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Dell Chromebook 13 Review: Is It Good for Business?

Dell Chromebook 13, business laptops The Chromebook 13 earns 4 out of 5 stars. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

Finally, a Chromebook that looks like it means business. Dell's Chromebook 13 looks and feels like a premium work machine, especially compared to the flimsy offerings from other vendors. You also get a gorgeous, 13.3-inch HD display and an epic 13 hours of performance, making this one of the longest-lasting laptops we've ever tested. Sure, it could be a bit faster, especially considering its relatively steep starting price (among Chromebooks) of $429. But it's still a solid travel companion for basic productivity on the go.

With inexpensive Chromebooks, you usually get what you pay for, and that often means cheap materials and subpar build-quality. Dell's Chromebook 13 bucks that trend, with a design as sturdy as it is handsome.

The lid sports a luxurious soft-touch coating as well as a subtle carbon-fiber finish. The inside of the machine has a matte-silver paint job.

Meanwhile, the Chromebook 13's magnesium-alloy construction makes the laptop feel solid and durable, without a hint of flex in either the lid or keyboard deck. That's a perk for frequent travelers who need a notebook that can withstand a bit of abuse.

And while durable materials can sometimes make for a heavy machine, that's not the case here. At 3.23 lbs., the Chromebook 13 is lighter than competing machines, like the HP x360 (3.77 lbs.) and Acer Chromebook 13 (3.32 lbs.). Toshiba's Chromebook 2 is a bit lighter (2.97 lbs.), but neither notebook will weigh you down much on your daily commute.

The Chromebook 13 has a lovely, 13.3-inch, full-HD (1,920 x 1,080-pixel) display that delivers crisp text and sharp images. I also like screen's matte finish, which helps fend off annoying reflections from overhead office lights.

Topping out at 270 nits, the Chromebook 13's screen isn't quite as bright as what you get on the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (377.7 nits), and it also falls short of the notebook average of 294 nits. That means it's not as easy to view the display outdoors or in direct sunlight, but it's more than bright enough for indoor use.

It's not quite as nice as the keyboard included with the Toshiba Chromebook 2, but the Chromebook 13's keyboard is still very good. Individual keys offer a generous amount of travel, and key action feels snappy.

Like all Chromebooks, the Chromebook 13 lacks a Delete key, and that drove me crazy while I typed this review. In place of the Delete key is the notebook's power button. Thankfully, Shift+Backspace functions like Delete does on other laptops. It's a minor issue overall, but serious touch typists should take note. 

I have no complaints about the Chromebook 13's roomy touchpad. I like the smooth, matte finish, which lets my finger glide easily, and cursor movement was responsive. I also appreciate the relatively quiet clicks of the mouse-pad buttons.

An extremely basic assortment of ports is included with the Chromebook 13. The left side houses a USB 3.0 port for connecting accessories, an HDMI port for linking the computer to a monitor or projector, and a microSD card slot for expanding the notebook's meager 16GB of internal storage.

The right side, meanwhile, adds a USB 2.0 port and a Noble lock slot for physically securing the Chromebook 13 at your desk. Additional ports such as an Ethernet jack or VGA port aren't included, but that's typical for budget laptops.

Need a notebook that will last through the longest business flights? Dell's Chromebook 13 fits the bill. In fact, it's one of the longest-lasting laptops we've ever seen, running for an incredible 13 hours and 25 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That demolishes the ultraportable notebook average of 8 hours and 2 minutes, and handily beats the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (10:05) and Acer Chromebook 13.

The $429 Chromebook 13 configuration that I tested is no speed demon. While everyday tasks such as managing my email inbox and browsing the Web felt snappy, I did notice a bit of slowdown during periods of heavy multitasking, especially while switching between applications.

Our tests bore out those impressions. It took 367 milliseconds for the Dell Chromebook 13 to finish the Sunspider Javascript test, which measures Web performance. That's slower than both the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (324.9 ms) and HP Pavilion x360 (135.4 ms). It wasn't the slowest machine of the bunch, though; that mark goes to the Acer Chromebook 13, which took twice as long (625.5 ms) to finish the test.

Dell sells the Chromebook 13 in several different configurations. For this review, we tested the entry-level model, which includes a 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel HD display; a 1.5-GHz Intel Celeron 3205U processor with 4GB of RAM; and 16GB of SSD storage, all for $430.

The midrange model comes with a zippier Intel Core i3-5005U processor, but it's otherwise identical.

Finally, the top-end model has the same specs as the midrange model, but adds a touch screen. It sells for $629.

Of course, the nicest Chromebook on Earth won't do you any good if it can't run the software you need to do your job. Like all Chromebooks, this one runs on Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system designed by Google. The OS looks and feels a lot like Windows, but it can't run any software designed specifically for PCs or Macs. Instead, the Chromebook 13 relies on Web applications that can be accessed through Google's Chrome browser. 

Thankfully, Chrome OS isn't as limiting as it once was. That's because the number of excellent Web-based productivity apps has grown exponentially over the last several years. For instance, Microsoft offers Web-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are nearly as full-featured as their desktop counterparts. Google also offers its own Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, which are fully functional even without an Internet connection. 

Those apps — along with Web-based email, note-taking and accounting apps, among others — should be enough to get most workers through a routine business trip. But if there's even one piece of PC- or Mac-exclusive software that you can't work without, the Chromebook 13 isn't an option.

Dell's Chromebook 13 is a really nice work machine at the affordable price of $429. You get a solid keyboard, excellent battery life and a premium build that puts most other Chromebooks to shame. Just make sure this laptop can run the apps you need for work. Otherwise, an affordable Windows machine like the HP Pavilion x360 might be a good alternative. 

Toshiba's Chromebook 2 is another enticing option if you want a Chromebook that's even more affordable than the Dell. Toshiba's model starts at just $329, offering good battery life and a solid keyboard. But the Dell Chromebook 13 wins out for workers who want the longest possible battery life and a bit of extra durability.

Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.