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The Chromebook concept is rooted in simplicity. Forget Windows, with all of its complicated licenses, patches and updates. Google's free, lightweight operating system just works -- as long as you understand what a Chromebook can and can't do. You can't install Photoshop, Steam or any other Windows or Mac-dependent application -- only online apps and services that run through your browser (and now, many Android apps). With the 500e, Lenovo remains steadfast to the Chromebook premise, delivering an inexpensive laptop-tablet combination that just works -- and with surprisingly few limitations.
While Samsung and Google have refined the high-end Chromebook -- see the Chromebook Pro and Pixelbook, respectively -- Lenovo has gone down-market with a lineup of Chromebooks optimized for classroom use. They're durable, convertible between laptop and tablet, and inexpensive. Priced at $310 (£340 or AU$600), the 500e is well-suited for the classroom as well as basic personal and business use.
|Price as reviewed||$310|
|Display size/resolution||11.6-inch 1,366x768-pixel touchscreen|
|CPU||Dual-core 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N3450U|
|Memory||2GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 500|
|Webcam||Built-in 720p HD camera and mic, 5MP HD camera and mic|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2|
|Operating system||Google Chrome|
The 500e's plastic design lacks the metallic elegance of higher-end laptops but exudes toughness; I felt confident handing it off to my 8-year-old daughter. According to Lenovo, the rubberized bumpers can absorb a drop (up to 29.5 inches) and the water-resistant keyboard can withstand a drenching (up to about 11 ounces of liquid). The ports -- two USB-C, two USB 3.0, a microSD card slot and a headphone jack -- are reinforced.
The 11.6-inch HD multitouch Gorilla Glass display is totally mediocre: sufficiently sharp but just not bright enough, even at its maximum setting. The 500e's 360-degree convertible hinge -- similar to the one found on the pricier Yoga 920 -- is stiff and stays put at any intermediary angle, though the display will shimmy a bit if you're a forceful typist.
Although it's a relatively small machine, the 500e's keyboard isn't much smaller than what you'd find on the 13-inch Macbook Air, and it has a few handy extra keys for online navigation (i.e. back, forward, refresh). I found it comfortable to type on. In addition to the customary webcam embedded above the display, Lenovo has positioned a second camera above the keyboard so you can shoot photos and videos while looking at the display in tablet mode -- a thoughtful touch.
At just a hair under 3 pounds (1.35 kg), the 500e is portable but far from elegant. It's bulky -- nearly an inch thick -- and like all convertibles with a permanently connected keyboard, it's a bit awkward to hold in tablet mode. But the 500e's included pressure-sensitive stylus, which has its own dedicated storage slot, works well. I tested it using Squid, a simple (and free) note-taking app I downloaded from the Google Play store, and found it responsive and accurate, with a slew of settings that are easily accessible and adjustable.
Lenovo makes a handful of 11.6-inch convertible laptops, including two less-expensive Chromebooks (the 300e and 100e) as well as variations that run Windows 10. The configuration we tested included the following:
Chromebooks are known for their enduring battery performance, and the 500e clocked in at just shy of 11 hours in our CNET test, handily beating out the more expensive Samsung Chromebook Plus. Plus, I was able to fully recharge the 500e in about 2 hours.
Lenovo's 500e gives you quite a lot for $310. Yes, the display isn't great and you'll have to do without Windows. But it's powerful enough to handle basic work and entertainment tasks and give you the better part of a day's worth of battery life. Though Lenovo obviously designed the 500e for kids in classrooms, it's a solid choice for anyone looking for a durable two-in-one Chromebook.
|PC Geekbox||Lenovo 500e Chromebook||Samsung Chromebook Plus||Samsung Chromebook Pro|
|Price as reviewed||$309||$499||$549|
|Display size (in inches)/resolution||11.6 in, 1,366x768||12.3 in, 2,400x1,600||12.3 in, 2,400x1,600|
|PC CPU||Intel Celeron N3450, 1.10GHz||Intel Celeron 3965Y, 1.15GHz||Intel Core m3-6y30|
|Operating system||Chrome OS||Chrome OS||Chrome OS|