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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (2014) review: Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 does the 2-in-1 thing on the cheap and does it well

The Good The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 gives you the flexibility of a laptop and tablet in one ultraportable package at an affordable price. It has a long battery life, it looks good, and feels like it's solidly built. Plus, you can easily open it and upgrade storage and memory.
The Bad The lower-end components limit performance. There are few configuration options, so if you want more than 4GB of memory or an SSD, you're on your own. The bottom can get uncomfortably hot.
The Bottom Line With the Inspiron 11 3000, Dell delivers an everyday ultraportable hybrid with an excellent battery life at a good price.
It didn't take long for computer manufacturers to bring the hybrid design of Lenovo's Yoga series down to more affordable prices. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000, for example, takes the nearly $1,200 XPS 11 and strips it back to just essentials for less than $500, but without sacrificing the 360-degree hinges for its laptop-to-tablet-and-back-again design.
Like its competition, the 11 3000 has decidedly entry-level components. In the US, Dell has two configurations: one with a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 and one with a quad-core Pentium N3530. These basically replace Intel Atom processors in this type of ultraportable and it's for the better, delivering more performance with improved power efficiency.
There's a $50 price difference between them ($450 for the Celeron and $500 for the Pentium), though at the time of this review they were both priced at $400 with all other specs -- 4GB of memory, integrated Intel HD graphics, and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive -- being the same. The 11 3000 2-in-1 is currently unavailable on Dell's UK site (just the XPS 11), but in Australia you can pick up the Celeron configuration for AU$599 (oddly enough with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi that's not available in the US version).
dell-inspiron-3000-11-product-photos06.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features

Considering its price, the 11 3000 is a nice-looking laptop. No, it's not made from aluminum, but the plastic body is made to look like it from afar and it feels solid, not cheap. Though the hinge design adds some thickness to the system, it's still just an inch thick (21.2 mm) with the rest of the body measuring 11.8 inches wide by 7.9 inches deep (300 by 201.5 mm).
At 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) it's not heavy, but with all that weight packed into a relatively small package, it might feel like a bit more weight than you would think. The weight becomes more noticeable when using it as a handheld tablet. The design is really best if you want a full-time laptop and a part-time tablet.
Dell Inspirion 11 3000Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)HP Pavilion 11 x360
Price as reviewed$500 (AU$599)$450 (£400, AU$999)$475 (£329)
Display size/resolution11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen
PC CPU2.16GHz Intel Pentium N35302.16GHz Intel Pentium N35202.16GHz Intel Pentium N3520
PC Memory4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz
Graphics32MB Intel HD Graphics32MB Intel HD Graphics32MB Intel HD Graphics
Storage500GB 5,400rpm HDD500GB 5,400rpm HDD500GB 5,400rpm HDD
Optical driveNoneNoneNone
Networking802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating systemWindows 8.1 (64-bit)Windows 8.1 (64-bit)Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
Open the laptop and, well, it looks like a typical clamshell laptop. The 1,366x768-pixel-resolution IPStouchscreen giving you wide viewing angles -- pretty important given the two-in-one design -- which the similarly configured HP Pavilion x360 doesn't have. Below the screen is a Windows logo key that can be set to go to Start menu or Desktop.
The keyboard is about as far forward as possible leaving a fair amount of room below it for resting your palms and the wide touchpad. The keys are just big enough and there are no awkwardly small ones, so typing is accurate and comfortable: it shouldn't take much time, if any, for you to adjust to using it.
Key travel is good so you won't feel like you're typing on flat board and the keys are responsive and soft without feeling mushy. There is some flex toward the middle of the keyboard, but unless you're really hammering on it, it shouldn't be an issue.
dell-inspiron-3000-11-product-photos03.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET
The touchpad is OK, but you might want to crank up the palm rejection setting to help tame unwanted cursor movement. You may also want to shut off left and/or right-edge swiping and stick to the touchscreen for those. In fact, with the laptop's small size and the keyboard so far forward you may find yourself not using the touchpad as much as you would without a touchscreen anyway.
Since it can be used as a tablet, Dell put the power button and a volume rocker on the right side along with a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and security slot. On the left you'll find the headphone/mic jack; one more USB 2.0 port as well as a USB 3.0 with sleep charging; a full-size HDMI output; and the power input. Wireless options include Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with a single antenna, not the newer 802.11ac and not dual-band.
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There is also a speaker on each side that's capable of pumping out some pretty good audio. They won't blow away a decent set of headphones or desktop speakers, but they aren't the thin, tinny-sounding stereo speakers you might expect to find.

Performance and battery life

The configuration I tested was powered by the 2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3530 processor. Though its status as a quad-core CPU doesn't mean much, it is better than an Intel Atom processor, both in performance and battery life. Again, Dell offers a slightly less powerful dual-core Intel Celeron configuration for $50 less, but at the time of the review the two configurations were the same price: $400.
The slow-spinning 500GB hard drive is nice to have for storage, but doesn't do performance any favors. A cold boot takes about a minute and launching software isn't exactly fast either. However, if you haven't yet been spoiled by the speed of a solid-state drive, you probably won't notice. (On the upside, the 11 3000 isn't completely sealed like higher-end ultrabooks, allowing you to easily remove the bottom panel for memory or storage upgrades.)
dell-inspiron-3000-11-product-photos12.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET
Still, it's not a system you want to try to do too much with all at once. It had little problem handling basic home office tasks or streaming movies and music while Web surfing or playing casual games. If you do a lot of photo or video editing or want to play 3D games at even reduced settings, you'll want to spend more and get something with a fourth-generation Intel processor and better integrated or discrete graphics.
Battery life was unexpectedly excellent, handily beating out similarly configured laptops we've tested. On our video playback battery drain test, the Inspiron 11 3000 reached 7 hours and 41 minutes. With some power management or, better yet, a change to a less power-hungry SSD, you should be able to reach 8 hours.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 might not be a powerhouse, but if your computer needs don't go too far beyond basic home office or student work and nongaming entertainment, it's a great option. The design's versatility is nice to have, you can upgrade memory and storage yourself, and it has a long battery life to boot.

APPLE ITUNES ENCODING TEST

Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2
398
Acer Aspire Switch 10
372
Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)
313
HP Pavilion 11 x360
312
Dell Inspirion 11 3000
293

NOTE:

 Shorter bars indicate better performance

HANDBRAKE MULTIMEDIA MULTITASKING TEST

Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2
1001
Acer Aspire Switch 10
953
Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)
760
HP Pavilion 11 x360
746
Dell Inspirion 11 3000
704

NOTE:

 Shorter bars indicate better performance

VIDEO PLAYBACK BATTERY DRAIN TEST

HP Pavilion 11 x360
287
Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)
335
Acer Aspire Switch 10
372
Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2
442
Dell Inspirion 11 3000
461

NOTE:

 Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Dell Inspirion 11 3000
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.16 Intel Pentium N3530; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB, 5,400rpm HDD
Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.16GHZ Intel Pentium N3520; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB HDD
Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 128GB SSD
HP Pavilion 11 x360
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.16GHZ Intel Pentium N3520 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz;32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB HDD
Acer Aspire Switch 10
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 64GB SSD

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