Dell Chromebook 11 review

20 May 2014

Quick and well made, the Chromebook 11 is let down only by a poor display

Price when reviewed: 
199(£179 inc VAT)more
5

Dell unveiled its first Chromebook at the BETT educational technology show back in January, raising considerable interest with a promised price of £179 for the 2GB model. That specification finally goes on sale on 23 June; ahead of it comes a more expensive (£199) model with 4GB of RAM. Read on for our full Dell Chromebook 11 review. See also what's the best laptop you can buy in 2014?

Dell Chromebook 11 review

Aside from the memory provision, the two models are identical. For your money you get an 11.6in screen with a resolution of 1,366 x 768; a Haswell-class, dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U under the hood; and 16GB of flash storage. Connectivity is impressive, comprising a pair of USB 3 sockets, a full-sized HDMI output, a 3.5mm headset jack and an SD card slot. Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 take care of networking; the only major miss is the lack of a wired Ethernet port.

Dell Chromebook 11 review: performance and battery life

The Dell Chromebook 11 runs Chrome OS seamlessly. The machine wakes up instantly from sleep, and boots in seven seconds from a completely powered-down state. In use, we never had to wait for tabs to appear and disappear, performance never flagged even with a screen full of websites, and streaming HD video played perfectly smoothly. Our only reservation in this area concerns the slightly noisy fan, which kicks as soon as the load on the CPU ramps up.

Dell Chromebook 11 review

The Chromebook 11 excels in benchmarks, completing the SunSpider JavaScript test in 323ms and scoring 2,767 in the demanding Peacekeeper browser test. We’d expect the 2GB model to perform similarly, as there’s little difference between these scores and those of the 2GB Acer C720.

Battery life was also on a par with C720. With the screen set to a brightness of 120cd/m2, wireless turned off, and a low-resolution YouTube video set to loop indefinitely, the Dell lasted 5hrs 54mins on a single charge. It’s a touch better than the Acer, but the gap is small at 18 minutes.

Dell Chromebook 11 review: screen

Where the Dell Chromebook 11 disappoints is the screen. The glossy finish is highly reflective, yet looks dull and flat. Vertical viewing angles aren’t great and there’s a touch of grain. Measuring performance with our colorimeter revealed the panel’s maximum brightness to be a disappointing 208cd/m2, and the contrast only 360:1. Such figures aren’t uncommon on budget laptops, but they’re a long way short of the screens we’re seeing on sub-£200 tablets these days.

Perhaps more significantly, screen quality also falls well short of the HP Chromebook 11 – a machine previously withdrawn from sale for a while due to problems with faulty power supplies, but now back on Google Play at £229.

Still, the Dell’s screen is similar to its closest rival, the Acer C720 – which is slightly brighter, but has worse contrast – and the rest of the package is superior to Acer’s offering. The Scrabble-style keyboard has a crisper, more solid feel and the broad touchpad is responsive; although we’ve never liked integrated buttons, its heavy, positive click is just about acceptable.

Build quality, as you’d hope from a product designed for the classroom, is excellent. The lid is stiff, its glossy front protecting the LCD beneath from heavy-handed prodding. A rubberised coating surrounds the keyboard and completely covers the wristrest, which makes for a comfortable touch-typing platform. Beneath the laptop are two long strips of rubber, which do a fine job of preventing the laptop from slipping around on a desk or your lap. Despite the solid feel, this isn’t a heavy machine, weighing a mere 1.3kg and measuring 23mm thick.

Dell Chromebook 11 review: verdict

With its strong performance, creditable ergonomics and low price, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a great option for any student looking for a budget workhorse – especially since, with the integration of the Quickoffice beta into the Chrome OS Files app, offline editing capabilities are now much stronger than before. At this cheaper end of the Chromebook market, we prefer it to the Acer C720.

Now that the HP Chromebook 11 is back on sale, though, it’s that model that remains as our favourite Chromebook. Although it can’t compete with this Dell on performance or battery life, its display is vastly superior, and that makes a real difference.

Details

Price ex VAT £166
Price inc VAT £199
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 296 x 201 x 23mm (WDH)
Weight 1.300kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Celeron 9255U
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3

Screen and video

Screen size 11.6in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Speaker location Front edge
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Operating system and software

Operating system Chrome OS
OS family Chrome OS