BARCELONA—Lenovo’s three new Chromebooks can take a beating. They should, as they’re for kids. Chromebooks are tremendously successful in schools, and the new semi-ruggedized Lenovo 100e, 300e, and 500e look like they’re up to the predations of cranky ten-year-olds. We got some time with them at Mobile World Congress.
The new Chromebooks’ build is the most impressive thing about them. All three laptops have rubber bumpers and a shock-resistant, liquid-resistant, un-pryable keyboard. I pounded on them joyfully with both fists, like an angry chimp or disruptive second-grader, and didn’t cause any damage at all. They’re drop-resistant up to 29.5 inches, and not dunkable, but definitely splashable.
The 100e (pictured above) and 500e have Intel Celeron processors, with the 100 running a Celeron N3350 and the 500 an N3450. We were not impressed by the performance of the 100e and 300e.
The 100e, at $219, is definitely a cheap Chromebook. It has an 11.6-inch, 1,366-by-768 TN LCD screen, which has truly unfortunate viewing angles. There’s 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot. On the sides, there are two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, and a mic/headphone jack. It weighs a light 2.75 pounds.
The screens get better on the 300e and 500e, both of which have 11.6-inch, 1,366-by-768 IPS LCDs with much better viewing angles.
The $279 300e (pictured above) has Lenovo’s AnyPen technology, which lets you write on the screen with a pencil. (No, you can’t use the eraser.) A sharp pencil didn’t mark up the tempered glass screen, but there was significant lag as the ink rendered. Its storage and ports are the same as on the 100e, but it weighs a little more, at 3 pounds.
The $349 500e, on the other hand, comes with its own EMR (electro-magnetic resonance) pen that fits into a slot on the bottom. The pen allows for lagless inking, although you can’t use a standard pencil any more. Inking on the 500e was much, much quicker. This laptop can have either 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 GB of storage, and it weighs 3 pounds.
The 500e (pictured below) also has a camera above the keyboard, which seems super weird until you fold the laptop back into table-tent mode. The idea is to be able to use the screen as a viewfinder for the camera when the laptop is folded back.
The lagless inking technology on the 500e, designed by Google, makes up for the processor’s slow speed by predicting where the ink should go in advance of you actually touching the next pixel, according to Lenovo. The stylus is pressure but not tilt sensitive, and it was easy enough to create lines of different width and depth.
All three Chromebooks support Google Play for Android apps, Lenovo told us.
Can They Make the Grade?
With American schools, by and large, starving for money, these Lenovo Chromebooks might be a good solution because they’re cheap and durable. Schools or families can buy them, they can take a beating, and their predominantly cloud-based software will stay relatively current and secure for years. Are they fast? Well, except for the 500e, no, and that’s being generous to the 500e. But they’ll help close the digital divide.
The 100e is coming in March; the 300e and 500e are available now. We hope to have reviews soon.