Dell’s new budget convertible laptop reviewed.
Shopping for a 2-in-1 laptop can make you feel a bit like Goldilocks: they’re either too cheap or too expensive.
Then there’s the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1, which offers just the right amount memory, storage and processing power for many users, at just the right price – $799.
Sure you find some a lot cheaper, with sub-$500 2-in-1s that offer the ability to work as both a regular laptop and as a tablet by either detaching the keyboard or flipping the screen 360 degrees.
However, entry-level 2-and-1s typically come with a 10-inch display, low-end Intel Celeron or Atom processor, a stingy 2GB of memory and woeful 32GB of storage.
By comparison, the Inspiron 11 3000 offers a 11.6-inch display and a number of configurations starting at $699, but the best-value model has the latest-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB solid state drive (SSD) for $799.
If you want more storage, you can swap the SSD for a 500GB traditional hard disk drive.
Those specifications won’t impress everyone, but taking the next step in performance is a big financial leap. For example, a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i5 and 256GB SSD will set you back $1899.
The Inspiron 11 3000 isn’t perfect. While higher-end 2-in-1s typically have 12- or 13-inch screens that are Full HD or higher, the 3000’s display is smaller and only 1366 x 768-pixel resolution.
The 128GB SSD won’t be enough for some users, and the only ‘upgrade’ requires sacrificing the boot-up speed and general zip of an SSD.
In addition, the Inspiron 11 3000 is a flip-style 2-in-1, which means it’s heavy compared to regular tablets, weighing 1.39kg. If you want a flexible device to use regularly as a tablet, you’re probably better off with a detachable keyboard-style model like the Surface or a standard tablet with a good Bluetooth keyboard.
However, flip-style 2-in-1s have their advantages too. Unlike most detachable models, they’re comfortable and stable when used on your lap like a regular notebook. In addition, the 360-degree hinge provides a lot of flexibility in how you position the screen, including a ‘tent mode’ which is ideal for one-on-one presentations or watching movies.
The Inspiron 11 3000’s Core i3 model obviously doesn’t match the performance of high-end laptops with Core i5 or i7 processors. However, it wipes the floor with entry-level 2-in-1s, particularly those with 2GB of memory.
While performance shouldn’t be a big expectation at this end of the market, many budget 2-in-1s are best viewed as modern-day netbooks or Windows versions of Chromebooks. They’re fine for web browsing, email and cloud applications, but not much else. For example, Windows 10 Home on its own consumes half the storage of a 2-in-1 with a 32GB drive.
The entry-level Inspiron 11 3000 model features an Intel Pentium N3700 processor, which is a step up from a Celeron and jump up from an Atom. However, for an extra $100, Dell offers a latest-generation Core i3 chip that is substantially faster again.
Our benchmark tests confirm that while the Core i3 Inspiron 11 3000 isn’t exactly at the cutting edge of laptop performance, it can run resource-hungry applications like Adobe Photoshop with ease.
Its battery life is pretty good, too. Having used the Inspiron 11 3000 solidly for a few weeks, I was able to regularly get a full day on a single charge with relatively light use – such as taking notes in several meetings or at a conference – but it fell an hour or two short of a full working day with constant use.
The Inspiron 11 3000 is unlikely to impress many users of higher-end, larger-screen notebooks like the MacBook Pro. However, for its small size and price, it’s a very usable laptop and doesn't feel cramped.
The trackpad is quite responsive. The keyboard isn’t backlit, unfortunately, but otherwise it has a nice feel.
The display might not have a high resolution by modern standards, but in an 11.6-inch screen, it’s still quite sharp. I found the display more than acceptable for everyday work and fine as an alternative device for watching Netflix at home.
As a tablet, the Inspiron 11 3000 is, like other flip-style 2-in-1s, less usable. It’s fine on your lap or in its various flip-over configurations on a desk, but too heavy to hold comfortably for extended periods.
How it compares
All 2-in-1s have compromises, such as poor performance at one end of the scale or premium price at the other. Some are much better as laptops than tablets, while the reverse is true for others.
The Inspiron 11 3000 has fewer compromises than most, at an attractive price.
By comparison, an equivalent Microsoft Surface 3, with 128GB SSD and Type Cover included, will set you back just over $1000.
Still, if you want a good tablet with long battery life that can also be put to use as a notebook, the Surface 3 is worth considering. The Apple iPad Pro with its Smart Keyboard is another worthwhile option.
However, neither can match the Inspiron 11 3000’s value – or capability as a laptop. It's a substantially better performer than the Atom-based Surface, for example.
Without doubt, some will prefer a larger-screen notebook and won't want 2-in-1 capability. But even without the flip-over screen, the Inspiron 11 3000 would be a great-value ultra-portable laptop.