Hands-on review: Dell Chromebook 11 3180 Education laptop

An affordable laptop that brings Linux-based Chrome OS and Google’s G Suite for Education to schools.

Dell 11 3180 Education laptop
Swapnil Bhartiya

Google’s Linux based operating system, Chrome OS, is taking a bite out of Apple. In 2016, Chromebook overtook the sales of MacBooks, although Chromebooks are still a US K-12 story as IDC analyst Linn Huang told the Verge.

Many schools in the US are switching away from iPads to Chromebooks, for various reasons. According to Phys.org, “Google sold the Chromebook on convenience. They're easier for classrooms to share; just sign in with a Google account, and a student's apps and documents instantly appear. Teachers also have online tools to lock down what apps and sites students can use.”

When Dell came out with the new Chromebook 11 3180 Education laptop, I wanted to try it out. In addition to keeping an eye on Linux hardware, there is a personal reason. My son is starting elementary school this year and there are ongoing discussions among concerned parents over the pros and cons of iPads vs Chromebooks. I have many Chromebooks, but I wanted to try the one that is meant for schools.

School-proof hardware

Dell had to maintain a fine balance between price and quality, since the Chromebook was targeted at schools. It has to be rugged and abuse-proof, without increasing the price.

Dell Chromebook 11 3180 Education has a plastic body but it features rubberized trim so it offers decent protection from droppage. Shoving the Chromebook in school lockers, or banging it around inside backpacks won’t damage the device.

It’s powered by an Intel Celeron processor and comes with 2GB or 4GB of RAM. But CPU and RAM is not that important on Chromebooks as Google has optimized the lightweight OS to run on meager hardware.  This $259 Chromebook is as fast as my $1700 MacBook Pro.

It’s 11.6" anti-glare screen (1366 x 768 resolution) is perfect for well-lit environments and outdoors. The display is Corning Gorilla Glass so it can withstand some abuse without leaving scratches. It’s not a convertible like my Chromebook Flip, but the hinges allow for a 180-degree opening, making it useful for students to sit around it and work on it.

Since Chrome OS is not very resource hungry, I was able to get around nine hours of battery life, which means enough juice to not only survive the entire school day but also leave enough battery for homework. The keyboard is fully spill resistant so no worries about spilled juice or drinks.

The software

Software is where Chrome OS shines in general, but it becomes even more critical in an educational device used by students. First of all it’s a zero maintenance OS; students or schools don’t have to worry about keeping their devices updated. Chrome OS uses a different mechanism for updates that keeps it up-to-date, without user interference. Always. All it takes is a reboot. Applications also are updated automatically; you never have to update an application on Chrome OS.

Google has created an entire suite of applications for Education called G Suite for Education. It includes core services like Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Contacts, Drive, Docs, Forms, Groups, Sheets, Sites, Slides, Talk/Hangouts and Vault.

You may wonder about privacy because search and advertising are Google’s core businesses. None of the services offered as part of G Suite for Education contain advertising, and they don’t use information in those services for advertising purposes. Google says that schools can use G Suite core services in compliance with COPPA and FERPA.

Beyond core services

Google has invested heavily in building Classroom, a solution designed for teachers that allows them to assign projects to individual students or a group of students.

But you are not limited to core Google services, Google Web Store allows schools to install other educational applications for their students. And there are many solutions that allow educators and parents to have complete control over what their kids are accessing on their Chromebooks.

When you combine Google’s software and Dell’s hardware, you get a perfect machine for schools.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

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