COMPUTER MAKER Dell became the latest laptop maker to announce a Chromebook at the end of last year following similar announcements from Asus and Toshiba, pricing it at just £159.
As you'd expect at such a low price point, Dell's Chromebook 11 isn't the most powerful device, but the firm claims that it is powerful enough to perform all tasks required by the Chrome OS with ease.
What make the Dell's Chromebook 11 a little different is that it's aimed at the education sector, offering an affordable alternative to Windows or Mac machines for schools and universities.
Dell was showing off its Chromebook at the British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) Show last week, after it went on sale earlier in January in the UK.
Build and design
Because of its relatively low price, we didn't expect the Dell Chromebook 11 to have exceptionally high build quality or unique design qualities compared to other, higher end models on the market. However, though clearly it is a lot cheaper in both feel and appearance, overall it looks rather good, with a satin gunmetal finish.
While the Dell Chromebook 11's plastic shell means that it appears quite cheap, it does feel rather sturdy at the same time. It is made from a strong plastic that gives an impression that the laptop would withstand a drop from waist level, at least when closed. It is also light and thin considering how robust it feels, measuring less than 1in thick and weighing 1.3kg.
Dell's Chromebook 11 has an average display for a Chromebook, with 1366x768 resolution. During our hands-on with it, it seemed to have relatively low resolution for its 11.6in screen size. However, it doesn't look too bad in general use. It doesn't look like it will display HD quality graphics though, which seems a shame, especially considering that it has HDMI out connectivity for porting the display to an external screen.
The relatively low resolution doesn't appear to present a problem for web browsing, however, as the Chromebook 11 does that nicely.
Overall, the Chromebook 11 display is clear, vibrant and bright, even in direct light, though it's very glossy so it tends to reflect light more than we'd like.
The Chromebook 11 keyboard has an average design. The standard dull black finish keys have lowercase lettering in white. Although the keyboard design is nothing special, the keys have decent travel with good spring, so it's easy to use.
The Chromebook 11 touchpad is made from a different material than the rest of the chassis. In our brief test we found that it was smooth and responsive.
Performance and software
The main advantage of the Dell Chromebook 11 is that it is powered by an Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell processor. Previous Chromebooks have always proven to be pretty fast in our tests, delivering what we have expected and needed of them as web browsing machines, so the addition of a Haswell processor is perhaps not a necessity for performance. With limited software availability on Chrome OS, and since the Chromebook is mostly intended for web browsing, we expect that the main advantage of a Haswell chip here is the longer battery life that Intel promises, which apparently will be about 50 percent better than previous Chromebooks.
This wasn't something we could test in our short hands-on, so until we get our mitts on a unit for a full review, we'll just have to take Intel's and Google's words for it.
The Chromebook comes in two models, one with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and another with 2GB. We tested the 4GB version, which responded shiftly to our commands with no lag. However, the 2GB model should also be able to handle all web browsing and other productivity needs, such as word processing.
All operations on the Chromebook 11 seemed fluid and it showed no lag while performing the tasks we threw at it. It delivered a seamless experience using the Google Docs productivity suite, too.
Storage and connectivity
The Chromebook 11 has 16GB of SSD internal storage, which helps it boot up in what Dell claims 8.4 seconds. In our tests, the Chromebook took just under 10 seconds to power on. Not quite as fast as Dell claims but still quick enough by far to ensure it's ready almost as soon as you want it to be.
The Chromebook 11 also boasts two USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and an HDMI port. Dell claims that it has a 10-hour battery life, though again this is something we'll have to test when we get the Chromebook in for review. µ