Dell Chromebook 11 (2015) review: A class apart
There are times when good looks and sleek design must take second place to practicality; situations when tough is more suitable than pretty. That’s what the 2015 edition of the Dell Chromebook 11 is made for. It may not be stylish, but it’s unfussy and practical, and offers its target market of education a laptop finely tuned to its needs. See also: The best Chromebooks of 2015
The utilitarian design of the Dell Chromebook 11 is what sets it apart from others on the market. Dell says its latest budget laptop has passed US Military Standard testing, and while you’re unlikely to need to test its survivability under enemy fire, the strong build is ideally suited to the knocks that come from student use.
Covered in solid-feeling, matte-black plastic that helps to hide any smudges or scratches, and encircled with rubber bumpers that protect against drops, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a black chunk of a laptop.
What the new Chromebook 11 sacrifices in aesthetics, however, it more than makes up for in straightforwardness and practicality. Open it up and you’ll find a lid that can be swung back a full 180 degrees, with reinforced hinges that help to prevent any damage caused by rough handling. Add in the optional touchscreen and you’ve got a simple way for students to access and share content.
Dell also has the classroom in mind with its “activity light”. Set into the corner at the rear of the screen, this small light bar allows students to choose from three colours to indicate if they have an issue or want to ask a question. It’s a simple but smart addition that’s aimed at help teachers encourage less-confident students to contribute in class.
The Chromebook 11 is an eminently sensible laptop, and this theme continues with the keyboard, which is excellent. The keys feel springy and responsive, and there’s nothing wrong with the layout, either. It’s a shame that the touchpad isn’t as good. For simple use it’s fine, but the integrated buttons make it annoying to use when cutting, pasting, dragging and dropping between multiple windows.
As for ports, there’s HDMI 1.4 out, one USB 3 and one USB 2, plus you get an SD slot and 3.5mm headset jack. There’s also a 720p webcam, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-fi and Bluetooth 4 for a pretty comprehensive wireless-connectivity setup.
Screen quality and performance
As with last year’s Chromebook 11, the screen is the 2015 edition’s weakest suit. The 1,366 x 768 TN panel is disappointingly dull, has poor vertical viewing angles, and a low maximum brightness of 239cd/m2 – which could be a problem in sunny classrooms – and a low contrast ratio of 306:1.
However, the nature of Chrome OS and the fairly low-power, browser-based tasks that run on it means this isn’t a huge problem, and it feels responsive and smooth in day-to-day use. The machine starts up in a matter of seconds, and even with 15 tabs open, we experienced very little slowdown.
The machine performed well in our battery testing, lasting more than 7hrs 30mins with a constant video loop and screen brightness of 120cd/m2 – which should be more than enough to get through a school day.
And, while the display leaves a lot to be desired, the speakers are surprisingly loud and clear. There’s some distortion above the 80% mark, but the high volume levels are more than enough to fill a classroom.
It has its weaknesses, but the Dell Chromebook 11 remains an excellent device for those who need a well-priced, practical laptop that’s tough enough to cope with a bit of rough and tumble.
It’s light enough for easy carrying and rugged enough to handle a beating, yet the price remains reasonable: £227 for the non-touch version with 4GB of RAM; £275 for the touchscreen version with 4GB of RAM; and £200 for the non-touch version with 2GB of RAM.
Those looking for extra style may want to check out the similarly priced Toshiba Chromebook 2 or the HP Chromebook 11, but neither are as hardy and practical as Dell’s rubber-encased Chromebook 11.
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