Looking at the Chromebook market, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s just the modern iteration of the netbook age. Small, cheap, underpowered plastic laptops that offer very little to anyone wanting a higher-end experience in a portable and affordable package. Dell changed that with the Chromebook 13. Now you can get a premium Chrome OS laptop without spending silly money on a Pixel. The Dell Chromebook 13 starts at $429 for the base model, and climbs to $899 for the top-tier. In the UK, it ranges from £484 to £856…
Before diving in to looking at the hardware, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. Chrome OS is not a fully-fledged computer operating system (yet). If you’re needing a powerful computer with plenty of built-in storage for media, or you need native apps and games, it’s not going to be right for you. With that said, there are hundreds of incredibly useful web-based apps, tools and extensions to install and use which can get you by. You can create and edit documents, manage calendars, emails, watch videos, even edit photos to some extent. It’s all cloud-based, meaning you need a good Internet connection, but it works.
Design-wise, the Dell Chromebook is one of the best-made Chrome notebooks I’ve used. It has a solid shell made from a Magnesium alloy, and a carbon fiber effect finish on the lid. The plastic casing around the keyboard has a really nice soft-touch grippy finish, perfect for resting your hands on while typing. The more expensive models have a glossy Gorilla Glass covering over the screen, adding a more classy look to the entire laptop. What’s more, the device feels like it could take a beating without breaking. It’s solid.
Perhaps my one complaint is that although the hinge on the display moves really smoothly, it is a little stiff. What’s more, there’s no cutout lip on the base, or overlap when it’s shut to make it easier to lift. Still, those are minor complaints. This is without doubt one of the best-made Chromebooks around.
As a bonus, it has virtually all the ports you could possibly need. There might not be USB Type-C for the early adopters, but it does have USB 3.0, USB 2.0, MicroSD, HDMI, 3.5mm audio and a power port.
REVIEW UNIT KEY SPECS:
- 13.3-inch 1920×1080 resolution display
- Corning Gorilla Glass + Touchscreen
- 2.90 GHz Intel Core i5
- 8GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- HDMI out
- USB 3.0
- USB 2.0
- Micro SD card slot
- Backlit keyboard
- Glass multitouch trackpad
Several factors make this easily one of my favorite Chromebooks to use so far. Mostly, those are the display, speed/performance and the trackpad and backlit keyboard.
The DELL Chromebook 13 has a full HD 1080p resolution display. It doesn’t matter whether you go for the lowest end model with the basic Celeron chip, or high end Core i5-equipped model, you get the same screen resolution. It’s not just sharp and clean, but colors are fantastic too.
In the past I’ve found watching videos on Chromebooks to be a terrible experience because of the low resolution, washed out and viewing angle-sensitive displays. Not so with the Dell. Lighting, colors and sharpness are consistent regardless of the angle.
With the stereo speakers underneath the Chromebook firing audio back off the surface it’s lying on, it’s fair to say this is one of the only Chrome OS products that’s actually great for watching movies on, not just tolerable like so many others.
Performance and speed will vary depending on which model you go for, but with the 8GB RAM and Core i5 inside our review unit, it was top notch. Switching between windows, apps and loading web pages was buttery smooth. Even Google Maps was fast and responsive, rarely leaving any waiting time before maps or satellite imagery appeared onscreen.That same sense of speed and responsiveness is felt when using the large glass trackpad, or using the touchscreen. That said, this particular model is the most high-end on offer in the current Chromebook 13 range, and comes at a cost.
As for battery life, how long it lasts depends very much on how intensive the tasks are that you’re trying to perform and how bright the screen is. As a rule, I got between 6-8 hours of use on a full charge, which is just about right for a laptop these days.
While I have no real complaints about the keyboard, it didn’t exactly excite me either. The keys are well shaped, and adequately spaced apart to make typing a piece of cake for most touch typists. Often times though, I really felt it whenever my finger pushed down on the edge of the key rather than the center. There was an audible and tangible crunch every now and then. It was a little disconcerting. Perhaps Dell should look in to making the key switches a little more solid. Still, I really liked the backlighting. In a bright setting, you can barely tell the keys have any backlight at all, except for the glimmer of white shining from underneath the keys. Start typing in the dark though, and everything changes. The light subtly surrounds each key and beams through the lettering on the top without being overpowering. It’s subtle and yet still very useful.
Having spent more than a week with the Chromebook 13, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a better all-round Chrome OS notebook out there than the 13-inch model from Dell. It’s solidly constructed, looks and feels great, has a fantastic display and is really fast. It’s a wonderful notebook, but it’s not cheap. If you can cope with using Chrome OS as your main platform, it’s easily worth the outlay. If you need it more as a backup computer for carrying around with you, it’s a little expensive.