Dell Inspiron 11 3000
At this sort of price you may be worried about the build quality, but it’s reassuringly solid. While made from plastic, no parts of it flex
£179 inc VAT • dell.com/uk
Dell wants to prove that a bottom-rung laptop needn’t be an unappealing, chunky brick. The Inspiron 11 3000 is cheap, colourful and about as portable as you could wish for. Available in red, blue or white, it will attract more attention than a MacBook.
The Inspiron 11 3000 is small, light, but also a proper laptop. A lot of the Windows devices you’ll find around this price are hybrids. Here, the screen is firmly attached to the keyboard base, and the brains sit in the base rather than the display. There are benefits to a traditional device like this. It’s not top-heavy, for example, so you can work with it on your knees without it wanting to topple over as soon as you take your hands off it. Hybrids rarely have great keyboards.
The Dell weighs 1.2kg, so it’s light enough to be carried about everywhere without it feeling like a burden. It’s about half the weight of a basic 15.6in laptop.
At this sort of price you may be worried about the build quality, but it’s reassuringly solid. While made from plastic, no parts of it flex as if they rely on a 1mm-thick piece of plastic to hold everything together. The colour pizzazz is welcome too, and Dell has spent some time thinking about how to best present the laptop. Its lid is glossy, the interior mostly matt and the underside a totally matt rough plastic with rubber feet.
With a fully colour-matched frame, the Dell looks the part. Only the keyboard and screen surround are black. It earns top marks for practicality, while having a fun edge, too.
One fact that might surprise some of you is that the Inspiron 11 3000 has much better real-world connectivity than the 12in MacBook. You get two full-size USB ports (one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0), a full-size HDMI port, a microSD slot and a headphone jack.
Keyboard and trackpad
This is Windows 10 laptop has been designed to be carried around, so it’s good that the keyboard and trackpad are both solid. The keys are just a shade smaller than full-size, but aren’t cramped or uncomfortable. Key feedback is surprisingly good, too. They’re shallow, but there’s a firm, crisp action to them and none of the sponginess you get with some budget machines.
Being an entry-level machine, the Inspiron 11 3000 doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, and size restrictions mean some of the secondary keys are slightly cut down a little. However, no strange decisions have been made here, so you shouldn’t find the transition too fraught. We did have to switch its keyboard layout from US to UK, but this is a quick fix.
The decent trackpad is more of a surprise. It follows the style of an Ultrabook pad, with integrated mouse buttons and a textured plastic surface that attempts to feel like the frosted glass used in the most expensive laptops. It’s impressive for a £179 machine, and even the click action is spot on. It’s not too deep, nor too stiff and the dead zone at the top of the pad isn’t too large.
Like most Windows machines, the Dell splits the pad into zones that determine whether a click fires off the ‘left’ or ‘right’ mouse button command. Most of the pad is left button, of course, with just the bottom-right area used for right-clicking.
The 1.6in 1366x768-pixel LCD screen is basic and does not compare at all well to similarly-priced tablets. It has a matt finish, does not have a touchscreen and the hinge only extends to around 135 degrees (the ‘normal’ laptop max screen angle). This is a TN LCD screen rather than the IPS type found on more expensive laptops and almost all tablets. Viewing angles are consequently narrower and colour performance is poor.
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 covers just 52.4 percent of the sRGB colour gamut, the standard devised for monitors and printers back in
the 1990s. Colours don’t pop out of the screen, although our colorimeter shows that Dell has calibrated the display to make shades appear more vivid, so our perception of undersaturation isn’t as bad as it could be.
This is not a beautiful screen, but it is a practical one. A matt finish makes it easy to use outdoors, while respectable (for the price) 281cd/m2 maximum brightness means you can use the Inspiron 11 3000 outdoors without what’s on-screen becoming virtually invisible.
You won’t want to watch films on the Dell every night unless you have no other option, but this is fundamentally the right kind of screen for a laptop like this.
There’s only one reason why you should pause before investing in a laptop this cheap: its performance. The Inspiron 11 3000 comes with a low-end CPU, an Intel Celeron dual-core N3050. This is partnered with 2GB RAM, again a bottom-rung specification.
The result is frustrating performance. Tapping on the Start menu button, for example, might be met with a half-second pause as the apps display pops-up. Busy, complicated websites feel slow, too. And almost all websites are slower to load than on a Core i-series laptop or a decent phone. If you have anything remotely complicated to do on your laptop, you’ll need to find a machine with a better specification than this, preferably one with at least an Intel Core i3 CPU. We did, however, find that the 32GB solid-state memory caused less issues than the 500GB 5400rpm hard drive some entry-level laptops use. It’s nimbler, even if its speeds aren’t remotely close to those of a proper SSD.
Available storage is very poor as a result – you can use just 8GB of the full 32GB storage. This meant we couldn’t perform most of our usual tests. We were unable, for example, to install Thief, although even if we could the game wouldn’t be playable. A similarly-specified machine manages around 2- to 3fps.
If, however, you’re looking for a machine to write documents, it’s an excellent choice. Our £179 model didn’t come with a full Microsoft Office license, but WordPad is always on-hand (Windows’ built-in word processor) and there are many free alternatives.
As it doesn’t have a hard drive or a powerful processor, it’s silent too, and it can awake from sleep in a couple of seconds only.
What cements the Inspiron 11 3000 as a useful machine in spite of its limited power is battery life. When left to a light-demand task, it can last for a full day’s work. Our standard battery test involves leaving a laptop playing a looped 720p video, and the Dell lasted eight hours 15 minutes. This is pretty close to Dell’s claim of”up to nine hours 34 minutes”, and means the Inspiron won’t die when you need it.
Thanks to its practical design, we’ve also found it easy to slip the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 into our day-to-day routine to use as a work machine. When used for browsing, typing and so on, it’ll also last a full day’s work without any trouble.
At this price, anything more than an audio disaster can be considered a success, and the Dell 11 3000’s speakers are fine. Their sound takes on a slightly hard edge at maximum volume, but they don’t distort hugely. The tone is also not reed-thin.
In a similar vein, while the 0.9Mp camera’s grain is visible even when you’re previewing the image in a window that takes up half the screen only, it will still let you video chat with friends and relatives at 720p resolution.
If you’re after a budget laptop that will let you work on the go and last all day, the Inspiron 11 3000 is one of your best options. It’s comfortable to type on, has a practical screen and its battery life is great among Windows laptops. Just make sure you’re ready for its basic performance. Windows 10 is slow, making the Dell more suited for use as a word processor or for checking emails as you nip between free Wi-Fi spots across town. If you can’t put up with a bit of lag, consider getting a Chromebook instead.