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Review: 6 business-class Chromebooks test their mettle

Woody Leonhard | Dec. 11, 2014
I've spent the last three weeks taking six business-oriented Chromebooks through their paces. I started out as a skeptical Windows-rules-them-all kind of guy: I've been using Windows since the early days, and I've rarely strayed from the ghosts of my Windows masters. By the end of my Chromebook experiment, however, my old biases were shaken.

Other than that, the specs are solid: two USB 3 ports, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, an SD card slot, and a full-fledged HDMI port. The webcam runs 1,280 by 720. In my YouTube battery test, I got eight hours before the battery quit, the best in this bunch of Chromebooks.

The machine I tested, the Chromebook 13 CB5-311-T9B0 with 1,920-by-1,080 display, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB flash drive, lists at $299, but I've found it discounted recently as low as $250. The upscale CB5-311-T1UU with 4GB RAM and 32GB flash lists for $380. And the squinty stepsister CB5-311-T7NN, with a lower-resolution 1,366-by-768 screen, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB flash, lists for $330. The lower-resolution screen should add up to two hours to the battery life.

Dell Chromebook 11 CB1C13

Dell is about to release a newer version of its Chromebook 11, but the new Intel Core i3 4005U model wasn't available in time for this review. Still, the Celeron 2955U model is no slouch. Its Google Octane benchmark score of 10,400 puts it near the top of the pack, second only to the Chromebook Pixel.

It's a portly portable, to be sure. Measuring 11.6 by 7.9 by 0.97 inches thick and weighing 2.9 pounds, it's oddly plump for an 11-inch Chromebook.

You should expect Dell's usual build quality: It's a solid machine with a nice-looking cover. There's a full array of ports — two USB 3.0 slots, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader — and 802.1a/b/g/n (but not ac) comes standard. Dell's spec sheet says the CB1C13 has "integrated Ethernet," but there's no Ethernet port — you need to use a dongle.

My battery test came in at 7.5 hours, which is quite good, especially considering the CPU performance. The speakers work reasonably well, but the 720p webcam has trouble coping with variable contrast. The power cords on most Chromebooks come with a right-angle bend next to the machine; on the Dell it sticks way out.

Then there's the screen. Dell hasn't given this device the screen it deserves. At 11.6 inches, 1,366-by-768 resolution, the old-fashioned TN panel looks washed-out, with poor color rendition and very narrow viewing angles. It'll suffice for most corporate jobs, but you wouldn't want to watch "Life of Pi" on it. As a bit of compensation, the HDMI port can drive a full 1,920-by-1,080 HD monitor.

That said, the keyboard's quite nice. Dell's keyboard has respectable throw and reasonably good tactile feedback. I found I could speed type on it quite easily, unlike with several other keyboards in this roundup. The responsive, standard-sized touchpad (4 by 2.25 inches) has a pleasant feel and operates smoothly, with no false starts.

 

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