Dell Chromebook 11 review: solid build quality and 10 hour battery life for under $30
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Chromebooks are the simplest computers you can buy today, but theyíve proven a tricky formula for manufacturers to get right. The perfect Chromebook is cheap, fast enough, well-built, and lasts all day long on a single charge. Weíve seen plenty of Chromebooks try and come up just short, hitting a few of those points while missing on others. The recent models from HP and Acer have offered decent performance and solid battery life, but donít go far enough to hide the fact that they are cheap laptops at their core. At the other end of the spectrum is the Chromebook Pixel, which offers premium build and fast performance, but costs more than a full-fledged MacBook or Windows Ultrabook.
Almost every Windows laptop maker has a Chromebook or two in its lineup, and now Dell is entering the fray. Its Chromebook 11 (not to be confused with the HP Chromebook of the same name) is being targeted specifically to the education market, where Chromebooks seem like a natural fit. But anyone can order the Chromebook 11 for $299 from Dellís website today ó and get possibly the best Chromebook ever made.
The Chromebook 11 checks off all the specs I look for in a Chromebook: current Intel processor, 4GB of RAM, SD card slot, USB ports, HDMI port, and all-day battery. The 11.6-inch display isnít as big as Toshibaís or HPís Chromebook 14, and its 1366 by 768 pixel resolution doesnít hold a candle to Samsungís upcoming 1080p Chromebook 2, but itís perfectly adequate for the 11.6-inch screen on the 11. Viewing angles and brightness are just okay, and can be improved, and I much prefer the Acer C720ís matte finish to Dellís highly reflective gloss. My biggest complaint isnít so much with the screenís performance ó it works fine for browsing the web, watching video, and looking at photos ó but with the 0.75-inch thick bezel surrounding the display. It really feels like Dell could have fit a 12-inch screen in this without sacrificing anything in terms of size.
Chrome OS has been around for a number of years, but every Chromebook released so far has required that you make some significant compromises when you buy it. That hasnít stopped me from recommending Chromebooks in the past ó I really liked Acerís C720 last year ó but the Dell is on a different level. It offers fast performance, exceptional battery life, a good keyboard and trackpad, and great build quality for a price under $300. The Dell is the first model that checks all the boxes of a great Chromebook ó itís not perfect in all of them, but itís very good everywhere and thatís really all a Chromebook needs to be. It does cost slightly more than the Acer, but in return you get a better computer. (And you can actually buy the Dell today: since my review of the Acer went up last year, itís been very difficult to find the C720 with 4GB of RAM in stock anywhere.)
I like the idea of installing a real Linux distribution on a Chromebook. I fixed a couple of Acer netbooks and was pleasantly surprised how easy they were to disassemble and service. If Dell Chromebooks are of comparable build quality, then they would be workable replacements when the netbooks are scarce.
I like chromebooks. The price is nice, and ChromeOS isn't bad. It has a few limitations, but not many for most uses. I dual-boot my Acer C720, running Debian from a tiny 32GB USB flash drive. It runs well from there, and having Chrome available for quick use is nice. It's about 10 seconds from completely off to ready to use, and that includes entering my password. From suspend, it's instant on. Debian takes a little longer to boot, but less time than on most other laptops I've used. I actually use ChromeOS more than I do Debian, and only fire that up when I need something that ChromeOS doesn't offer, like Teamviewer and Citrix. It's somewhat of a pain not having an email client in Chrome, but I can use the web interface if I have to. The battery life is great in either OS, approaching 8 hours if I don't work it too hard. I haven't owned a Windows computer in years, and never plan to again. That's a total waste of time and money. What I do see coming is a convergence of ChromeOS and Android.