- Good Multitasker
- Awful speakers
- Flimsy keys
- Poor display
Quick TakeThe Dell Chromebook 11 is a good option for ChromeOS-using students who need to multitask, but suffers when used as a media device.
Advertised as a device designed for education on its website, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a capable machine for web browsing, streaming videos, document creation and editing with web apps. An increasing number of schools have gone with ChromeOS devices when looking to put the internet in their students’ hands, as Chromebooks are cheap, easy to setup and maintain, and almost entirely cloud-based, which means data can be shared easily across multiple devices between school and home.
In line with the Chromebook price range of “dirt-cheap for a laptop,” the $299 version of the Dell Chromebook is a bit of an oddity as it features double the RAM of most of its competitors. But does this extra memory push the Dell above all other Chromebooks in its sub-$300 price category? Read on to find out.
Build and Design
The Chromebook 11 features a “Foggy Night” color scheme (that’s just marketing talk for “gray and black”), solid and dense-feeling plastic body, and the Chrome and Dell logos emblazoned on the top of the machine. The upwards-curved wedge chassis definitely makes a unique visual statement compared to some of the more angular devices that are currently available. The two long rubberized grips on the bottom prevent the Chromebook from sliding on a desk while also allowing the vent on the bottom room to breathe.
The single, long hinge on the Dell Chromebook 11 is reasonably sturdy, and as this is not a touchscreen notebook, it won’t need to support the screen against constant pokes and prods. The bezel around the screen is a bit wider than other models, and this leads to the device being wider than the Acer C720 by about a quarter inch. The bezel around the screen is glossy and shows smudges readily.
While the computer is only 2.9 lbs, it is well-balanced and sturdy feeling. Pressing on the corners of the chassis creates very little flex in the plastics, and while pressing hard on the back of the screen lid causes some screen rippling effects, the top feels nice and solid otherwise.
Display and Speakers
The Dell Chromebook 11 features an 11-inch screen with the same poor resolution as the Acer and Toshiba models (1366 x 768). However, this screen is glossy and fairly reflective, as opposed to the matte finish on the other models. The viewing angles are not very good, and even on the brightest settings it is a bit dim, but as it is a small display anyways, odds are users will be right in front of it anyways. Tilting the screen far back or even part way forward reduces readability significantly.
The Chromebook’s embedded stereo speakers are pretty bad. Barely loud enough to even fill a medium room at maximum volume, they are nearly inaudible even at 20% volume from directly next to the device. They are also both embedded in the left side of the device, leading to a poor listening experience when sitting in front of the device. The sound is also somewhat flat, leading to dialogue in movies sounding a bit muffled, and music with lots of high and low notes sounding awful and muddied. Headphones or external speakers are highly recommended for use with this device. The poor sound may not be too big a problem if it is being used in a classroom (where the sound should be off) or a dorm room, where using headphones is more considerate to one’s roommates, but for media consumption other devices may be preferable.
The Dell Chromebook 11’s keyboard seems a tiny bit more spaced out than we’d like, as it is making use of more of the widened body, leading to quite a few mistypes while we got used to the layout. The Chromebook keyboard features dedicated browser buttons (Back, Forward, Refresh, Search) and the Google Search key, which can search the web, the Chrome Marketplace, and also the Chromebook for files saved to the 16 GB SSD, offering possible results in a convenient menu. There are also full-screen and window-tile buttons, alongside the typical brightness and volume keys. The keyboard is quiet and doesn’t clatter, but the keys feel light and flimsy overall. Travel length is a bit short, but the tactile feedback is still good when the keys are pressed.
The wide, quality trackpad doesn’t sound hollow when clicked, and is very responsive to two-finger scroll and swipe gestures. It registers movement near edges of trackpad well, and has easily adjustable track speed in the Chrome Settings menu.
Ports and Connectivity
The Dell Chromebook 11 features only three differences between the 2 GB and 4 GB models: RAM, price, and number of ports. For connectivity, the 2 GB version features two USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port. The 4 GB model, which we reviewed, only had two USB ports total, located on the left side, but both were USB 3.0. The device also has an HDMI output and headset jack there. On the right is a very sturdy spring-loaded SD card reader and a PC lock port.
For wireless connection, the Chromebook features Dell DW1901 (Atheros) A/B/G/N Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility. Though reliant on internet connectivity, the Chromebook lacks a wired Ethernet port, so buyers should make sure they have constant Wi-Fi access wherever they plan on using the device.
Software and OS
The 16 GB SSD of the Dell Chromebook comes installed with ChromeOS, and that’s it. ChromeOS, which is based on Linux, only serves to run the Chrome browser. No executable programs can be installed on it, from Skype to the Adobe Creative Cloud. This keeps the Chromebook safe from many viruses and other programs that may try to cause harm to your device or data.
Recently Microsoft created Chrome launchers for their Office Online suite, but other than that, users are largely limited to Google’s suites of web apps such as Google Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets), and Slides (presentations), which can link directly to their Google Drive: Office Online requires users to use Microsoft OneDrive to save their files, as opposed to letting them save to Google Drive directly.
All Chrome applications are stored in the cloud, meaning that installing an app on one device installs it wherever the user’s Google account is signed in. Chromebooks can also be wiped clean quickly and easily with an option found in the Settings menu, and since all pertinent user data is stored in the cloud as well, starting up on a new Chromebook is as easy as typing in your Google username and password.
With a free 2-year subscription to 100 GB of Google Drive included with the device (again, linked to their account, not the computer), users are able to store files easily as long as they have access to the internet. Even better, files created using Google Docs, Sheets and Slides take up none of this storage space, though it is also shared with a user’s Gmail account’s received attachments and stored images larger than 2048×2048 pixels.