For several good reasons, Chromebooks tend to have an educational focus. Given the typically low price tag and focus on Google Apps for Education, it made perfect sense for many companies to work with Google on products just for schools. But what happens when these kids grow up with Chromebooks and want a computer of their own as they enter High School and College? There aren't many mid-to-high end Chromebooks out there, with the Pixelbook existing as a most extreme exception.
In much the same way Dell wants Windows fans to look to its Inspiron line when considering a reasonably priced Windows 10 computer, there will soon be a Chromebook sitting in this same line for people to consider. And after spending a couple of hours with the new Inspiron Chromebook 14, I'm already prepared to tell Chrome OS fans to give this laptop a serious look.
Grown up hardware
At first glance, this Chromebook looks like a fairly standard mid-range Dell laptop. But if you think about it, that's actually kind of impressive. No cheap-looking plastic, no flimsy hinges, and no low-resolution displays can be found here. This is a slick, matte black laptop with a solid-feeling keyboard and a great 1920x1080 resolution display. The trackpad both looks nice and responds quickly, and there's a stylus tucked away under the bottom edge for writing on the screen in tablet mode because the body is very similar to the rest of Dell's 2-in-1 line.
There's very little to distinguish this laptop from the rest of Dell's Inspiron line, right down to the nearly impossible to see Chrome logo on the back of the display. While it's in the same top left corner you normally see the Chrome badge, the matte on matte coloring makes it so you only notice the badge when the light hits it just right.
And, honestly, all of this is for the better. This looks and feels like a mature, durable laptop with a focus on getting things done. The USB-C ports on the left and right side can be used for power and display out, with a USB-A port on the left and a MicroSD slot on the right for everything else you might need. All of this is powered by Intel's Core i3-8130U processor, with 4GB of RAM and up to 128GB onboard flash storage.
Dell claims the display can get up to 300 nits of brightness with a capable audio system, but we've not yet been able to spend enough time with this laptop to really put either through their paces.
Same solid Chrome OS experience
There's not a ton to be said about the software because, well, it's Chrome OS. By its very nature, if you've used Chrome OS one place you've used it everywhere. Dell's hardware does an excellent job getting out of the way of the software when you need it to, and the included stylus can be used to navigate the UI just like you would with your fingers. There aren't a ton of Chrome OS apps ready for stylus input for things like handwriting recognition, save for Google Keep, which is still kind of a bummer. Since Dell is nice enough to include a stylus, it would be super cool of Google to include handwriting functionality in its virtual keyboard. For artists, however, it's a nice accessory to have when you need to get a thought out of your head.
One thing of note - Google's firmware for USB-C video out is now perfectly smooth. During our demonstration, there was a Dell USB-C monitor on the table next to mine, and when I asked if it could be plugged in and have it just work, the rep didn't know but was willing to try so we could both see what happened. As soon as the cable was attached, Chrome OS instantly started drawing a second screen onto this 4K monitor and the cable was simultaneously charging the Chromebook. It happened instantly, exactly how you'd expect, which was just plain cool to watch for the first time.
A Chromebook for everyone
The biggest takeaway from my brief time with this laptop is how hard Dell is working to make this Chromebook feel like part of the Inspiron lineup. It's a clear sign to consumers that Chromebooks aren't an "other" in the lineup, but instead an option deserving to be taken just as seriously as its Windows-based siblings on the shelf.
A mid-range Chromebook deserves a mid-range price, and Dell is delivering with a starting $599 option. This laptop will be available in North America starting October 23rd, with plans for global availability to be announced at a later date.
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