Chromebooks have already been carving out a distinct segment in education – Google recently said that schools bought one million in the next quarter of the year.

Price is obviously an integral consideration. Kids could be tough on hardware, so a Chromebook that’s dropped, lost or used as a goalpost or a cricket bat is a lot less expensive when compared to a standard notebook. Dell’s Chromebook 11 will come in two models differing only in the quantity of memory: a 2GB model at £179; and the 4GB at £199 (ex. VAT). But although Dell markets the Chromebook 11 as ‘for education’, we think this technique is much too good to be left to the youngsters.

Hardware
Even closed, the Chromebook 11 is an elegant package. The Dell logo is understated, and the Chrome badge offers a splash of colour against the lid’s ‘Foggy Night’ shade of matte grey. Even though the chassis of the Dell Chromebook 11 is plastic without hint of ‘chrome’, the designers have certainly taken the ‘book’ bit to heart – the curve of the lid down towards the hinge is actually a gesture towards the spine of a novel, as the rounded edges evoke a well-thumbed text. The matte plastic helps the Chromebook 11 retain its smart look, saving it from learning to be a fingerprint magnet.

Open it up and the system’s high-quality, thoughtful design continues. Around the within edge of the lid is a slightly raised border, which gives a snug fit which should keep dust and dirt from getting inside if it is closed. The lower-case characters on the island-style Scrabble-piece keyboard give it a relaxed look.

It is also a keyboard built online. A custom Google search button replaces Caps Lock, while a couple of web-centric keys – back, forward, refresh and full-screen – replace the typical function keys. The touchpad is responsive and steady – although, for me personally, the keyboard could did with somewhat more travel.

The most evident compromise may be the Chromebook 11’s 11.6-inch screen, that includes a native resolution of just one 1,366 by 768 pixels (135ppi). The bezel is sizeable at around 2cm, and the viewing angles are limited. I also found it hard to tell apart darker colours. On the plus side, music quality is good, the speakers making loud, clear output when necessary. The one thing that’s too loud, sometimes, is the fan. Construction is good though – perhaps with that education market at heart. That is a solidly built device.

The Chromebook 11 is powered by Intel’s 1.4GHz dual-core Celeron 2955U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics and, as noted above, either 2GB or 4GB of RAM. There’s 16GB of internal storage and an Sdcard slot, plus two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector and an music jack. There is no wired Ethernet port. For wireless connectivity there’s dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software
The 4GB Chromebook boots rapidly (significantly less than ten seconds) and wakes up in simply a handful of seconds. But a lot more than, say, a Windows notebook or a MacBook, you are tied in to the Google ecosystem from the off when you are prompted to sign into your Google account to achieve the full benefits (although you can browse as a guest). Whether you find this reassuring or slightly claustrophobic will rely upon your attitude towards the search giant.

There’s no doubt that is a device constructed with the assumption of frequent connectivity. Turn off the wi-fi and there’s a restricted amount that you can do with it, unless you’ve planned ahead .

But that’s somewhat like saying you can’t do much with a smartphone with out a mobile signal – Chromebooks are made to be connected, plus they assume that you will be surviving in the browser. And in the event that’s what you do, you will see little to complain about. Enterprise users requiring a particular little bit of desktop software (or an installed version of Office and a normal desktop) will be out of luck.

The 1.4GHz Celeron processor keeps everything moving along nicely – possibly the secret of Chromebooks is that, unlike some budget laptops, the modest hardware isn’t overwhelmed by the weight of the operating-system. Chrome doesn’t put an excessive amount of pressure on modest hardware, this means Chromebooks could be cheap however, not compromised – at least with regards to web-based applications. That also supports battery life – Dell claims ten hours, and we discovered that it performed pretty much (see below).

Performance & battery life
As noted above, the Dell Chromebook 11 boots up pleasingly quickly, and we found it responsive on the whole use. For the record, its average score on the Sunspider 1.0.2 JavaScript benchmark was a good 340ms. It scored 3,233 on Rightware’s Browsermark 2.0 test, an outcome referred to as ‘better than 51 percent of systems tested’.

So far as battery life can be involved, our tests by using a multimeter to measure power consumption under different screen brightness/workload conditions produced estimates between 10.3 hours (25% brightness, system idling) and 3.5 hours (100% percent brightness, owning a demanding workload) for the system’s three-cell 51Wh battery. Upon this basis, you may expect the Chromebook 11 to last for about seven hours typically – almost a complete working day.

Conclusion
Dell’s Chromebook 11 offers strong but stylish design, reasonable performance and good battery life. Screen quality may be the only significant drawback, if you don’t will need to have an Ethernet port. If you are comfortable living totally online in the browser, it’s an outstanding option – especially at $179 or £199 (ex. VAT). If you are looking for more in the form of traditional desktop processing power (for photography editing and other demanding workloads for instance), you’ll desire a notebook running Windows or Mac OS X. But even these users could look at a Chromebook as a lightweight secondary device as of this price.

Pros

• Price: £199 because of this quality is remarkable
• Elegant design
• Good battery life

Cons

• Screen quality is underwhelming
• Requires buy-in to the Google ecosystem