We first looked at the Dell Chromebook 13 back in late 2015, praising its build quality and full-HD display, but feeling it was a bit heavy at 1.46kg (3.23lbs).
Now we have the new Chromebook 13 3380 which, with a starting price of £259 (ex. VAT), is being marketed primarily at the education sector. Going forward, we can expect a renewed focus on Chromebooks in business, following Google’s recent announcement of the Chrome Enterprise operating system — although currently there are issues getting hold of business-class Chromebooks outside of the US.
Dell is bigging up the new Chromebook 13’s ‘best-in-class durability’, and it’s certainly a solidly built laptop. There’s a sealed spill-resistant keyboard, while the rounded rubber-finish on the edges of the base is a neat touch to help protect against drops. However, it’s a pity there’s no similar protection on the lid section.
The Chromebook 13 3380 is no lightweight at 1.61kg (3.54lbs), and it’s also quite chunky at 332.9mm wide by 231.8mm deep by 23mm thick. It will certainly take up a significant slice of a student’s backpack — and help them to keep fit.
There’s a light on the lid section that Dell calls the ‘Activity Light’. This is controlled via an app that I had to download and install. Once in place it pops up three control options that activate the light in one of three colours. Blue is the Chromebook equivalent of raising a hand in class, red is the colour to ask a question, and yellow (although to my eyes it looks green), is the colour that indicates discussion. I couldn’t work out a real-world use for the yellow light, but I guess teachers can use the Activity Light feature in a freeform way if they want students to work quietly. Gimmick or useful tool? You decide.
Unlike the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA the screen doesn’t swivel through 360 degrees. Instead it reaches just 180 degrees, which means it can be laid flat on the desk for students to share information. However, the fact that the keyboard isn’t hidden away means a lot of desk space is needed if several students want to compare screens.
The 13.3-inch screen could do with another couple of notches of brightness. Its resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels delivers enough detail for viewing websites, but having a web page and a word processing document open side by side will prove a struggle. The screen is reflective, and looks a little lost in its wide bezel.
The keyboard is not as springy as I would like, but it has been designed to withstand some serious stresses in student hands, and is responsive enough. I had no trouble touch-typing at normal speeds. The wide touchpad is also responsive.
There’s an adequate range of ports and slots: a full-size HDMI port, a pair of USB 3.1 ports, a MicroSD card reader and a headset jack. Dual-and 802.11ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE cater for wireless connectivity. There’s no wired Ethernet port though.
There are four variants of the Chromebook 13 3380 available on Dell’s UK website at the time of writing, running on 6th-generation Intel Celeron or Core i3 processors. I was sent the top-of-the-range £413 (ex. VAT) model for review, which has a touchscreen and the maximum internal storage capacity of 32GB (22.8GB was free on my review unit):
- Intel Celeron C3855, 4GB RAM, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 non-touch screen, 16GB storage
£259 (ex. VAT)
- Intel Celeron C3855, 4GB RAM, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen, 16GB storage
£333 (ex. VAT)
- Intel Core i3-6006, 4GB RAM, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 non-touch screen, 16GB storage
£329 (ex. VAT)
- Intel Core i3-6006, 4GB RAM, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen, 32GB storage
£413 (ex. VAT)
According to Dell, the Chromebook 13 3380 should deliver at least ten hours of life — plenty for a full school day — on a single charge from its 4-cell 56Wh battery. During testing I managed several periods of 3-4 hours running mainstream workloads without taking the battery below 50 percent, so Dell’s claim seems reasonable.
The Dell Chromebook 13 3380 is no lightweight, lacks a fully rotating screen and has a somewhat unforgiving keyboard, but it delivers good battery life and is solidly built. The less expensive models are likely to be of most interest to schools and colleges, which are increasingly operating on very tight budgets.
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