My Dell Chromebook 11 and I have been in a loving relationship for about the last six months. I take my Chromebook everywhere – to work, on business trips, and even to bed (to check email, of course!) You can imagine my excitement when the new Dell Chromebook 11 Touch showed up. But after just a few minutes with the device, the honeymoon was over, and I was spending time with a laptop I felt I hardly knew.
There was nothing wrong with the design on the older Dell Chromebook 11, but for some reason Dell felt necessary to totally revamp it. This newer version is for education, so it sports a sturdier body with tougher plastic. It also has a more budget-friendly processor, in the form of a dual-core Intel Celeron N2840, which has a base clock of 2.1GHz. With 4GB of RAM, and a 16GB SSD, the Chromebook 11 Touch is equipped with a standard set of features for a Chrome OS laptop, but will anyone but students find it appealing?
Rugged enough for a classroom
Next to the Chromebook 11, the Touch model looks and feels bulkier, but that ends up working in its favor. Where the older version creaked and strained a bit when held, this one opens and closes easily, and even twisting the device doesn’t seem to put any strain on it. While the bezel is roughly the same size as the older model, the barrel hinge that gives the newer Chromebook a 180-degree “lay flat” option makes the screen feel a lot smaller.
And the hinge has other issues. Right off the bat, it doesn’t seem particularly useful in most situations. Of course, this Chromebook is designed with educational use in mind, and Dell says there are more reasons to be able to lay the notebook flat on a desk or table in a classroom situation. Such frequent use would cause a lot of wear, as the bottom of my review unit is already badly scratched by the table from regular opening and closing.
The Chromebook 11 Touch feels like it can take some punishment.
On that note, you should stay away from this Chromebook if you want to keep your computer looking clean. The matte black finish looks great when it first comes out of the box, but quickly grabs everything it comes in contact with, from fingerprints to lint, and even the oil from your palms. That’s not an ideal trait for a computer that could have dozens of sticky, messy kid hands on it every day.
Dell says the new Chromebook is built to military specifications for spills and drops. The keyboard and trackpad are sealed for spills, and the whole system does feel like it could withstand a good bit of punishment before giving up.
Ports and waves
The Chromebook 11 Touch has a typical set of connections for a Chromebook. On the left side you’ll find a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack, and a full-sized SD card slot. On the right side there’s a Kensington lock slot, a USB 2.0 port, and a covered slot for a WWAN card. Like most chromebooks, there’s no optical drive.
For wireless connectivity, the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch has 802.11ac Wi-Fi installed, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. These features are always great to see on an inexpensive notebook, no matter what operating system it runs.
Great keyboard, twitchy trackpad
The new keyboard is probably the best feature on the Chromebook 11 Touch. The chiclet keys offer a quiet yet satisfying click, and pop back up with a nice spring. In fact, they respond so well the Chromebook frequently isn’t able to keep up with how fast you can type on them. The spacing feels very similar to the previous model, but with a stiffer action, and when you run your fingers over them, they don’t move at all.
The chiclet keys have a satisfying yet quiet click, and pop back with a well-weighted spring.
The trackpad has a smoother surface than the light texture of the rest of the laptop, but sometimes it feels a little too eager to select and click where you don’t want it to. It has a wide footprint, which serves to get in the way of typing, as you have to make sure you don’t bump it with the underside of your hands or thumbs. Even worse, touch sensitivity is low within a quarter inch or so of the edges.
There is no right click button, the single-click unit is incorporated into the trackpad. While this is keeps the size of the device down, it leaves the system frequently confused about whether the user is clicking with two fingers or one. Selecting from a lot of different fields is a chore, and you’ll find yourself using the tab and arrow keys to navigate a bit. Dragging also tends to not work well, and will frequently require multiple tries to work properly.
The screen in our review unit was equipped with a multi-touch display, which works well, but it’s clear that Chrome OS doesn’t have the best support for a touchscreen right now. You can pinch on pages to zoom in and out, which is a highlight of the compatibility. Beyond that, tapping the screen to navigate is a novelty that works acceptably with some sites and apps, and is a practice in patience when there are many links that you might accidentally tap.
Keep it down, children!
Sadly, one of the main drawbacks of the previous Dell Chromebook 11 has been carried over to the new model – the display. The 11-inch LCD display only has a resolution of 1,366 x 768, giving it about 142 pixels per inch. That’s more than adequate for web browsing, editing documents, perusing Twitter, and checking out Reddit. When you try and watch HD video on the Chromebook 11 though, you’ll notice a difference compared to a 1080p or greater display.
Colors are fine, for the most part. Greens, blues, and reds pop and have good definition. Blacks aren’t quite there, and even looking straight on at the screen they have a shimmery glow to them. Fast moving objects and blur come out well, although that’s mostly in video playback – if this is for the classroom, then it’s good that it won’t be able to play games very often. The viewing angle is wide, and you won’t have much trouble seeing the screen from off-center, which is important for an education laptop that students share.
The speakers are loud, which would come in pretty clutch in a noisy classroom with a dozen laptops churning away at once. They’re mounted to the front of the hinge, too, so they’ll work well if you’re sitting right in front of them, as well as carrying a bit at full volume. The bass isn’t great, but the mid-range sounds good, and treble comes through when it’s needed.
Sluggish, even on simple tasks
Dell’s Chromebook 11 Touch comes equipped with the Intel Celeron N2840, a dual-core chip with a 2.16GHz base clock speed. If you opt for the highest end model, the one that comes with a touch display, you also get 4GB of RAM, and a 16GB SSD. The graphics are provided by an Intel integrated GPU, courtesy of the Intel HM77 chipset.
As an everyday laptop, this model falls a bit short, given the achievements of its older sibling.
Even with 4GB of RAM the system can feel sluggish. With just a couple of tabs open, typing a document at full speed in Google Docs becomes a chore. Letters, spaces, and capitalization frequently fail to register immediately, so you’ll have to go back and fix them.
Delays can also be noticed elsewhere. Play music from Spotify or have a productivity app like Trello open in another tab and even deleting characters from a word document takes extra time. There’s really no excuse for it either, since the dual-core processor should be more than capable of handling lightweight Chrome OS operations.
The Dell Chromebook Touch performed about as expected on the Peacekeeper browser test. It scored a 1560, which is right in the same range as the Toshiba Chromebook 2, and comes in just ahead of the Lenovo Chromebooks from late last year, the Yoga 11e and the N20p. It’s still a far cry from the Acer C720P-2600’s score of 2,909, but most other Chromebooks aren’t either.
Do your homework
The best part of an 11” laptop is that it fits anywhere. You can easily throw it in your backpack, tuck it under your arm, and even walk around while using it – although we don’t recommend that. In that sense, the Dell Chromebook 11 receives top marks, coming in at almost the same size as its predecessor from late last year. The only added bulk comes from the 180-degree barrel hinge, but otherwise it weighs the same as the old Chromebook, about 2.8 pounds.
The battery life during our Peacekeeper battery test beat out a number of similarly equipped Chromebooks. It averaged about seven hours and 55 minutes on a single charge, with just one tab churning away on the benchmark. That gives it about an hour of extra life over of Lenovo N20p and Acer Chromebook 15, and a three-hour advantage over the more powerful Acer Chromebook C720P.
No fans, no problems
Like many fanless Chromebooks, the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch is a power sipper. At fifty percent brightness it only pulls about 4.4 watts of power while idling. Turn that up to 100 percent brightness, and it still settles at about 5.7 watts.
With the Peacekeeper benchmark running, it did pull a little bit more power than before. At full brightness it fluctuated a bit, but the average was just under nine watts. That’s less than we see from a lot of laptops at idle with screen brightness at half.
Seen, but not heard (or felt)
With a low-power Intel Celeron processor and an SSD, the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch doesn’t need any fans for cooling, and as such runs almost silent. Even in a quiet room we were unable to detect a difference in noise level from ambient, even as the Chromebook chugged away on the first half of the Peacekeeper browser test.
Every computer generates heat, but if you don’t need any fans in your laptop, chances are it doesn’t warm up much. The Dell Chromebook 11 Touch follows that trend, and even after several minutes of benchmarking, it didn’t break a sweat.
No need to call a substitute
The Dell Chromebook 11 Touch includes a limited warranty with support services as a start, with the option of including up to four years of premium warranty services and Next Business Day technical support. Since the Touch is mostly designed for educational use, having direct access to your warranty services is especially important.
It’s not for everyone
A good Chromebook is like a Swiss Army Knife. It’s the right tool for little jobs where you can pull it out of your pocket and get it done quickly. If the old Dell Chromebook 11 is the one you buy your teenage kid for Christmas, Dell’s Chromebook 11 Touch is the “my first Chromebook” that you give the younger sibling so they don’t get jealous.
The Dell Chromebook 11 from last year was so popular that it was frequently out of stock on Dell’s website. It had the performance to keep up with a dozen tabs, a great screen, and long battery life. This new version is something different entirely, and if you liked the old Chromebook 11, this one probably isn’t for you.
As an education notebook, it does have benefits. It has a rugged body that can take a beating and get a little damp without any issue. It has loud, clear speakers for watching short clips or presentations. The battery life is decent, almost enough to get you through an entire school day without needing to plug in. As an everyday laptop, though, this model falls a bit short of our expectations, especially considering the achievements of its older sibling.
Value-wise, the story remains the same. The Dell Chromebook 11 Touch tops out at $329 for the touchscreen version with 4GB of RAM, only $50 less than the Intel Core i3 model of the Dell Chromebook 11 from last year. If you’re just buying a single laptop for yourself, you’re better off opting for the performance of the older version. If you’re buying a dozen for your classroom, the Chromebook 11 Touch’s rugged design and lower price point will save you from a lot of headaches.
- Rugged design
- Great keyboard
- Clear, loud speakers
- Performance is lacking
- Chassis attracts junk
- Twitchy trackpad