As its name implies, the Dell Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1 (starts at $349; $389 as tested) is a convertible laptop made with students in mind. It delivers all-day battery life, and is built tough enough to handle all the abuse that school-age children can dish out. And since it supports school-administered Google for Education accounts, this reasonably priced chromebook can be shared among students and managed by teachers or school IT staffers, making it a welcome addition to the classroom.
The Chromebook 3189 has a rounded edge surrounding its black, polycarbonate exterior, but is otherwise devoid of any design flair. It measures 0.8 by 12 by 8.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.16 pounds. That’s a bit thicker and heavier than the Asus Chromebook Flip, our top pick for chromebooks, but the Chromebook 3189’s rugged construction is the reason for the added heft.
Since it’s MIL-STD 810G tested and rated, the Chromebook 3189 can withstand extreme temperatures, rapid changes in altitude, blowing sand and dust, shock and vibration, and drops up to 30 inches onto a wooden surface. The rounded edges are rubberized, and there are two long rubber strips on the bottom panel to help prevent the laptop from sliding around. The chiclet-style keyboard is sealed against liquids, and the top lid is scratch-resistant. This chromebook is designed to survive all day in the classroom, as well as trips back and forth from home in a school bag packed with textbooks along with school and sports supplies.
Made to Touch
The 2-in-1 convertible form factor means that you can pivot the screen 360 degrees around its dual hinges, allowing you to use the touch screen in traditional Laptop mode, Tent mode (with the keyboard pointed away, and the hinge pointing upward), Stand mode (with the keyboard flat on the table, and the screen angled in front), or Tablet mode (with the keyboard folded away 360 degrees, and the screen up and exposed). The touch screen is responsive, and comes in handy for both data entry and on-screen drawing and note-taking.
The 11.6-inch display has a low 1,366-by-768 resolution, which is the minimum required for chromebooks. Full HD screens, like the one on the Asus Chromebook Flip and the Acer Chromebook 14, are still rarities, and we don’t consider full HD an absolute necessity for use in a school setting. Using a lower-resolution screen on the Chromebook 3189 eases the strain on the Intel Celeron N3060 processor, since it doesn’t have to process the extra pixels. Native 720p and downscaled 1080p videos displayed smoothly on the panel in our tests, though downscaled 4K videos stuttered and paused often for processing. In addition to easing the burden on the processor, the lower-resolution screen also uses less power than a full HD or 4K screen, leading to better battery life.
Like its predecessor, the Dell Chromebook 11 Non-Touch, the Chromebook 3189 has a multicolored Dell Activity Light on the top-right corner of the lid, that a teacher can use to make sure all students in the class are on the same page, are online, or are ready (say, for an exam to start). Or it can be used by a student to signal the teacher in lieu of a raised hand. An API for the light is available online, so you can integrate various colored lights into your teaching programs.
The keyboard is optimized for Chrome OS. That means that instead of the standard F1-F12 keys, the top row of function keys are labeled with icons for forward/back, reload, full-screen, toggling Overview mode (to show all windows at once), screen brightness, screen lock, and volume controls. There’s a dedicated Search key in place of the Caps Lock key, since you would likely use the search function more often in the web-based Chrome OS. Key action is smooth, and the keyboard itself is very sturdy. There’s no keyboard flex at all, something that will help the laptop survive being shared among grade-school students. Like the keyboard, the one-piece touchpad is also sealed against spills.
There’s a good selection of connectivity ports, including a headset jack on the right side of the laptop, as well as an HDMI port, a microSD card reader (which accepts up to 256GB cards) for extra local storage, a power connector, and two USB 3.0 ports on the left panel. There are no USB-C ports, which are pretty rare on chromebooks right now. Integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 handle wireless connections.
Like all chromebooks, this laptop runs the stripped-down ChromeOS operating system. It basically uses the Chrome browser as its main interface to the web, eschewing storage-space-filling programs like Microsoft Office. On the flip side, if your school uses Windows programs developed in-house, or off-the-shelf apps, you may be out of luck trying to run them on ChromeOS. Also, the Chromebook 3189 doesn’t yet support Android apps, though compatibility could be added in the future, as ChromeOS automatically updates itself over the internet when available.
A Look Inside
Our review configuration has 32GB of fast SSD storage. There are also Chromebook 3189 models available with 16GB ($329) and 64GB ($409) SSDs. We think 32GB of storage is large enough for Chrome OS, because students will likely save their work in the cloud-based Google Drive that comes with each Google for Education account. As long as your school has more than four users, Google includes unlimited storage online, or 1TB each for one to four users. Google for Education is free to all accredited nonprofit education organizations. The 4GB of RAM, which is standard for all three versions, isn’t expandable, but it should be sufficient for basic web and office app functions. In testing, we were able to keep a half dozen actively updated websites and a streaming audio site running simultaneously.
The Intel Celeron N3060 is the only processor available on the Chromebook 3189, and it is fast enough for tasks like browsing education sites, light drawing and coloring in grade-school art classes, and viewing videos from sites like PBS.com. It might be a little light on power compared with, say, the Intel Core m3 chip in the Asus Chromebook Flip, but the Chrome OS and browser runs well on this budget-priced CPU.
We weren’t able to run our Windows-based benchmark tests on the laptop, but it felt snappy while leading and navigating between websites. We could easily edit a letter in Google Docs, stream music from Spotify, and chat in Slack simultaneous, for example. As long as you keep the number of active tabs below 12, you should be fine.
Windows systems in this price range are likely to have Celeron or lower-power processors, like the Intel Atom CPU in the Asus Transformer Mini (T102HA-D4-GR). Our Editors’ Choice budget Windows 2-in-1 convertible, the Lenovo Yoga 710, goes for $549, and like the Asus Chromebook Flip comes with a speedier Intel Core m3 processor.
The 42WHr battery pack is sealed into the chassis, and can’t be swapped out. That’s not likely to be an issue, though, since the Chromebook 3189 lasted an impressive 11 hours and 39 minutes in our battery rundown test. When fully charged, the laptop will last an entire school day, and still have enough juice for homework afterward. It’s still an hour longer than the Asus Chromebook Flip (10:23), which has a higher power drain from its full HD screen, but there are other chromebooks that returned longer run times, including the Acer Chromebook 15 (14:17) and the CTL J5 Chromebook (12:21).
Ready for School
The Dell Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1 is an attractive choice for the school environment, thanks to its relatively low price, decent feature set, durable construction, and long-lasting battery. For non-students, we still prefer the Asus Chromebook Flip, our Editors’ Choice chromebook, since its metal exterior, faster processor, and larger full HD screen make it a better fit in a home-entertainment capacity.
If you’re willing to give up the convertible hinge, the $230 Lenovo N22-20 Touch Chromebook is a utilitarian clamshell chromebook that will save you a few bucks. And if you absolutely must have Windows, the Asus Transformer Mini is a decent (if slowish) alternative for about the same price. That said, if you’re filling out a purchase order for a few dozen (or a few hundred) units at a time for your educational institution, the Chromebook 3189 should be on your short list.