Dell Chromebook 11: Battery life, design and performance are well worth the cost

42 Comments

All of sudden, the Google Chromebook market is getting pretty crowded. Samsung has long been a Chrome partner and Google(s goog) created its own Chromebook Pixel more than a year ago. These days you can also find Chromebooks from Lenovo, HP(s hpq), 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.

dell chromebook keyboard side

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(s intc) 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.

dell chromebook display corner

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.

dell chromebook bottom

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.

dell chromebook ports

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.

dell chromebook keyboard and trackpad

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.

dell chromebook power supply

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.

dell chromebook trackpad

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.

42 Comments

Yang

Thanks for your nice review! this laptop is so cool.I expect to get one, but I live in Taiwan. Although there is a lot of Internet users, still no sell any chromebook in store. :'(

Bob Carroll

I considered the Dell 11 Chromebook mostly because it got good reviews and had a 4GB RAM option. However, another reviewer mentioned louder than usual fan noise.

Ultimately I decided to go for a factory refurbished basic Acer C720 at $149 on Amazon. Normally I avoid refurbished items but from what I have heard there is a high return rate on Chromebooks for no other reason than Windows users being unfamiliar with them. It turns out that the one I got was in perfect condition (including peel off protective plastic.) Contrary to what some reviewer indicate, the screen was plenty bright for me and I had to dim it somewhat for best viewing.

I was actually looking at future i3-4005U based Chromebooks with 4GB RAM and 32GB SSDs from Acer and Dell. However, at more than double the price I paid, that now seems unnecessary unless I want to add a more powerful Linux distro via Crouton or I see some other legitimate reason for more power.

I still plan to add a Linux distro to the Acer C720 using Crouton but I would prefer a musician-friendly distro like KXStudio or UbuntuStudio. I am still waiting to see more detail from someone who has already done it successfully.

Mark Messinger

Dell’s Chromebook 11 seems to be suffering from one significant problem: it’s not actually being sold. I mean, seriously, I can’t find it for sale, anywhere. Not Dell, directly, and no place else. ‘Looks like a great device, but it also looks like vaporware.

Cal

Can you confirm if the SD Card fits flush with the case rather than hangs outside, like on my Samsung Chromebook. I always in fear of snapping it off.

Kevin C. Tofel

It sits completely flush; when the SD card is in the slot, it doesn’t stick out save for maybe a half millimeter so you can press it in to release.

guest

My 200 buck Asus X200M Win 8 system blows the doors off this junk…. It’s not even fair..

Kevin C. Tofel

If that works for you, great! Probably worth noting that the Asus X200M is $199 on special one-day sales; normally it runs $299. How’s the advertised five hour battery life?

Dale

Sounds great but no USB 3.0 port. A couple of other chromebook laptops have them.

mr dave

With memory so cheap why do they even bother with a 2gb version??

I’m intrigued by the Chromebooks but worried about being stuck in a Google sandbox, I use a lot of their stuff normally on the desktop, BUT sometimes some sites don’t play well with the Chrome browser (due to the use of Silverlight) can you stream Amazon movies, Netflix, ect. Also can you load third party apps like VLC player on it?

Kevin C. Tofel

Good question on the memory considering it’s just a $20 upgrade for double the RAM.

Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, YouTube, etc… all play fine. I also watch live NHL games and Hulu Plus content on my Chromebook. The only third party apps you can install are found in the Chrome store; you’re not going to be able to install a traditional PC app such as VLC.

belac77

Is the screen really that good? Another reviewer of the Dell Chromebook thought it was the worst of all the Chrome devices yet. Is the quality of the screen pretty subjective? I suppose different people have different definitions of what constitutes a good display.

Kevin C. Tofel

Everyone has different eyes so there’s surely some subjective factors going on here. At the end of the day this screen won’t compete with any IPS panel that has higher resolution. But in terms of Chromebooks, I find it bright and clearer than the Acer models I’ve used as well as the original Samsung Chromebook. It’s not as good as the HP Chromebook 11 to my eye but I find it quite good; one I can look at for a full work day and have no issues or complaints.

Nigel

Ref your article posted on 11.Dec.13, any word of when the consumer chromebook will be launched by Dell?

p

with the long delay of the chromebook 2 thought they would make it a dual boot or improve the software for offline use

RoTimi Akinmoladun

Kevin,

Have you been able to test out the new Samsung Chromebook 2? I assume that you have. I believe I recall finding an article with you discussing that chromebook within the last couple of months.

I cannot seem to find any comparisons between the Samsung Chromebook and the Dell Chromebook 11. What are the differences? Why are no one comparing these 2 little awesome Chromebooks?

More importantly, which 1 can be rated as the best in your opinion???

I am struggling with trying to find the answers to these questions asap!!!

Thanks.

Kevin C. Tofel

RoTimi, I haven’t used the new Chromebook 2 (either model of it) because the devices were delayed. I’m only now just starting to see anyone with any hand-on experience with them so stay tuned for comparisons in the very near future.

RoTimi Akinmoladun

Cathy,

Couldn’t you just connect a wireless or bluetooth keyboard of your choice to the chromebook when needed?

That would probably be your best option.

cathy

But who wants to additionally carry a wireless/bluetooth keyboard along with a Chromebook? Isn’t the main feature of a Chromebook (as opposed to just a tablet) the fact that it has an actual keyboard? Rather than your suggestion, I’d just stick with an Android tablet and a wireless/bluetooth keyboard.

cathy

The problem I find with Chromebooks is the keyboard. The removal of the Windows key and enlargement of the Alt key is pretty short-sided. I still need to use a Windows machine, and I would use one of the many Chrome Remote Desktop apps. However, my productivity is sure to plummet, because my shortcut keys are now gone. So not having a Windows key (or some other key in the same position as all current Windows keyboards that could be mapped) is a no go. It wouldn’t even need to be a “Windows” key. It could be something else that could be mapped to a Windows key, or the Apple command key, or an Ubuntu equivalent.

This is the very reason I’m sticking with a Windows tablet, and it’s unfortunate. I want the Chromebook. Maybe someone can recommend a solution or workaround.

Also, replacing Caps Lock with a Search button? Google should have replaced the Windows key with the Search button, which would have kept the possibility to map the search button to a Windows button, and kept the CapsLock intact.

Bob Carroll

Isn’t the ChromeOS “search” key the same as a SuperKey (Windows key)?

On a Chromebook you can go into Settings -> Keyboard Settings to change/swap the behavior of the Search, CTRL, and ALT keys.

Bob Carroll

Specifications I saw online indicate that like most modern Chromebooks, the Dell has one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port. The article should probably be updated.

Kevin C. Tofel

Actually, Bob, we’re both wrong. But you’re more correct than I am. ;)

Most USB 3.0 ports I’ve seen are blue inside and neither are blue on the Dell. BUT they’re both labelled SS with with the USB logo, meaning Super Speed or USB 3.0. Turns out that it has 2 USB 3.0 ports and I’ll update the article. Thanks for pointing it out!

Denis Montandon

Is the wireless really missing the 802.11 n or is it just a typo ?

Kevin C. Tofel

That is a missing “n”; sorry about that. The Dell does support 802.11n and I’ll get the missing letter in the post now; thanks!

Kevin Krewell

When I looked at Chromebooks, I found the HP keyboards flexed in the center. I bought the Samsung Chromebook with the dual-core Exynos (ARM) processor. I think the Samsung keyboard and trackpad was really good. Why do you feel the HP keyboard is better than the Dell? BTW, in retrospect, I would buy a Celeron processor version, it definitely has snappier performance.

Kevin C. Tofel

While both have similar island keys, the HP just feels nicer to type on to me; the Dell has a more mechanical feel. I think it’s just personal preference.

sridar

Nice review Kevin. But I will wait for core i3 based chromebook.

Kevin C. Tofel

I can understand; I’m curious what the power / performance of a Core i3 Chromebook will have. I suspect better performance and *hopefully* little impact on battery life. If so, I could deal with that: Say 7 – 8 hours of run time on a charge but a noticeable performance boost.

Balthazar B

IIRC, Dell announced at the Intel/Google press show last week that they’ll be releasing an i3 version of this Chromebook in the future. That said, the Octane benchmark difference between the 2955u and the i3 is a lot less than you’d guess. Probably a difference you would not be able to discern in use.

Jeff Ayers

I have this Chromebook and I’m not sure what the i3 would gain me at this point. I haven’t experienced any slowdown. Really is a great computer.

Rufino Rosado

Where did you buy it? I can’t find any retail stores that carry this Chromebook

Wayne

I hope it is alright to ask a question here? Its great that Chromebooks have Bluetooth built-in. Can the internal Bluetooth be used for an external mouse and external speakers (for audio out) at the same time?

Kevin C. Tofel

Heck yes, it’s OK to ask questions; even encouraged! :)

So I don’t have a Bluetooth mouse handy at the moment (much of my gear is packed away in anticipation of a move) but it should work. I did pair the Dell to my Jambox wireless speaker and it worked fine but without a mouse I can’t verify for sure it will work. Having said that, Chrome OS is built on top of Linux so I suspect this will work just fine.

I’ll dig through my boxes in the next day or so and see if I can scrounge up a mouse and double-check for you though. Thanks!

Hunffi

Presented by paidcontent.org – that says everyting.

Kevin C. Tofel

I don’t understand how it says anything let alone “everyting.” ;)

This is a review unit loaned to my by Dell, which will get returned. They didn’t pay for this and we don’t accept payment or goods for product reviews.

If you have *specific* issues or questions with the review, I’m happy to address them. Thanks!

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