If you're going to buy a device that doubles as a laptop and a tablet, the display really matters. Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 ($440 as tested, $330 to start) 2-in-1 stands out because its touch screen is brighter and more colorful than those offered by the competition. The Intel Pentium N3530 processor, 4GB of RAM and 500GB provide the pep and storage you need, all for well under $500, and this Dell lasts longer on a charge than most of its peers. There are faster 2-in-1s in this price range, but overall, the updated Inspiron 11 3000 is the one to beat.
The Inspiron 11 3000's plastic body features a fingerprint-resistant matte-silver finish and smooth, rounded edges in the front and back. The left and right sides feature a total of three USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), an HDMI port, a combo headphone/mic jack, an SD card reader, a volume rocker and the power button.
There are also some surprisingly loud side-mounted speakers that easily fill a small room with sound, although, when I listened to Nujabes' "Counting Stars," the audio sounded a little harsh at max volume, and I missed the deep bass that usually balances out the staccato highs.
On the inside, the Inspiron 11 3000 has an 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 IPS touch screen surrounded by a thick, glossy, black bezel, and it's punctuated by a physical home button along the bottom. At 308 nits of screen brightness and covering 81.4 percent of the sRGB spectrum, the Inspiron had by far the brightest and most colorful screen out of six budget 2-in-1s we recently tested. HP's Pavilion x360 was more than 25 percent dimmer, at 227 nits, and 12.4 percent less colorful, at 69 percent. Averages in this group were 234 nits and 68 percent.
Below, the flat black keyboard stands out against the silver deck, and features a crisp, albeit slightly shallow, keystroke, and an absence of backlighting. The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad has the same smooth paint job as the rest of the interior, but mouse clicks felt a little too stiff and shallow. I also noticed that, sometimes, mouse movements and simple two-finger gestures were sluggish, but it didn't happen often enough to become a real nuisance.
2-in-1 Experience: Strong and Stable
Unlike other 2-in-1s with lids and decks that taper to a point when closed, the Inspiron 11 3000 features balanced upper and lower halves. This is important, because when it's transformed into tablet mode, there's less air between the display and the now-reversed bottom section. This makes the Inspiron flex and twist less than other hybrids when they do the 2-in-1 dance.
In tent mode, the Dell easily supported its own weight, and the physical home button on the display made it easy to switch between apps, no matter what shape it was in.
Performance and Heat
With a 2.16-GHz Intel Pentium N3530 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD, the specs of our Inspiron 11 3000 review unit haven't changed from last year. But when compared to similarly priced 2-in-1s, a gap starts to emerge. On Geekbench 3, which measures general performance, the Inspiron 11 3000 scored 3,406. That's 35 percent faster than the average of the six sub-$500 2-in-1s we've tested recently but slower than the first-place HP Pavilion x360 11 (3,992).
In our real-world application test, the Inspiron took 42.6 seconds to open a 69MB Word file in OpenOffice while there were six tabs open in Chrome and a 1080p movie playing in the background. That's behind the HP Pavilion x360's time of 25.9 seconds, but it was faster than the 44.2-second average for our budget 2-in-1 roundup.
With a score of 19,986 in 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, the Inspiron's Intel HD graphics beat out all of the other 2-in-1s we've tested in this price range besides the HP Pavilion x360 (23,664). When I played Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft on medium settings at 1366 x 768, the spells animations were smooth, and only occasionally did I notice any stuttering or lag.
Another nice improvement for 2015 is better heat management. The underside of last year's Inspiron 11 3000 reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit on Laptop Mag's Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu), but this year, the hottest spot on the system (the bottom again) reached just 84 degrees. The touchpad and space between the G and H keys were even cooler, at 73 and 80 degrees, respectively.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes.
While this runtime is shorter than that of the smaller Acer Aspire Switch 10E (8:28), it's longer than the times for any of the other convertibles in our latest budget 2-in-1 roundup.
Our system came running Windows 8.1 and had a little bloatware, which included a trial for McAfee Central and apps for Amazon and eBay. But if you order a system from Dell now, it will ship with Windows 10 preinstalled and ready to go. This means you'll have access to Microsoft's Continuum feature, which enhances 2-in-1s by automatically switching Windows into desktop or tablet view depending on which mode the computer is currently in.
Configurations and Warranty
The Inspiron 11 3000 starts at $330 and goes up to $550, with three out of four configs having the same 4GB of RAM and 500GB HDDs. There are increases in CPU speed as the price goes up, but be aware of the other $330 starting model, which features a paltry 32GB of eMMC storage. The only difference between our review unit and the $440 model on Dell's website is that the burst speed on the N3540 CPU is 2.66-GHz versus 2.58-GHz for the N3530.