel Celeron N2840 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 16GB solid-state drive, and it proved to be best at sticking to just a few tasks at a time. I had eight tabs open (including one streaming 1080p video from YouTube) before I started noticing lag. Young students completing simple tasks won't mind, but older students browsing the web for sources for a research paper may find themselves frustrated.
The Dell Chromebook 11 displayed 2,000 fish at a stuttering 28 frames per second on the WebGL Aquarium graphics test. The Asus Chromebook C202 showed off similar graphical ability (27 fps), but the ultraportable category average is far higher, at 45 fps.
The Chromebook 11 lasted 10 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, surpassing the 8:03 ultraportable category average. That means it will last the whole school day as well as through a few extracurricular activities. Only the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (11:19) endured longer, while the HP Chromebook 11 G4 (7:10) and the Asus Chromebook C202 (8:23) had significantly less stamina.
The 720p webcam took dark, grainy photos, but captured detail well. A shot I snapped in our office made my cream-colored shirt look gray, and my light-brown hair appeared a dark chestnut color. The picture showed off my dimple and even some of the text on a box several feet behind me. While the camera was fine in well-lit scenarios, pictures in more challenging, low-light environments were extra grainy and hard to see.
Whether it's resting on a lap or a crammed school desk, the Chromebook 11 will keep its cool. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the bottom hit 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the center of the keyboard reached 91 degrees and the touchpad was 86 degrees. All of these temperatures fall below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
As the name intimates, the Dell Chromebook 11 runs Chrome OS. If you've used the Chrome browser, the operating system will be a piece of cake.
The only preinstalled software on the Chromebook 11 is Dell's Activity Light, which lets you change the color of the LED on the lid; you can pick red, blue or yellow. Dell suggests that students could use it to signal when they have questions, answers or need to speak with a teacher. It's clever, but I'd rather see a Chromebook with a better keyboard or even more battery life. Students can continue to raise their hand in class, and Dell can continue to work on a stronger machine.
The Chrome Web Store offers a number of apps, including productivity software such as Microsoft Word and games like Cut the Rope. The majority of apps require your Chromebook to be connected to the web, though some, like the offline version of Gmail, work without an internet connection. Android apps will be coming to some Chrome OS devices this year.
The Dell Chromebook 11 we reviewed cost $239 and came with a 2.16-GHz Intel Celeron N2840 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 16GB SSD and a 1366 x 768 display. For $249, you can get the same internals, but with a blue-and-gray lid and a blue keyboard.
At $219, the base model is slightly cheaper and almost identical, except it comes with 2GB of RAM instead of 4GB. The $269 model upgrades you to an IPS HD display, and a $329 version adds a touch screen; both have resolutions of 1366 x 768.
The Dell Chromebook 11 is aimed at educators and students. Thanks to its durable, rubberized edges and a MIL-STD-810G-tested design, it can withstand the rigors of school. And with over 10 hours of battery life, it will last through the school day (even if you forget to shut it down at recess).
However, a dull display and mushy keyboard keep the laptop off the honor roll.
You may want to consider other alternatives. For example, the Asus Chromebook C202 (starting at $229) can survive 3.9-foot drops and has one of the best keyboards I've ever tested on a Chromebook. If budget is your primary concern, the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (starting at $150) will give you an extra 1 and 10 minutes of battery life, at the cost of subpar speakers.
MIL-STD-810G tested; Over 10 hours of battery life; Clear speakers
Dull display; Mushy keyboard
The Dell Chromebook 11 gives students Haswell power, a comfy keyboard and very good battery life in an attractive $299 package.
|CPU||2.16 GHz Intel Celeron CPU N2840|
|Operating System||Google Chrome|
|Hard Drive Size||16GB SSD|