The sweet spot these days for school notebooks is Chromebook models with 11.6-inch displays that are not only easy to carry and toss into a backpack, but can be had for around $300. That’s music to the ears of district officials trying to outfit entire schools with hundreds or thousands of computers.
The latest pair of Chromebooks from Acer and Dell shows that good things still come in small packages. To start, these two Chromebooks excel at packaging, with each weighing less than 3-pounds. Yet, they still deliver enough performance for everything from homework to online assessments.
After that they go their separate ways with different focal- and price-points. While the touch-screen-equipped Dell Chromebook 11 sells for $330, the Acer C740 Chromebook 11 comes with a standard display and sells for $50 less.
Both can fit into any school’s IT landscape, run for a full school day of classes on a charge and – best of all – are tough enough to be abused with a variety of ruggedized elements. Which you choose depends as much on whether touch is important to teaching at your school as whether you have an extra $50 in your budget for each system.
Acer Chromebook 11 C740
Value is the name of the game when it comes to Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740 with an excellent mix of the latest components and a ruggedized design that should outlast even the clumsiest teacher, student or administrator.
From a distance, the gray and black C740 looks just like the CB 11 Touch, but it is significantly smaller and lighter. It has dimensions of 0.8- by 11.2- by 7.9-inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. With its AC adapter, the C740 has an enviable travel weight of 3.2-pounds.
On the downside, the system has a cold, hard feel to it, particularly compared to the soft finish of the CB 11 Touch. It does have a textured bottom that can help keep it from being accidentally dropped while running between classes.
At wide-XGA, the C740’s resolution matches that of the CB 11 Touch, but lacks the innovative activity light of the CB 11 Touch and doesn’t have its touch-sensitive screen. Acer does sell a touch-enabled C720p model.
While it lacks the CB 11 Touch’s Gorilla Glass, the C740 is one tough customer. Its corners have been reinforced to protect it from sudden impacts and can survive a 17.7-inch drop. Plus, the case has strengthening ribs that can tolerate 132-pounds of force and the system has stouter hinges. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t fold fully flat on a table.
Rather than the Celeron N2840 that’s on the CB 11 Touch, the C740 has a newer 3205U processor. It runs at a slower 1.5GHz, but has twice the amount of processor cache compared to the N2840. The C740 includes 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and the bonus of 100GB of online space for two years with GoogleDrive. Acer also sells a $249 version that has 2GB of RAM.
If that’s not enough, you can add to its capacity with an SD card. It matches the C740 port for port with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports as well as HDMI and audio connections. It was able to connect to a network with a USB-to-LAN converter or with its 802.11ac WiFi system. The C740 also has Bluetooth 4.0.
It was the speed king with the ability to start up in 6.5 seconds. The system’s Peacekeeper and SunSpider scores of 2,920 and 327.8 milliseconds provide roughly twice the performance potential of the CB 11 Touch. Still it ran for only five minutes less on a charge. In fact, the 8 hours and 35 minutes of playing back HD videos delivered over WiFi means that the system may not even need to be charged every day.
The C740 comes with a 1-year warranty and if you get them 100 at a time, you get a couple of bonuses. To start, Acer’s Premier Care adds dedicated service and can let you jump to the head of the support line. The Educare warranty adds battery replacements, paid shipping and accidental damage coverage. If you buy it through CDW, you can extend its warranty to three years with accidental damage protection for $142.
With $150 Chromebooks from Asus on the way from Asus, the C740 has its place in schools because it is a rugged, well-designed system that has all the right parts.
+ Small and light system
+ Up-to-date components
+ Tough design
+ Battery Life
- No activity light
- Wide XGA display
Dell Chromebook 11 Touch
From the start the Chromebook 11 Touch has been designed with education in mind. From the ruggedized case to the touch-display, it is a small notebook that was made for schools. It, however, falls short (particularly in comparison to the Acer Chromebook C740 Chromebook) in two key areas: price and performance.
At 0.9- by 11.4- by 8.6-inches and 2.9-pounds, the jet black CB 11 Touch is easy to carry, pack and use. It has an inviting soft finish that’s grippy and the case has protective bumpers around its edge. On the downside, it’s larger and a couple ounces heavier than the C740. With the included AC adapter, the CB 11 Touch has a travel weight of 3.4-pounds.
While I’m disappointed with the CD 11 Touch’s 11.6-inch wide-XGA resolution, it has a secret that can help teaching. It can respond to ten individual inputs, regardless of whether it’s from a child’s finger or a stylus. While Google is readying a software update that will make touch more central to the operating system, at the moment it’s still a big help. You can not only tap to open and close apps, but you can draw or finger paint directly on the screen.
The screen has a good stiff hinge that makes for a stable place to tap and swipe the display. Plus, its display can fold flat onto tabletop, which is a big advantage when it comes to touch-screen work.
A big step forward for school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch has a unique activity bar on the back of the screen lid. Using included software, a student can put up a green light (get teacher’s attention), a red one (ask a question) or a blue one (raise hand). This is such an intuitive addition to the Chromebook’s repertoire that I’m surprised nobody thought of it sooner.
Designed to survive the harsh environment of schools, the CB 11 Touch has a Gorilla Glass reinforced screen. It has also been tested to stand up to everything from having 16-ounces of water spilled on it to being repeatedly dropped from a desk onto a wooden floor.
Powered by a Celeron N2840 processor that runs at 2.1GHz, the CB 11 Touch is a step behind the newer Celeron 3205U on the C740. Both come with 4GB of RAM, but the CB 11 Touch's 16GB of storage space is second best. It has an SD slot for adding storage capacity.
They both have the same ports with an older USB 2.0, a newer USB 3.0, audio and HDMI for connecting to a display or projector. It lacks a wired LAN port but worked well with a USB-to-LAN converter and has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The CB 11 Touch adds an optional mobile data card for always-on Web access.
The CB 11 Touch takes the backseat to the C740 when it comes to performance. It can start-up in 9.1-seconds, nearly 30 percent slower. With 1,491 and 522.5 millisecond scores on the Peacekeeper and Sun Spider tests, the CB 11 Touch has roughly half the potential of the C740.
Still, the CB 11 Touch was able to continuously play back videos over a WiFi connection for 8 hours and 40 minutes, more than enough for a full day of school with some time left over for listening to music, playing a game or grading tests. The C740 ran for a nearly-identical 8 hours and 35 minutes on a charge.
While its one-year warranty matches that of most school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch’s coverage can be extended to a more fitting three years and include accident protection for under $100. To my mind it is money well spent considering that they will be tossed, sat on and generally abused every day.
Touch has the power to turn a tiresome lesson into a tactile experience, and the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch can make school seem more like fun.
+ Rugged design
+ Student activity light
+ Display folds flat
+ Touch screen
+ Battery Life
+ Mobile data option
- Wide XGA screen