All of sudden, the Google Chromebook market is getting pretty crowded. Samsung has long been a Chrome partner and Google created its own Chromebook Pixel more than a year ago. These days you can also find Chromebooks from Lenovo, HP, Acer and in the very near future, from Asus. Dell too is among those partnering with Google and I’ve spent the past week using a Dell Chromebook 11. The laptop is aimed at the education market, but it’s a winning device for regular Chrome OS consumers too.
What’s different about the Dell
With more Chromebook choices than ever, there are becoming fewer and fewer opportunities to differentiate between various models. Dell opted not to use an ARM chip — typically meant to power smartphones and tablets — like HP and Samsung have done with some of their Chromebooks. Instead, this laptop uses a dual-core Intel 2955U Celeron chip running at 1.4 GHz. That gives it roughly twice the performance of today’s ARM-based Chromebooks and on par with most of the other Intel-powered ones; I’ll talk more about performance a little later.
Strangely, one of my favorite Chromebooks is the HP Chromebook 11, which does use a slower chip. I like it because it has one of the nicest displays: an 11.6-inch IPS panel that’s bright, clear and looks great from every angle. The Dell Chromebook 11 comes close to rivaling the HP screen but falls a little short; particularly in the viewing angle department. The 1366 x 768 display is clear when viewed head-on or from left to right. Tilt the semi-glossy display up or down, however, and images become washed out quickly.
The Dell Chromebook 11 is well designed and well built too. Some of the budget Chromebooks currently available feel like budget Chromebooks; not so with the Dell. It feels like it should cost more: The wrist-rests have a nice soft texture, the long screen hinge swivels cleanly and instead of small rubber feet under the laptop, it has two lengthy rubber channels that hold the computer in place on a desk.
Specifications and performance
The Dell Chromebook 11 comes in two models: Both are the same save for the amount of memory. For $279, you get 2 GB of RAM while an additional $20 investment doubles the memory. If given a choice, I’d drop the additional money and double-down on RAM every time at this price. Note: Dell loaned me the 4 GB model for my review.
Aside from that choice, everything else is specified by Dell. Wireless connectivity comes from the 802.11a/b/g/n radio, which is dual-band, so it supports both 2.4- and 5 GHz networks. Bluetooth support is also included. Typical of Chromebooks, Dell includes 16 GB of flash memory to store local files. A pair of speakers rated at 2 W each are under the device and are what you’d expect: Not terribly loud but more than good enough for most uses. The Chromebook can output 1080p video from its full-sized HDMI port, has 2 USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack and full-sized SD memory card slot. A small camera sits above the display for video chatting.
Having used the Dell Chromebook 11 as a full-time computer for what I do — blogging, browsing the web, watching movies or television shows — the device works well for me. Better than the ARM-based Chromebooks I’ve used in the past and comparable to competing devices powered by Intel chips.
That shouldn’t surprise though: The Toshiba Chromebook 13 I was using prior has the same Intel Celeron processor inside. So too does the Acer C720 and most other Chromebooks announced in the past six months. You can see the performance similarity in some benchmark tests, for example:
With 4 GB of memory, I had no performance problems using the Dell Chromebook 11, opening and closing dozens of tabs throughout my workdays. Watching HD movie trailers — even at 1080p which is overkill for this display — showed clear, stutter-free video content. The Chromebook is capable of running video on one tab while working in others as well. The trackpad is generously sized and the island keys are nice to type on, although I think the HP Chromebook 11 keyboard is a bit better.
Best of all, Dell advertises battery life at up to 10 hours and this laptop delivers. It surprised me after working all day on the Chromebook 11 that the battery percentage would still show at 20 to 30 percent capacity. This Chromebook runs the longest on a single charge than any other I’ve used yet; most comparable devices top out around 8.5 hours of run-time.
Not every Chromebook is perfect
While I think the Dell represents a good value for its price, there are few areas for improvement. The power brick itself is relatively a relatively large 65W unit: Other Chromebooks have much smaller and lighter power supply units. Although you might not need to carry the power unit thanks to the great battery life, I think Dell can reduce the size.
The Dell Chromebook 11 is also on the heavy side when compared to its peers weighing in at 2.9 pounds. The Acer C720 and HP Chromebook 11 weigh 2.76 and 2.3 pounds respectively. I suspect most of the weight difference comes from a larger internal battery so you’re trading off some weight for more run-time on a charge with the Dell.
I also had some minor issues with the trackpad on this Chromebook. It’s a plastic touch design, not unlike most devices in this class, but at times would the cursor would lag or jump around in use during my first day or two of use. The issue was intermittent and I haven’t read widespread reports on this so it’s likely a one-off problem; I don’t seem to have it any longer, in fact.
These are relatively minor nitpicks though. I can easily recommend the Dell Chromebook 11 — remember to spend the extra $20 for 4 GB of memory if you can swing it — to anyone looking to use Google’s Chrome OS on a small laptop.
This article was updated on May 14 at 8:03 am to correctly identify two USB 3.0 ports on the Chromebook, not two USB 2.0 ports as originally stated.