Since their inception, Chromebooks have long been considered cheap computers, cheap laptops, "just a browser" or just a cheap way to connect to the Internet. Of course, there are still plenty of affordable Chromebooks on the market, and because of the education sector, there likely always will be. However, there is a growing trend that actually started with the Pixelbook that is seeing more and more Chromebooks built in the mid to high end with more premium builds, better internals and an overall better user experience.
One such device is the Dell Inspiron 14 that was released in late 2018. This Chromebook packs a lot into a tablet with a starting price of $599, and if you're careful, you can find a deal for as little as $450 every now and then. never. At any price point under $600, Dell has a lot to offer, and we want to explain why this could be one of the best Chromebook experiences on offer for the coming year.
Starting with the display, Dell has done a great job with this 14-inch FHD (1920x1080) panel. The bezels on the top and sides are nice and small, viewing angles are great, brightness is good, colors are vibrant, and the size is great for general productivity.
With Chrome OS's scaling feature, 1080p screens can be scaled up and down to make the user interface a little bigger or smaller, while keeping everything on it nice, clean. The advantage here is that the FHD display uses far fewer resources compared to a 3000x2000 display on something like the Pixel Slate or the Pixelbook's 2400x1600 design. Sure, those screens are great, but they also take a toll on your battery and processor, and that's not always the best compromise.
I usually use a Chromebook with a secondary display which, if placed next to a device with a mediocre display, can make Chromebook displays look poor in comparison. No such issues with the Dell though, as it was on par with my LG Ultrawide monitor in both brightness and colour.
Is this Lenovo Chromebook under $200…
14 inches is also a great size for productivity. When I'm not at my desk, I often miss the extra screen I get with a second monitor, and 14-inch Chromebooks give me enough room to feel comfortable on the go.
As with most Chromebooks, the input methods are pretty solid. That doesn't mean they're great though, and at this price I have a few things to choose from.
The first is the keyboard.While the backlight is a welcome addition, the travel and click aren't my favorites. I'm not in the habit of fiddling with keyboards, but the softness of this device bothered me a bit. I can get by without a lot of trips, but I like a good click when I press the button so I know I've pressed it. Many times with the Dell I wondered if I had missed a keystroke and it was a little annoying.
The trackpad, while not made of glass, is quite smooth and quite spacious. I generally haven't had too many problems with it other than a little oil build up over the course of a normal day. Glass tracking pads do a much better job in this area and at this price I would like to see a glass pad. But the click is good and the general usability is good.
The stylus is exactly what you'd expect from a Chromebook now. It works, is stored inside the device and is available when needed. As apps slowly get better at using pen input on Chromebooks, I love seeing more and more devices have a pen in the garage. Whether you use it often or occasionally like me, I love that it's there when you need it. As always, several levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt support are along for the ride, as Dell opted for an artist-approved EMR stylus.
Choosing a port is a win. Many devices have shipped with this design in 2018 and I expect it to continue. In a world moving towards USB-C adoption, an additional USB-A port and headphone/mic port is still of great value. Sure, USB-C can replace both with an actual dongle, but it's really nice to have a port setup that lets you forget about dongles and just get to work.
The usual suspects are also on board: a micro SD card reader and two USB-C ports, one on each side.
The speakers were also a surprise on the Inspiron. When fired from below, the sound was full and rich, and it didn't seem like all the sound was being channeled to the bottom of the chassis.
This is built like a tank. There is no problem. Weighing in at over 4kg, the Inspiron is by no means light or delicate. If you're looking for an ultra-thin and light Chromebook, you'll need to look elsewhere. If you plan to buy this device for frequent use as a tablet, you should look elsewhere.
While it's not overly clumsy or funny, it's important. It is well made and you feel the quality when you pick it up. Forget the creaks, plastics or cheap materials. This thing is all aluminum and built to last. In fact, I dropped our review unit from a chair several feet off the ground onto a hardwood floor and there wasn't a single scratch on the unit.
This should come as no surprise as Dell has been making the Inspiron line of laptops for years and has brought the same experience, expertise and quality to this Chromebook. It's also a big step for Dell, as they haven't extended their existing PC brand to any Chromebooks until now. Now that you can buy a Dell Inspiron with either Windows or Chrome OS, it seems like a legitimate move that sends a message to the general consumer that Chromebooks are a legitimate option in the PC buying process. I hope Dell extends the same treatment to the XPS line at some point in the future.
Dell only offers one configuration of this Chromebook. This setup is an 8th gen Core i3 (8130U), 4GB of RAM and 128GB of eMMC storage. Benchmarks show this unit is as quick synthetically as it is in real life, hitting nearly 100 on the tach and 34,000 on the octane. Bottom line: this is FAST.
With this U series i3 processor, there is no real need for an i5 or i7. Coupled with only 1920x1080 pixels to scroll through, there's literally nothing you can do to slow it down.
Surely some of you reading this immediately despise 4GB of RAM. I really, REALLY wish they had gone with 8GB here, but I have to be honest and say it never reared its head and never gave me any problems.
The generous 128GB of storage was great, and even though it's eMMC, I never mind the slower read/write speeds. At some point Chromebooks will need faster SSDs as video/photo editing becomes more realistic, but for now there's no real need.
Overall, I'd say Dell just outperformed. As always with Chromebooks, you get all that performance with 8-10 hours of use, so don't worry about battery life with this one.
So should you get this?At full price, I'd say maybe. There are other players in this price bracket, such as the Lenovo C630, the seemingly always-on-sale Pixelbook, the fantastic HP x360, the HP x2, and possibly a few more as we head into 2019. To this point, no Chromebooks make the always right but Dell checked a lot of boxes with the Inspiron.
It wouldn't be surprising to see this device on sale, and if you can get it for almost $500, it's a no-brainer. But even at the full price of $599, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find such a good all-around computing experience.