Can’t decide you want a Windows laptop or a tablet… but certain you don’t want to spend a lot of money? A number of PC makers including Acer, Asus, HP, and Dell offer low-cost 2-in-1 devices that you can use either as a notebook or as a tablet. Some have detachable screens, while others have hinges that let you fold the screen back 360 degrees until it’s back-to-back with the keyboard.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series falls into the latter category.

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The model Dell loaned me to review is a laptop with a 360 degree hinge, an 11.6 inch touchscreen display, and an Intel Pentium Bay Trail processor (although a more powerful version with a Core i3 Haswell chip is also available). But possibly the most interesting thing about this convertible is its price: Dell launched the notebook this summer for $450, but you can often find it on sale for under $400.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 notebook is a nice-looking machine, with a grey plastic case, a slim and light design, and a decent keyboard. It’s also reasonably fast for a computer with a Bay Trail processor: it works well for web browsing, document editing, and streaming HD videos over the internet.

But there’s no mistaking this machine for a high-end machine. It can’t handle serious gaming, lacks a high-resolution display, and you can literally feel the plastic case give a little bit as you press your hands against the palm rest. If you pinch the computer, you can actually feel the case squeezing between your fingers.

You also might need to uninstall some bloatware to get the most out of the laptop, and while it’s nice to have the large amount of storage space offered by a hard drive, the system is slower to boot or resume from sleep than a computer with solid state storage.

Still, for $400 there’s a lot to like about this little convertible.

Overview

Dell sent me an Inspiron 11 3000 Series laptop to test. This model features an Intel Pentium 3530 quad-core processor, an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel IPS display, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 5400 RPM hard drive.

It features 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 43 Wh battery.

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The system has stereo speakers, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI output, and an SD card reader.

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Those sound like laptop specs… and you can use the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series as a laptop. In fact, for the most part, that is how I’ve used it while testing the computer. But what makes this computer special (if not entirely unusual), is the fact that you can also use it as a tablet.

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Dell includes a hinge that lets you adjust the screen to just about any angle imaginable. Push the screen back 360 degrees until it’s back-to-back with the keyboard, and you can pick up the computer and hold it like a tablet.

Don’t worry about swiping the keyboard or touchpad with your fingers in this mode, because key press and touchpad taps won’t do anything once the screen opens to about 170 degrees or so.

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You can also set the screen at a 270 degree angle so the keyboard becomes a sort of kickstand for propping up the screen so you can use it like an all-in-one, desktop-style computer.

Or you can twist  a little further and prop up the system in tent mode for watching videos… or whatever else it is you’d do with a computer in this position.

tent

Measuring 11.8″ x 7.9″ x 0.74″ and weighing 3.1 pounds, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series is pretty small for a notebook. But it’s a bit on the heavy side for a tablet.

The system is also a little funny looking as a tablet, since there’s a useless keyboard hanging out behind the screen.

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There’s also a rather large black bezel around the screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it gives you something to hold onto without accidentally touching the display and the bezel helps make the laptop wide enough to fit a full-sized QWERTY keyboard. But if you’re a bezel-hater, those black bars around the screen might seem like wasted space.

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Still, it’s nice to have the option of using the Inspiron 11 3000 Series in tablet mode if you’re sitting on the couch with the computer on your lap. It can be easier to watch videos, read eBooks, or even surf the web in this mode.

You can also just use the system like a laptop with a touchscreen display — but like most cheap laptops, the screen wobbles a bit if you reach up and tap it, which can be a little disconcerting.

netflix

I still prefer to use Windows for desktop-style tasks such as document editing or writing blog posts (or in-depth reviews like this one — which I’m typing on the Inspiron 11 3000 Series), but you can also download touch-friendly apps such as Netflix, Amazon Kindle, or TuneIn Radio from the Windows Store if you want to use the computer in tablet mode.

tablet_02

There are a larger number of touch/tablet apps available for Android or iOS than there are for Windows which is why I still prefer my Google Nexus 7 tablet to a small Windows tablet like the Dell Venue 8 Pro. But a 2-in-1 tablet like the Inspiron 11 3000 Series offers a bit of the best of both worlds. It’s a full-fledged Windows laptop that also happens to offer some tablet functionality. It might not be a replacement for an iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab. But it’s an interesting option for folks who don’t want to buy two completely separate devices.

Performance

The Intel Pentium processor that powers this computer is based on the same Bay Trail architecture as the chips that power smaller machines like Asus MeMO Pad 8 Android and Acer Aspire 10 Windows tablet.

But the 7.5 watt Pentium N3530 is a more powerful Bay Trail chip, aimed at notebooks like the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series, and it offers better performance at CPU-heavy tasks such as compressing files or transcoding video.

In other words, don’t expect the same kind of performance you’d get from a Haswell or Broadwell chip… but this $400 laptop is fast enough for most basic computing tasks.

handbrake

Not surprisingly, when I ran a few audio an video transcoding tests, the Inspiron 11 3000 Series took almost exactly the same amount of time to complete the tests as the Acer Apire V11 notebook and HP Pavilion x360 2-in-1 laptop. Both of those computers have similar Pentium Bay Trail processors.

But all three systems came out ahead of the Acer Aspire Switch 10, which has a less powerful Intel Atom Z3745 Bay Trail chip.

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On the other hand, the Switch 10 came out way ahead in my folder zip test, which involves creating a ZIP archive with more than 2100 files. You can probably thank that tablet’s solid state storage for the difference: both the Acer Aspire V11 and the Dell Inspiron 11 have slower hard drives. I have no idea why the HP Pavilion x360, which also has a hard drive, was the fastest of these four systems in that test though.

While these tests look at performance for some very specific, CPU-intensive tasks, here are a few more objective thoughts about day-to-day performance:

  • I’ve had no problems playing HD video or streaming video from YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu.
  • I’ve been able to surf the web with about a dozen browser tabs open while listening to music and composing blog posts in WordPress.
  • The system boots and resumes from sleep more slowly than some recent Windows laptops and tablets I’ve tested. The hard drive is probably to blame — but we’re living in an age where a system that takes 10 or 15 seconds to resume from sleep or hibernation feels slow. I would have been happy with that a few years ago.
  • Another thing that can slow down real-world performance is bloatware.

That last issue can be solved by uninstalling some of the apps Dell preloads on the system. Don’t need McAfee LiveSafe security, Dropbox, or Dell Wyse PocketCloud? Uninstalling those apps will help prevent pop-up messages from nagging you and prevent some apps from loading every time you turn on the computer.

dell bloatOther apps you might not need include Amazon 1Button, Dell Backup and Recovery, some other Dell utilities, and Microsoft Office: the computer comes with Office pre-loaded, but this isn’t a system that includes a free Office license. You’ll need to pay for Office if you plan to use it. If not, you might as well remove it.

Another difference between this laptop and some inexpensive, Bay Trail-powered machines is that the Inspiron 11 3000 Series is not a fanless computer. The system generates enough heat to justify the inclusion of a small fan which blows hot air out a vent in the back of the system.

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The fan makes a bit of noise, and from time to time you can also hear the hard drive clicking, so if you want a silent computer you’re going to want a machine with a fanless design and a solid state drive.

Dell says the Inspiron 11 3000 offers long battery life… and that’s true if you consider about 6 hours of run time to be a long time.

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In my tests, the notebook didn’t have enough juice to last through an 8 hour work day. But it certainly has enough power for a trip to a coffee shop for a few hours of work.

By way of comparison, the Acer Aspire V11 lasted about an hour longer, while the HP Pavilion x360 topped out at just 4 hours of run time. Some ther systems with Bay Trail chips such as the Asus Transformer Book T100 run for up to 9 hours… so the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series is a middle-of-the-pack system in terms of battery life.

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If you need more run time, you can always pack the power cable: the Dell laptop has a typical laptop-style power brick. One thing you can’t easily do is carry around a spare battery. The built-in battery isn’t easily to replace, so you’d need a third-party, external battery pack if you wanted extra power. Those solutions can be big, heavy, and expensive.

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Upgrades and Operating Systems

Part of the appeal of this 2-in-1 laptop is that it’s a portable convertible which offers decent performance given its low price. But what if you want to soup things up with more RAM, a bigger or faster hard drive, or a solid state drive?

Sure, you can do that.

There are 9 screws on the bottom of the laptop. Take them off… and not much happens. You still need to pry the cover away from the rest of the case. This isn’t particularly easy to do without scratching the notebook or breaking the clips holding the cover in place unless you have the right tools.

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Once the case is open, though, you’ll note that the hard drive can be removed and that there’s a single memory slot for RAM, but it’s easy to pop out the 4GB SODIMM and replace it with up to 8GB of memory. That’s the most the Pentium N3530 chip will recognize.

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You can also pop out the wireless card to replace it. So all told, the system is actually relatively easy to upgrade — at least compared to some other recent notebooks and tablets that have the memory and/or storage soldered to the motherboard.

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As with most laptops, there’s no easy way to upgrade the processor So if you want a more powerful chip, just buy the Inspiron 11 3000 model that comes with a Core i3 chip for about $550… or get a different computer altogether.

Of course, upgrading the hardware isn’t the only way to alter a laptop. You can also install an alternate operating system. Fortunately that’s quite easy to do with the Inspiron 11 3000 Series.

The notebook has a 64-bit processor supports UEFI Secure Boot, but in addition to Windows it can boot any operating system that supports Secure Boot including Ubuntu Linux. You can also disable Secure Boot, enable legacy boot, and muck about in other ways.

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When I tried loading Ubuntu on the Zotac ZBOX PI320 pico mini-desktop PC with an Intel Atom Bay Trail processor, I was stymied by the firmware which only supported 32-bit software while the versions of Ubuntu and other Linux distributions that support Secure Boot are only available in 64-bit builds. So I had to use a 32-bit bootloader with the 64-bit version of Ubuntu.

I didn’t have that problem at all with the Dell laptop. I just loaded Ubuntu 14.10 on a USB flash drive, plugged it in, and turned on the computer. Everything seemed to work out of the box, including WiFi and the touchscreen.

Verdict

Dell’s Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1 notebooks aren’t exactly unique. Lenovo, HP, Asus, and several other companies offer convertible notebook/tablet hybrids with similar designs. But Dell’s entry into this space is a model which offers decent performance, decent battery life, and a decent price.

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It’s about the same price as the HP Envy x360 11 inch convertible, but Dell’s model offers longer battery life and a slightly slimmer design. On the other hand, while I think the Inspiron 11 3000 Series is a better looking convertible, HP’s model feels a bit sturdier (thanks to a case that doesn’t feel like something you could squash with your hands).

They’re both decent options if you’re looking for a low-cost 2-in-1, but as someone who values battery life and upgradeability, if I had to choose one or the other, I’d probably go with the Dell Inspiron 11 3000.

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31 replies on “Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series budget 2-in-1 convertible review”

  1. i want to buy a 2in1 laptop mainly because i want to do some normal stuffs that is why i thought of buying dell inspiron but i have a question that can i write note with stylus pens nicely?

  2. Hi, guys! i’ve this awesome machine, but i need to work via Ubuntu Programms, because there is no analogs for them for Windows 8. The queston is in abilty of touchscreen to work after replacing of OS, if you have already done this, write me please:) [email protected]m

  3. Installed Ubuntu 14.04.02 LTS and everything works right out of the box except for screen rotation, multi-touch support, and track-pad disable function in tablet mode. As far as performance, it runs waaaaaaaaaaay faster than windows 8.1 did. Unfortunately Windows 8.1 just didn’t perform very well. Setup-dual boot, and I can use Windows when needed, But I strongly suggest trying Ubuntu 14.04.02 on this system if you want to see it perform.

    1. Hi, I really like this machine but I need linux. Can you, please, be more specific. The multi-touch doesn’t work on trackpad or touchscreen? Keyboard is disabled in tablet mode? And were you able to solve all these issues?

      1. Sure. In Ubuntu 14.04.2 The machine picks up touches as single clicks or press and hold as click and hold out of the box. But it doesn’t seem to register gestures like pinch to zoom, rotate etc. I believe there is no multi-touch support in the current kernel (3.16.0) yet, but rest assured it is being addressed and will most likely be available in future. The keyboard disables in tablet configuration out of the box as well, and Onboard (virtual onscreen keyboard works very well). Sound works, USB and SD card reader work, multimedia keyboard buttons work, including volume rocker. The mouse touchpad however still picks up touch and will move the mouse around in tablet configuration which is mildly annoying, but I am working on a fix but I’ve been very busy with other things. When I fix it or find a fix for it I will post it here. The system works fine set up for dual boot, without the need to disable secure boot (enabled by default on this machine) like older distributions. So far I haven’t had any major issues with anything else. Battery life is great, same or better than in Win8.1. I hope that helps answer your questions, if not feel free to pick my brain.

          1. Great, thank you. Disabling touchpad should not be a problem with xinput command. Does it have accelerometer or something like that? Sometimes it’s accessible as joystick and it’s not a problem to use the values in script to rotate the screen or whatever.

          2. Yep, sleep works fine, just closing the lid enters sleep and opening the lid wakes. No problems.

  4. Hello I bought this DELL Inspiron 11 and I have a little problem Is the Wi-Fi. I’m start use my Wi-Fi like normal for a while but then my connection stop working and when I look my Wi-Fi said that is connected to the internet but when I open a browser or app said no internet connection … Someone can help me with this Little problem … If u know how to fix it email me please… [email protected]

  5. I purchased the model with the i3 chip. Upgraded the RAM to a 8gb Kingston Hyperx and a Samsung Evo 840 SSD. The laptop works great! Boot up time is 3 sec. Photoshop works pretty good as well. Not bad for the price.

    1. Can you comment on the battery life with the i3? Trying to figure out how much the increased power consumption of the i3 over the N3540 effects the battery life.
      Thanks!

  6. i have the one with the celeron chip in it is the cpu upgradeable if so do you know or have an idea what socket type it is?

  7. I really, really wanted to like this computer. It is a nice screen. But it is slow. I upgraded ram and the wifi. Perhaps using dropbox on it was a mistake. I liked everything but the built quality–press the keyboard and feel the entire body of the laptop flex–this can’t be good. By the time you upgrade ram, wifi card and throw in an ssd, is it still worth it? I might be in the minority but I did not like the trackpad either. I really wanted to like this, but the trackpad and keyboard were just bad enough to ruin it for me. yes the touchscreen was much better than the trackpad..but…sigh..I couldn’t make it work…

  8. I’m typing this on one of these. I upgraded the RAM to 8GB and replaced the drive with an SSD. I get 6-7 hours on a charge, which, at this price level, is solid.

    I only have a few things to add to Brad’s spot-on review:

    – The trackpad is very good. It’s nice and large, Apple-style, and works a lot better than the pads on Asus and HP computers that I’ve tried in the past.
    – The IPS screen, while not enormously bright, has excellent angles and works quite well outdoors, even though it’s very reflective. And the touchscreen is good too — I tried a Yoga 11 and ended up returning it because the touchscreen didn’t reliably pick up taps.
    – It’s true that it has a fan, which surprised me, but it hardly ever spins up, and it’s very quiet when it does.
    – One of the best features is the audio subsystem. The speakers are surprisingly good, and things happen in software to optimize playback for the current output device.
    – A downer is that the case, though it does a good job keeping off skin oils, seems to scuff easily.

    – Real-world performance (as Brad also pointed out) is basically fine. I work on large OpenOffice docs containing images and tables; it handles these fine. But I don’t even bother running my statistics software on it, nor IDEs for programming — all of that happens on a larger system with a Core CPU.

    Overall I’m quite satisfied with the machine. What will eventually make it obsolete is the slow CPU.

  9. yoga 2 11 and thinkpad 11e yoga are other competitors – can find both under $400 on lenovo outlet

  10. Seems like a really good value for the money. It’d be great if it’s not just “budget” notebooks that have the excellent feature of having upgradeable components.

    1. Of course, if I had to complain about something then it’d be that abnormally large bezel. Especially the bottom area. I’ll just chalk it up to tradeoffs in order to keep things cheap.

      1. The bezel size is important when you use this laptop as a tablet. You need the larger bezel surrounding the screen in tablet-mode. With this bezel you can grab the bezel without activating the touch screen. I have this laptop and I know of what I speak. So it does not qualify as a complaint.

  11. I had one of these for a few days. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get wifi in areas that my ancient Macbook could without issues and the touchpad was terrible. The touchscreen was very responsive, but desktop windows is just not usable for full-time touchscreen use. I took it back, but it was really close to a great laptop.

  12. “(although a more powerful version with a Core i3 Haswell chip is also available)”
    @brad

    argh! :C Can’t you get another loaner of that model for review round 2?

  13. I got one of these for my wife. It works pretty well for her although she complained that its battery life isn’t in the Atom class. Her old HP Envy x2 got about 14 hours of battery life but it could only have 2GB of RAM which is just awful if you’re going to use Dropbox.

    She hasn’t realized that this computer can actually keep up with her demands of it, unlike her old one.

  14. I remember a few years back using the aptly named program called Dell Decrapifier to remove the bloatware. Not sure it has been updated though…

  15. Quick note, there’s a typo, in the verdict you state it has good battery life twice.

    I tried one out for a few days, and it wasn’t too bad for the price, but the design really could hae been better in terms of looks. It might have been mine only, but the hard drive would just chug at times, like I would just sit there chugging forever sometimes when i was working in chrome. I never had this experience on my T100 with the emmc memory.

    The battery life, and specs are great though it’s definitely an interesting buy, If i kept it i may have swapped the drive out for a cheap ssd.

  16. The best thing about this machine is the screen. Love the fact that IPS screens are getting into more and more less expensive laptops. Of course, the eeebook and hp stream 11/13 will be interesting comparisons for this (with non IPS screens but much lower prices)

  17. ” the bezel helps make the laptop wide enough to fit a full-sized QWERTY keyboard”. Too bad there’s an equaly large bezel around the keyboard then… Look at the key next to the “1” key. That’t not exatly what I’d call “full-sized”… The tab key is also smaller than it has to be thanks to the bezel around the keyboard.

    But upgradable RAM!? Wow! Didn’t expect that. That’s awesome and something I hope more brands will do as well!

    1. i purchased the model with the i3 chip. Upgraded the RAM to a 8gb Kingston Hyperx and a Samsung Evo 840 SSD. The laptop works great! Boot up time is 3 sec. Photoshop works pretty good as well. Not bad for the price.

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