Introduction, Design Features
When it comes to any portable computer, sturdiness is always a concern. No matter how much we try to take care of our laptops, they are always open to more wear and tear than a desktop typically would be. But if any group of users puts that sturdiness to the test, it’s school-age kids.
Just about anything that kids carry to and from school gets thrown into the same backpack as their hard-cornered books, lunchboxes, water bottles, pencil cases, and whatever else the day demands. When one of those things is a laptop, this can be a recipe for disaster…and a potentially expensive one at that.
While Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive compared to most laptops, you still don’t want to see anything you’ve spent a few hundred bucks on get reduced to rubble in a kid’s backpack. And that’s where the Dell Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 for Education comes into the conversation. Designed and marketed for use in K-12 education environments, it has been ruggedized to survive typical use by a grade-schooler in whichever of its modes it is bent into. Even if students never stow them in their bags and are just issued these Chromebooks for classroom use, these machines can handle the inevitable classroom drops, bumps, and roughhousing, being tested to MIL-STD 810G standards for factors such as shock and vibration resistance.
The 11.6-inch Dell Chromebook 3189 doesn’t stop just at being hardy. It also offers support for Google’s G Suite for Education, which includes a variety of tools that teachers and school/district technology administrators can use to more effectively interact with students, monitor system use, and track learner progress. And if it’s going to be loaned out to students by a school or district, it’s helpful that you can sign in to this machine using multiple accounts and/or use it as a guest (albeit with more restricted access).
Among the features you get access to, as a product of its support for Google Education, is Google Classroom. While it isn’t quite as robust as a true learning management system (LMS) or a course management system (CMS), Google Classroom offers a number of tools that teachers and learners can use to communicate and work with each other. (See a rundown of the top learning management systems from our sister site, PCMag.com.)
The Dell Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 can be had for as little as $342 a unit at the time of this review. Priced at $369, our specific review model came equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor with 4GB of memory, plus an 11.6-inch IPS touch screen with a native resolution of 1,366×768. Local storage is supplied by a 32GB eMMC drive. Most students won’t be storing much on the Chromebook itself, but if, for whatever application, that’s not enough, Google’s G Suite for Education offers tons of cloud-storage space at no additional cost.
Users at schools or districts that have more than four users, in fact, get unlimited cloud-based storage on Google Drive. And even those at organizations that have fewer than five users get access to 1TB of space, which is hard to complain about.
This is much less the kind of laptop that you’d buy in single-unit quantities than by the bundle for deployment across a class or an academic lab. But even if you opt for just one, you’ll find this unit to be a healthy step above an off-the-shelf Chromebook in terms of ruggedness, focus on its target audience, and design.
Dell Chromebook 11 i3 that it effectively replaces. The good news is that with that extra weight comes some extra rigidity and protection.
With the Chromebook 3189 closed, the outside of the top lid sports a shiny, scratch-resistant covering. The top corners are adorned by a Chrome logo on the left and a small LED stripe at right. The latter is the Dell Activity Light, an alert that students can trigger onscreen to let their teachers know when they’re ready, have questions, and the like. (It’s useful during exams, to give a heads-up without disrupting the rest of the class.) And near the center of the cover, you’ll find a silver Dell logo.
Along the left edge, when facing the front of the system, you’ll find two first-generation USB 3.1 ports with Type-A connectors, a full-size HDMI port, a MicroSD memory-card reader, and the port for the 65-watt power adapter.
The right edge is barer, with a combination headset/microphone jack near the front, a security lock slot near the rear (the Noble Wedge type, not Kensington), and an activity light, power button, and volume rocker in between.
The front and rear edges sport no buttons or lights at all. But you’ll notice that all of the edges, including the rim around the display’s perimeter, are covered by a rubber bumper that helps protect the Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 from accidental damage from bumps and minor drops.
Pop the Chromebook 3189 open, and you’ll find its 11.6-inch IPS touch screen. While we were a little disappointed that its resolution was 1,366×768, not 1080p, the disappointment ended there. The display is bright and offered great viewing angles, and the touch screen was responsive. And its hinge allows you to swing the display all the way back, allowing you to use the system in laptop, tablet, tent, or stand mode.
The inclusion of a relatively low-resolution screen here makes sense, if you think about it. The 1,366×768 native resolution is actually a good fit for the panel size of 11.6 inches; otherwise, at a higher resolution, icons tend to be too small. (And in a 2-in-1, where touch matters, you don’t want icons the size of pips.) Also, the lower-resolution screen will conserve battery runtime versus a 1080p panel. If you’re hoping that your Chromebooks will endure the full school day without a recharge, you want details like that on your side.
Opposite the display is a full-size keyboard with Chiclet-style keys, with a wide touch pad below it, mounted in the center. Both the keys and the touch pad are sealed off internally from spills, further helping to protect the system from the juice boxes and milk cartons of ill fortune.
The keyboard feels designed to take a pounding, too. The key feel is firm, and you can feel the rigid build of the chassis beneath it. Even tantrum-throwing little fists would have a job making a dent in it.
Likewise, the underside is a sealed, rugged expanse…
For wireless connectivity, the Chromebook 3189 offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 support. And for storage, it comes equipped with a 32GB chunk of eMMC flash memory.
It is, perhaps, because of this type of memory (common in Chromebooks and very low-cost Windows machines) that the system isn’t overly quick to start up, taking about 14 seconds from when we hit the power button to when the login box came up. But once it’s up and running, performance was peppy enough. And while 32GB is already a decent amount of space for a Chromebook, the bulk of students’ storage will be in the cloud.
Typically, there isn’t much to say about software with a Chromebook; it’s all down to the apps you choose to download from the Chrome OS store. But because the Chromebook 3189 is meant for education, users will get little more than just the Google Chrome OS. Google’s G Suite for Education offers a number of functions that work well for class use, however; beyond that, it’s up to the administrators to select and manage the app load. (Note: The Dell Activity Light we mentioned before requires the download of an app from the store.)
As far as support goes, the Chromebook 3189 is protected by a one-year mail-in service warranty, though you can upgrade that to up to four years and also add up to four years of accidental damage protection when ordering.
Beyond the warranty, Dell offers a host of accessories and complementary gear around its educational Chromebook ecosystems. Among them are a full-coverage case with handles, and a mobile cart for administrators, the Compact Charging Cart. It’s a $1,499 rolling unit that can handle up to 36 of these models (and a few other education-oriented Dell models) in one charging load, letting you recharge a whole classroom’s worth of these units overnight.