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Lenovo IdeaPad 100S Chromebook review: Chrome OS loses the race to the bottom

The Lenovo 100S Chromebook is a neat budget PC, but the barebones Chrome operating system holds it back.

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Nate Ralph
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Nate Ralph

Associate Editor

Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.

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The Lenovo 100S Chromebook is the quintessential Chromebook. It's cheap and a bit bland-looking, powered by a budget Intel processor and packing a meager, low-resolution screen.

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6.9

Lenovo IdeaPad 100S Chromebook

The Good

The inexpensive Lenovo 100S Chromebook has a comfortable keyboard, battery life that'll last a workday, and just enough performance to get rudimentary tasks done.

The Bad

Google's Chrome OS operating system is limited when compared to identically priced competitors that run Windows 10.

The Bottom Line

The Lenovo 100S Chromebook delivers on the promise of adequate performance at a low price, but dirt-cheap Windows 10 machines have it beat there.

That's not so bad. This $199 (approximately £138, or AU$282) Chromebook feels solid, packs a nice keyboard and a fair amount of battery life, planting this among the better cheap options for staying connected. You will need to be near a Wi-Fi connection; this Chromebook runs Google's browser-based Chrome OS, and while the operating system has come a long way your options are still limited once you're disconnected.

But $200 will go a bit further these days, with options that offer more style, or stronger hardware, or (most importantly) a full operating system, thanks to bargain bin devices from HP, and even Lenovo, that run Windows 10.

Up close with Lenovo's 100S Chromebook (pictures)

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Design and features

Chromebooks are supposed to be cheap, web-centric devices, keeping you connected with a minimum of fuss. The Walmart-exclusive Hisense Chromebook is a fine example, a nigh-disposable device that shone primarily because it was so cheap, at $150. The Asus Chromebook Flip C100 ($250; converted, £171, AU$349) tosses a touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge into the mix, though it sacrifices performance for long battery life. Google's own Chromebook Pixel is less convincing: an impressive machine saddled with an operating system that's simply too limited to justify paying $1,000.

The Lenovo 100S sits on the cheaper end of the spectrum, made of black plastic and weighing a scant 2.6 pounds (1.2kg). It's wholly unremarkable: there's a shiny little finish bordering the trackpad, but barring a few stickers and the Lenovo or Chrome branding dotted at various points around the chassis, I'd be hard pressed to tell this machine apart from the myriad of black boxes dotting the budget PC landscape.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The keyboard is roomy, so fingers won't feel cramped, and the keys offer a nice amount of feedback and depth with every press -- no typing mistakes here. The keyboard isn't backlit, but there's no chance it would be at this price.The Chromebook 100S has an 11.6-inch display, with a 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution. It does a fair job with color accuracy, but the contrast starts to degrade noticeably when viewed off axis. It's also not a touchscreen. The trackpad is fine, it's responsive and generally stayed out of my way as I bumbled around the Web. It never skipped a beat while I scrolled through web pages, or used the handful of trackpad gestures built into Chrome OS, which is appreciated.

There's an SD card slot on the side for importing files and photos, but I'd recommend using it for a bit of extra storage as the Chromebook only has 32GB of storage. That's dismal, but also kind of the point: the limited storage space hosts files you need ready, regular access to while the rest of your stuff will live in the cloud.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

Chrome OS still falls flat when compared to a full-blown operating system like Windows 10. With Windows, you'll be able to use any apps you'd like, including a different browser. The HP Stream 11 has a near identical load-out as this Chromebook (with a slightly newer Intel Celeron processor), costs the same, and runs Windows 10. Lenovo's own Ideapad 100S falls into the same boat: the dated touchpad disappoints on that model, and the Atom processor feels a bit sluggish. In both cases, you'll also have 2GB of RAM to contend with, which will make things feel a bit slower. But the inclusion of Windows means you'll have access to the apps you're familiar with.

Connections and performance

The full-sized SD card slot on the left is joined by a USB 3.0 port and an HDMI output, to connect the notebook to a larger display, and there's a USB 2.0 port on the right side. The 100S Chromebook also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The $199 entry level model includes a 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor, and 2GB of RAM; $229 gets a model with 4GB of RAM. I generally fire up a lot of tabs when I'm using Chrome, and the 100S Chromebook with 2GB of RAM starts to choke and sputter when I get a little carried away.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

Don't get me wrong: normal tasks, like writing this review while streaming HD video or music in another tab, works smoothly. The machine is really responsive when waking up from sleep: I rarely have to wait more than a second or so after popping the lid open before I'm ready to go. But more RAM could help.

The Lenovo 100S Chromebook chugged along for 7 hours and 26 minutes on our streaming video battery-drain test. That's not a bad showing, especially for a machine this light and cheap. But the Lenovo Ideapad 100S packs an energy-sipping Intel Atom processor and it ran for 9 hours and 57 minutes on our tests. My anecdotal use consisted of a lot of writing and Web surfing, and I didn't need to track down the AC adapter for an entire weekend -- your mileage will vary.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Chromebook 100S would be a neat option for someone with meager needs, or on a tight budget. But you can spend the same amount on machines that run Windows 10. Storage will still be woefully limited, but Windows 10 lets you install apps from the Windows 10 Store directly to an SD card or USB key, which should save a bit of space. And cloud services (like Google Drive) are readily available too.

Without the price advantage, there's no reason to opt for a Chromebook -- if you want that Chrome OS experience, just install Google's apps on your Windows 10 machines, alongside absolutely anything else you want. Lenovo's own Windows 10-powered Ideapad 100S is similarly equipped, and you'll get that nice keyboard in the bargain, too.

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6.9

Lenovo IdeaPad 100S Chromebook

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Battery 7