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Dell teams with Google for a pro-level Chromebook 13 (hands-on)

This high-design Chrome OS system can cost as much as a premium laptop, and takes aim at small businesses and big IT departments.

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Most Chromebooks to date have been aimed at computer shoppers looking for the best bang for their buck, with many models running from $200 to $350. Dell is aiming to join the very small category of premium Chromebooks with its new Chromebook 13. This is the first 13-inch Chromebook from Dell, and unlike 13-inch versions from Toshiba and Acer , the intended audience is businesses and the IT departments that buy and administer their systems.

But unlike business laptops or desktops that can add custom security software and hardware, the Dell Chromebook 13 is still a stock Chrome OS laptop (Dell's existing cloud-based management and VPN apps will work, however). The biggest difference between this and more consumer-oriented models is the construction. The Chromebook 13 has a carbon fiber-weave cover, magnesium-alloy wrist rest and aluminum base, making it look and feel much more high-end than typical plastic Chromebooks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also helping this feel like a step up from less-expensive models, the 13.3-inch screen has a full-HD 1,920x1,080 resolution, and comes in both touch and non-touch versions. The keyboard, all in lowercase (as is the norm for Chromebooks) is backlit, another feature usually only found on Windows and Mac laptops.

While the high-end configurations of the Dell Chromebook 13 get up there in price, there are a wide range of configuration options. Besides the touch and non-touch displays, CPUs range from Intel Celeron on the low end to current-gen Core i3 and Core i5. RAM runs from 2GB to 8GB, and the onboard storage -- small, as is the case in most Chromebooks -- is either 16GB or 32GB.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In our brief hands-on time with a preproduction sample of the system, it felt sturdy and premium, clearly taking some design cues from the Dell XPS 13, although it lacks that high-end laptop's ultra-thin bezel.

The Chromebook 13 starts at $399 in the US for the lowest-spec model, with a Celeron CPU and non-touch display. (UK prices will be announced closer to the release date.) Going with all the high-level configuration options takes it up to $899, which is comparable to the Windows-based Dell XPS 13. Consumer 13-inch Chromebooks with plastic bodies typically cost $200 to $300.

The Chromebook 13 from Dell will be available in the US on September 17 and in the UK on October 1, with no plans right now for an Australian release.

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