Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Dell Chromebook 11 Review



I have been using the new Dell Chromebook 11 (4GB model) for about two weeks now and thought I would give a review of the device.  This is the first of a few new Chromebooks that I think will be very popular for school purchases over the summer.  The new Dell Chromebook 11 is a pretty big change from their previous device, but does it stand up to other offerings that are available?

Specs:

-  Intel N2840 (Bay Trail) processor
-  An 11.6" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB or 4GB of DDR3L RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  1x HDMI 1.4, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, SD Card Slot
-  720p HD Camera / Digital Array Microphone
-  Dual-channel High-Definition integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0 LE
-  Height: .83" x Width: 11.69" x Depth: 8.57" and weighs 2.74lbs
-  3-cell Battery (43 WHr) for 10 hours of use
-  Has a touch-screen model available with Gorilla Glass and 4GB of RAM.

Overall Build Quality:

I am impressed with the build quality of the new Dell Chromebook 11.  The device has a very solid and professional look to it.  Unlike the previous model, the new Dell Chromebook 11 has a rugged design and is tested to MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) when it comes to durability, humidity, pressure, shock, temperature, and vibration.  It is encased in a dark grey matte plastic with a rubber trim that goes around the lid and base of the device.  I love this design choice as it does not get as dirty looking as shiny plastics that are on some other Chromebook models.  The rubber trim is a nice touch that helps absorb impact if it is dropped on a corner.  There are dual speakers above the keyboard that sound better than other Chromebook models that put them on the bottom of the device.  The hinges are reinforced and allow the lid to go back 180 degrees to help prevent possible breakage from opening it too far.  The keyboard and trackpad are sealed to make them spill resistant, which is nice if the device is in a 1:1 setting where it goes home with students.  



Processor/Speed:

The new Dell Chromebook 11 uses an Intel N2840, which is part of the Bay Trail line of processors.  This processor line is not as fast as Intel's Haswell or new Broadwell options for Chromebooks.  Unless you are a "high end" user who keeps a bunch of tabs open at one time, the Intel N2840 still works well in a Chromebook.  Especially when you consider what students usually use a Chromebook for in the classroom.  The trade-off to the slower Bay Trail processor is a longer battery life and fanless design, which is great in a school setting.  For those who like to see Octane scores, the new Dell Chromebook with 4GB of RAM scored a 7911 when I ran it.

Screen:

The screen is a typical 11.6" matte TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution that you find in most Chromebooks in this price range.  The quality is acceptable, but they do not have great viewing angles.  In an education setting, it is nice to have these screens in student devices though as they are cheaper to replace if a student would break one.

Keyboard/Trackpad:

As mentioned earlier, the new Dell Chromebook 11 has a sealed keyboard and trackpad to make it spill resistant.  The keyboard keys are recessed in some, but students could still wedge something under a key to pop one off if they tried.  Typing on the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  When using the trackpad, I did find it to be a bit scratchy and not as smooth to move your finger on when compared to other Chromebook models.



Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the new Dell Chromebook 11 is your typical brick design.  I'm a little disappointed that the power adapter is not the flatter design that came with the previous Dell Chromebook so it can fit better in carry cases.  The connector that plugs into the Chromebook is designed the same.  It is thicker and will not break as easily as the thinner connectors found on some other Chromebook models.




Battery Life:

The new Dell Chromebook 11 has a 3-cell Battery (43 WHr) that is said to give 10 hours of use.  There are of course a number of usage factors that can affect how much battery life you will actually get on a full charge.  In my battery test, I streamed the "Nyan Cat 10 hours" video from YouTube until the battery died to gauge it under a heavier use situation.  In that test, I found the new Dell Chromebook 11 to get 8 hours and 50 minutes on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  From this test, and my own usage experience, you should not have a problem getting near the 10 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.

Activity Light:

This is a feature that is only on the new Dell Chromebook 11 at the time of this review.  There is a light on the upper right corner of the lid that students can change the color of using the Dell Activity Light app.  The purpose of this feature is for students to ask or respond to questions through the light instead of raising their hand. Some teachers may like this feature, but I question how much it will truly be utilized in the classroom.  In my use, I ultimately felt it was a little gimmicky.



Conclusion:

I was not the biggest fan of the original Dell Chromebook 11.  However, I am very impressed with this new model and the features it brings for the price point.  It is a very solid device that I highly recommend for classroom purchases.  Especially in 1:1 environments where the rugged features could help reduce some damages from drops and spills.  The Bay Trail processor is not as fast as the Broadwell one, which is in the new Acer models (C740/C910), but it can still get the job done in the classroom.  Having a faster processor is always nice, but in an education setting it is not always the biggest factor to consider when finding the best Chromebook for your students.

The new Dell Chromebook 11 starts at $249 for the 2GB model; $269 for the 4GB model; and $329 for the 4GB touch model.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.