Dell's education-focused Chromebook 11 was surprisingly one of the best Chromebooks we've ever used, even though it was notoriously difficult to actually purchase for much of last year. Now, Dell is taking what it learned from last year's launch and releasing a new, upgraded Chromebook 11 that feels just as solid as last year's model at first glance. The first Chromebook Dell produced was a well-built, well-rounded machine with no glaring defects — and it appears the new model offers the same solid combo.
Dell isn't messing with what worked last time
While the 11-inch, 1366 x 768 screen is average as ever, this year you'll be able to get it with a touchscreen if you're so inclined. And almost everything else about the hardware is better than most Chromebooks out there. The keyboard and trackpad are excellent (and spill-resistant), the body is strong and shows few hints of flex or weakness, and the whole package weighs in under 3 pounds. The body itself has the same unobtrusive matte black plastic found in last year's model, and it again feels like an appropriate choice — it's one of the more solid-feeling computers we've seen in this price range, and Dell said they want it to be able to stand up to abuse from students. The computer's strong hinge adds to this feeling of confidence — the whole package isn't as sleek or light as some other 11-inch laptops, but it does look ready to stand up to abuse.
Spec-wise, the new Chromebook 11 only contains just what it needs to run Chrome — there's a dual-core, Intel Bay Trail-M Celeron processor clocked at 2.16GHz alongside 16GB of storage. Dell is claiming 10 hours of battery life this time out, which we're inclined to believe after last year's model did so well in our battery tests. Fortunately, Dell is again offering the option to get 4GB of RAM, but it seems that's the only spec you can customize on this computer — the 4GB version will run $299, while the entry-level model with 2GB of RAM will cost $249. That entry model is $30 less than the 2GB model cost last year, but again we're going to recommend just springing for the 4GB of RAM. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Dell will offer a model with Intel's more powerful i3 processor at this time as it eventually did with last year's model.
The company's focus on students went beyond designing the computer to withstand abuse — there's a new multicolor LED "activity light" in the computer's lid that reminded me of the Chromebook PIxel's light bar. However, this light actually serves a purpose: with a custom app installed, users can change the color of the light as a sort of signal. The example we were given was imagining a teacher in front of a class of students, each of whom could activate or change the color of their light to "raise their hand" so to speak, or signal they need help with something. Dell also said it could be used for taking quick quizzes or polls of a group or students, or use the lights to separate students into different groups. It sounds a bit like a solution in search of a problem, but Dell has specifically been working with educators to add useful features to its devices, and it sounds like this is one of them.
Dell's 11-inch Latitude is basically its Chromebook running Windows
While Chrome has made a lot of headway in the education market, there are still plenty out there who prefer Windows — to that end, Dell is also offering a near-identical version of the Chromebook 11, but instead running either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. The Latitude 11 Education Series launches alongside last year's 13-inch, education-focused Latitude and is nearly identical to the company's new Chromebook. It has the same construction, same 180-degree hinge, same 11-inch display (with touchscreen optional) — the only noticeable difference at first glance is there's no "Chrome" logo on the lid, the keyboard is in the traditional Windows layout, and that new LED light is in a slightly different position. (Also, Dell's offering the Windows model with a blue trim in addition to the standard black model.)
The Latitude 11 is nearly as cheap as its Chrome-based counterpart, starting at $299. That'll get you an Intel Celeron processor of unspecified speed, a 250GB hard drive, and an unspecified amount of RAM (we're guessing 2GB, like the Chromebook) — not a lot of detail, but we're guessing Dell will fill in the blanks by the time it goes on sale March 3rd.
To match its strategy of dual Microsoft- and Google-powered laptops, Dell is also offering a new pair of Venue 10 tablets, one of which runs Windows 8.1, the other Android Lollipop. Neither tablet is a high-end beast, and that shows in the screen choice — a 10.1-inch panel that only runs at 1280 x 800, a resolution we left behind years ago. (Fortunately, both are upgradeable to full 1080p if you so choose). To be fair to Dell, these are low-priced, education-focused devices, so the company was clearly trying to find places to cut corners. Both tablets feature Dell's LED light on the back and each has a keyboard docking station you can pop them into to get a much-improved typing experience.
Both tablets also feature front- and rear-facing cameras, will have the option for adding an LTE SIM card, and include from 64GB to 256GB of storage. They'll be powered by Intel's Core M processor running at either 2.0GHz or 2.9 GHz and will include 2GB of RAM. Beyond the specs, both of these tablets feel nearly as sturdy as their laptop counterparts — Dell clearly made strong physical design a priority with these devices.
As for when you'll be able to buy them, the Chromebook 11 is on sale today, while the Latitude 11 will go on sale starting March 3rd (the touch display model won't be available until June). As for the tablets, the Venue 10 Pro will also be on sale starting Marc 3rd for $329, or $379 with the keyboard dock. There's no specific timeframe or price for the Android-powered Venue 10 yet, though — Dell just said it would launch this spring.