The Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1, otherwise called the Inspiron 7486 ($ 599 as tested), is a premium Chromebook that’s priced competitively with full-featured Windows 10-based convertibles. A case in point is Dell’s own Inspiron 14 2-in-1 (the Inspiron 5482), which goes for about the same money with similar hardware inside. An 8th Generation Intel Core i3 processor gives the Inspiron 7486 plenty of performance, while its 128GB eMMC storage drive is several times more capacious than the 16GB or 32GB drives typically present in cheaper Chromebooks. Overall, we found the Inspiron 7486 to be a reasonable choice if Chrome OS suits your needs and you want something more feature-rich than the average Chromebook, but we’d like to see longer battery life and a lighter design for the money.
A Classy Exterior
Uprated specifications are just part of the Inspiron 7486’s story. Its brushed-aluminum shell radiates a look and feel that would be appropriate several price brackets north. Few clues give away its Chromebook status, the small Chrome logo on the lid being the most obvious. In terms of looks, that’s about all this Chromebook shares with the everyday plastic Chromebooks that go for a few hundred dollars or less. Quality-wise, the Inspiron 7486 has no problem going toe to toe with the MacBooks and high-end Windows devices that dominate your local coffee shop.
The chassis and lid of the Inspiron 7486 are all but inflexible, an important factor for longevity in a convertible device that’s likely to be handled casually and every which way. Its measurements of 0.7 by 13 by 9.1 inches (HWD) are average for a convertible sporting a 14-inch display. The display doesn’t have a borderless design, but some bezel or space around its edges is desirable on a 2-in-1 to keep your fingers off the edges of the screen as you grip it in tablet mode. Moreover, the big-enough bezel allows the Inspiron 7486’s full HD webcam to sit in its rightful place above the display. The webcam has a reasonably detailed picture that suffers, like most small-sensor cameras do, under low light.
The twin 360-degree hinges operate smoothly but are very stiff. You’ll need two hands to open or close the lid. On the bright side, the hinges’ resistance helps minimize display wobble from touch or pen input. The weighty base further means the Inspiron 7486 isn’t top-heavy, so feel free to poke and prod all you want.
Don’t press too hard, though. While the screen won’t move much, the Inspiron 7486 tends to slide around on tabletops. Its four skinny rubber feet aren’t all that grippy.
Time for a New Year’s Resolution
Everyone to whom I handed the Inspiron 7486 said it was heavy. Its 3.99-pound weight makes it an armful as a tablet, or in any other mode, for that matter. The half-as-expensive Acer Chromebook 14 is lighter at 3.7 pounds, but I’d really like to see a premium 14-inch Chromebook like this dip below the 3.5-pound mark. The same-price, Editors’ Choice-winning HP Chromebook x2 has more of a tablet focus with its 12.3-inch detachable design, and its tablet portion weighs just 1.62 pounds. The HP also has a more tablet-friendly 3:2 screen aspect ratio, in contrast to the Inspiron 7486’s laptop-focused 16:9 screen.
While the Intel 7265AC wireless card and Bluetooth 4.2 in the Inspiron 7486 have you covered for wireless connections, it comes up short for physical connectivity even by Chromebook standards. The left edge has a USB Type-C 3.1 port, where the power adapter plugs in, a regular USB Type-A 3.1 port, and an audio combo jack…
The right edge has a microSD card reader and a USB Type-C 3.1 port with DisplayPort output, plus a power button and a volume rocker…
The lack of a security-cable lockdown slot is disappointing, as the Inspiron 7486 is certainly worth locking up in public places. Also disappointing is that you’ll need to buy an adapter converting USB Type-C to DisplayPort or HDMI to get physical video out of this Chromebook. A dedicated HDMI video-out port would have been convenient. (Then again, you could always do a Chromecast.)
Get It in Writing
The included stylus pen is garaged in the right front edge of the Inspiron 7486. You need to use the ridge on its back to coax it out with your fingernail, as it’s not spring-loaded.
The pen’s squared-off shape helped its thin diameter feel bigger in my hand. If you like weightier pens, you’re out of luck here; the plastic design of this one weighs next to nothing. Its electro-magnetic resonance (EMR) technology means it doesn’t need batteries and thus never needs charging, a major advantage of EMR over the competing N-Trig and Wacom Active Electrostatic Solution (AES) technologies.
Judging by one of the clearly Sotheby’s-worthy artworks I penned using the free Autodesk Sketchbook app I downloaded from the Google Play store, the Dell EMR pen has reliable pressure and tilt sensitivity and is accurate to the very edges of the display. There’s just the slightest bit of input lag. It’s basic at best as a pen on features, though, lacking buttons and an eraser. I had no issues with palm rejection across multiple apps when resting my mitt on the display panel.
The 14-inch touch display has a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) native resolution, the sweet spot for this screen diagonal. The default medium text size and 100 percent page zoom are comfortable to my eyes. Wide viewing angles come courtesy of the panel’s In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology, something no convertible device would be practical without.
The 260-nit rated screen brightness is high enough for working in a daylit room, although the glassy surface acts as a mirror for ambient light, especially outdoors. The colors are vibrant; I don’t have a problem believing the advertised 72 percent NTSC color-gamut coverage.
The Key(board) to Chrome OS
The Inspiron 7486’s full-size keyboard has extra spacing between keys, per the current trend in notebook keyboard design. The key-travel distance is on the shallow side as is, consequently, the tactile feedback, but I still find it comfortable to use. The bright white backlighting eliminates guesswork in low-light situations.
The key layout will take some familiarization if it’s your first time using a Chromebook, but the tutorial displayed after the initial power-on should tell you all you need to get going. In my experience, it’s easier to switch from Windows 10 to Chrome OS than it is from Windows 10 to Mac because of the greater similarities in keyboard layout and shortcuts.
Loud clicks and an overly stiff clicking action mar what is otherwise a good buttonless touchpad. The Inspiron 7486 gives you plenty of alternatives if you need to keep it quiet, though: tap to click, touch the display, or whip out the EMR pen. The pad is proportioned just right for the 14-inch display.
The twin speakers are loud enough for personal listening. The sound has a strained overtone, though, and it falls flat on bass notes. The speakers proper are located under either side of the palm rest, and their downward-firing nature means the sound can be muffled if you use the Inspiron 7486 on your lap or other soft surface in notebook mode.
Performance Testing: Nothing Average ‘Bout This ‘Book
The Inspiron 7486’s Core i3-8130U processor and 4GB of RAM may be entry-level by PC standards, but this is a premium loadout for a Chromebook. Google’s Chrome OS is less demanding on resources than Windows 10, so the hardware goes further. To illustrate, lower-cost Chromebooks manage a reasonably responsive user experience with low-powered Pentium or Celeron processors, which is hard to say about Windows devices using similar hardware. When you add a much faster processor like the Core i3-8130U into the Chromebook mix, most users are going to end up with performance to spare.
That was certainly the case for me with this Inspiron model. Browsing multiple tabs in Chrome, streaming full HD video from Amazon, and sketching in Autodesk Sketchbook simultaneously was smooth going. Apps opened almost instantly, and switching between them was lag-free. There are Chromebooks out there with more RAM, but the 4GB in the Inspiron 7486 is plenty. (For posterity’s sake, though, I wouldn’t buy a Chromebook with less.)
First thing to test: the boot time. Chances are you won’t be cold-starting your Chromebook that often, but if you do, the Inspiron 7486 does it in 6 seconds. That’s about as quick as Chromebooks get.
The Dell Inspiron 7486’s 15-watt Core i3-8130U processor helped it dominate these CPU-focused tasks. The last-generation 5-watt Core m3 in the HP Chromebook x2 just couldn’t keep up. The old Celeron N3160 in the Acer Chromebook 14 ranks by far the slowest in this bunch, but remarkably that machine has usable performance for basic tasks. That’s why I said the Core i3-8130U in the Inspiron 7486 will have well more performance than most users need for Chrome OS.
In our battery life test, the Dell Inspiron 7486 lasted just under 9.5 hours playing back a locally stored video file…
Some forgiveness may be in order because the Inspiron 7486’s 14-inch 1080p screen draws more power than smaller, lower-resolution panels, but we were still expecting north of the 10-hour mark given the caliber of Chromebook this is. That said, the time we recorded is almost in line with Dell’s advertised 10 hours of life, so we can’t say it’s a surprise it didn’t last longer.
Premium Price, (Mostly) Premium Features
The Dell Inspiron 7486 is a clear sign that Chromebooks have evolved beyond their humble beginnings as low-cost secondary devices into potential stars of their own. Although pricey by Chromebook standards, this isn’t your average Chromebook. It packs the type of features you’d expect in a premium PC or a MacBook: an aluminum exterior, a backlit keyboard, and a vibrant display with EMR pen support. A Core i3 processor and 128GB of storage are expected in a PC around its $ 599 list price, but this is a Chromebook; the hardware goes further in Chrome OS since the OS is less demanding on resources. There’s no shortage of performance here given what it is.
Where the Inspiron 7486 stumbles a bit is on portability. It weighs at least a half-pound more than we’d prefer, and another hour or two of battery life would have made it more competitive. Quibbles that are less deal-breaking are its overly stiff display hinges and lack of a dedicated video-out connector (ideally, HDMI). A quieter-clicking touchpad would have been nice, too.
The pricing of the Inspiron 7486 would position it as a “primary device” for most of us. Its feature set is at least as good as that found on similarly priced PCs, so it boils down to whether you actively prefer to work with Google’s Chrome OS. Now that Chrome OS runs Android apps from the Google Play store, the practicality gap between it and Windows 10 or macOS is narrower than ever. And given what we witnessed while testing the Inspiron 7486, the device-quality gap has become even smaller. As we said, Chromebooks have come a long, long way. The bigger question is: Have you come far enough with Chrome OS to shell out primary-PC money for a Chromebook as your main squeeze?