Chromebooks have come a long way in five years. Andy Wolber looks at the features that distinguish the Dell Chromebook 13 from other devices.
The Chromebook turns 5 in December 2015. The first Chromebook, the Cr-48, sported a design that Cayce Pollard could love: a black laptop with no brand names, logos, or labels. In fact, there were no device markings of any kind. Google never sold the Cr-48, but instead, it shipped the systems in late 2010 to experimenters eager to try a new web-focused laptop.
Almost five years later, Dell launched the Chromebook 13—a "professional Chromebook"—in September 2015. Even though they are generations apart in specs, the Cr-48 and Chromebook 13 feel surprisingly similar to me. They are both well-balanced, solid devices with restrained design. Neither aspired to be the lightest laptop, yet they both provide an excellent typing experience.
The Chromebook 13 - 7310 that I tested arrived with an Intel Celeron 3205U processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB SSD drive, priced at $429 (USD) as of October 2015. The Chromebook 13 sports several features you might expect: A 13.3-inch screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution, HDMI port, two USB ports (one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0), a lock slot, a headset/microphone port, and a microSD card slot.
The Dell Chromebook 13 returned Octane 2.0 benchmark scores around 14,000 (Figure A). For comparison, the 2014 version of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 scores about 8,400. The original Cr-48 returns a score around 3,500. (All tests run in Guest mode after boot.)
Dell Chromebook 13 returns Octane 2.0 benchmark scores greater than 14,000.
Chromebook 13 features
Dell also added several features that professionals will appreciate.
Battery life: The Chromebook 13 offers up to 12 hours of battery life. I can't vouch for the claim in real-world tests, because I'm not dedicated enough to work that many hours at once. But the estimate seems to match my experience. The Dell Chromebook 13 can easily last a full business day without worries.
Wi-Fi: As you might expect, the Chromebook 13 supports 802.11ac connections. It also supports Lucid Sleep, a feature found on Google's Chromebook Pixel 2. Lucid Sleep allows the device to perform some tasks in a lower power mode, one of which is to connect to nearby known Wi-Fi access points. Enable the "Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep" setting (Figure B), and you'll see faster "open the screen, login and work" times. The Dell Chromebook 13 Wi-Fi works (and wakes) quickly.
Like the Chromebook Pixel 2, the Chromebook 13 can handle some tasks in sleep.
Backlit keyboard: If you've ever tried to work on an overnight flight or in a dimly lit lobby, you know that the light helps middle-aged eyes see the keys. Hold the [Alt] key, then press the brightness keys to adjust the backlight brightness (Figure C). If you don't need it, you can even turn it all the way off.
You can use the brightness keys to adjust the keyboard backlight.
Processor, RAM, and touchscreen upgrade options: Buyers may pay for a Chromebook with a faster processor (from the Celeron to an Intel i3 or i5), more RAM (from 4 GB to 8 GB), or a touchscreen. Some of these models also boost local storage from 16 GB to 32 GB. Dell prices the top of the line Chromebook 13 at $899 for 8 GB of RAM, an i5 processor, a touchscreen and 32 GB of SSD storage.
One-stop shop: Chromebook and Chrome Management Console
Finally, enterprise and education buyers may appreciate that Dell sells Chrome Management Console licenses, too. You can buy both your device and device management license from Dell. The Chrome Management Console allows a Google Apps Administrator to configure network settings, install (or block) applications, and customize many Chrome OS and browser behaviors. The license costs $50 per year or $150 for a perpetual license that lasts the life of the Chromebook.
Much of the Chromebook market to date consists of consumers and cost-conscious buyers—all people who appreciate access to the web with few maintenance or security worries. Google's Chromebook Pixel 2 serves the opposite end of the market—the power user willing to pay a premium for the best Chromebook available (and, I might add, also likely to switch the Pixel 2 into developer mode, install Linux, and tweak command line configurations).
The Cr-48 tested the concept of a browser-based device in 2010. The Dell Chromebook 13 tests the readiness of the mainstream enterprise market for Chromebooks (Figure D).
The Cr-48 tested the Chromebook concept in 2010, while the Dell Chromebook 13 tests the mainstream business market for Chromebooks in 2015.
Compared to other Chromebooks available for $429, the Dell Chromebook I tested offers a solidly built device with excellent battery life, fast performance, and a screen that reduces reflections well. For an individual, the 2015 version of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 offers a bit more speed at a similar price, although with a less firm frame.
For an enterprise buyer, though, the Dell Chromebook 13 offers upgrade options: if you need more power, you can pay for it. If your organization uses Google Apps and you want to move from traditional laptops to Chromebooks, the Dell Chromebook 13 should be the first device on your list.
What Chromebook have you selected for professionals in your organization? What questions do you have about the Dell Chromebook 13? Let us know in the discussion thread below.