Dell Chromebook 11 3180 review: When the going gets tough…

Google’s Chrome OS has been around a number of years now, making vast inroads in educational and consumer markets alike. With Google launching its Pixel Book priced from $999 upwards, what does the other end of the spectrum have to offer? Well, how about a Chromebook that is pretty much the antithesis of the Pixel Book; portable, tough, a little basic, and extremely functional with a price tag of just $239? Join us after the break for our review of Dell’s Chromebook 11 3180.  

Design

In terms of design, the Dell Chromebook 11 isn’t going to be winning any awards, it’s a case of function over form. It isn’t as if it’s ugly, it’s just suited to its purpose; a hardy Chromebook aimed for use in education, which means having to withstand students dropping it and spilling liquids on it and being able to perform without any drama. The plain black plastic construction looks smart if fairly dull, with Dell’s logo front and center, and the Chrome logo sits on the top left. On the top right of the lid is an activity light for use in the classroom.

With the lid open, you can see the Dell logo beneath the display, with an Intel sticker to the right of the responsive touchpad. The webcam is where you would expect it to be, above the non-touch display while the keyboard itself is comfortable enough to use throughout the day.

Everything else is reassuringly plain-looking, which isn’t a bad thing at all. There’s a dark grey rubber strip that runs around the edge of the device for protection against drops and bumps, and that’s pretty much it for aesthetics.

There’s a small cutout to aid opening the Chromebook which can open all the way flat to a 180-degree angle. The keyboard is spill-resistant, and without a Caps lock, instead, there is a dedicated Search key, like every other Chromebook.

You’ll find a 3.5mm audio/microphone jack, charging indicator LED and Noble Wedge lock slot on the right-hand side. On the left is the charging port, MicroSD card slot, HDMI port, as well as two 3.1 USB Type-A ports. There’s a pair of speakers on the bottom of the Chromebook as well.

Weighing in at 1.27kg with dimensions of 20.75 x 303.3 x 206mm, the Chromebook 11 (3180) is very portable and compact. It will not take up loads of room in the backpack or locker and is easy to handle.

Hardware

 Dell Chromebook 11 3180
Display11-Inch HD Anti-glare (1366 x 768)
ProcessorIntel Celeron N3060
RAM4GB
Storage16GB eMMC
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics
SoundDual speakers
ConnectivityIntel Dual-Band Wireless AC 7265 WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2
Ports2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1, HDMI, MicroSD card slot, Audio/microphone jack, Noble Wedge security slot
InputNon-backlit, spill-resistant keyboard, multi-touch touchpad
Webcamintegrated 720p webcam with microphone
Battery3 Cell, 42 WHr
Power Supply65-watt AC Adapter
Dimensions303.3 x 20.8 x 206mm
Weight1.27KG

Performance

The Dell Chromebook 11 (3180) isn’t going to post record beating benchmark scores, but it does have just enough performance to fulfill its purpose. Its 11.6-inch non-touch LCD display has a 1366 x 768 resolution, and while watching HDR quality videos on the device isn’t going to happen, it has enough quality to get the job done. The panel is bright and clear with adequate reproduction of colors, and it’s easily adjusted, although viewing angles aren’t the greatest with colors definitely dimming around the 45 -degree mark. Still, it’s aimed at the classroom so maybe have less than stellar viewing angles isn’t a bad thing. “Good enough” is a phrase that applies to much of the 3180’s capabilities. Basically, it’s just fine for use with Google Docs, Slides, and other educational purposes and the casual viewing of streaming content. It’s a shame that it doesn’t sport a panel with better viewing angles and a higher-resolution, but it’s understandable considering the price-point and who it’s aimed at.

Under the hood is a proven Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor as well as 4GB of RAM and a 16GB eMMC hard drive. It may not be the sexy, all-singing, all-dancing i7 processor that the Pixel Book has, but the Celeron processor has enough about it to get things done. I wouldn’t suggest going for the model with just 2GB RAM though, the 4GB RAM is enough to keep 7-8 tabs open on your Chrome browser without a hitch. Once you progress to 10 tabs and above, well, things get a little janky. Running the graphics is an Intel HD Graphics 400.

The sound from the dual speakers situated on the bottom of the device is loud enough for normal usage, although it’s on the tinny side. Bass is not a feature you’ll associate with the Chromebook 11 3180 and you won’t be filling the room with wall-to-wall sound.

The touchpad is accurate and responsive, with two- and three-finger swipes being performed without having to really press down too hard. Unlike some Windows laptops I’ve owned, I didn’t experience any false clicks during the review period.

Battery

Dell claims that the Chromebook 11 (3180) will achieve 10 hours of battery, which should be enough to get enough the most demanding student through a day at school or college. From my experience, this is definitely achievable depending on how you are using the 3180. The more that the processor has to work, the more juice it will expend. After streaming videos and music, using Google Docs, and just general browsing and typing for work, I managed to get 8-10 hours of use out of the Chromebook 11 3180 on most days.

Software

It’s a Chromebook, thus it uses the Google’s Chrome OS with Google Apps. It’s basically the Chrome browser with added functionality and is no worse for it. It’s great for work purposes, but if you happen to have spare time, you can always crack open Google Play Movies or Netflix to watch your favorite content. While many of its functions require an active internet connection, you can get a surprising amount of work done offline thanks to Gmail offline, Google Docs, photo editor, etc. If you’ve used a Chromebook before you know what to expect. For users coming from MacOS or Windows, there will be an adjustment period, but it’s well worth the effort.

Closing

Priced from $239 (£179), the Dell Chromebook 11 offers a durable solution, its spill-resistant keyboard, and rugged design add value to the device and should ensure its ability to survive receiving an education. It doesn’t boast the stylish design and outlandishly high-specs of Google’s Pixel Book, but that’s ok because the 3180 is aimed at students, education facilities, and possibly people like myself who are a little accident prone. With a decent amount of ports including 2 x USB ports, a full-sized HDMI socket, and an audio jack, the only thing missing is an ethernet port, and while I wish it had a better quality display, it’s plenty good enough for what it needs to do.

There are no tricks or gimmicks; the Chromebook 11 3180 simply does what it says on the box. Its tough, resistant to life’s knocks with an all-day battery and has enough performance to get the job done. For $239(£179), what more could you hope for?

Buy it Now: Dell, Amazon


About the Author: Peter Holden

He's been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being his first phablet. He currently carries a Huawei P10 and a Galaxy Tab S2 8.0. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, he's an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, he loves a good Braai (BBQ).