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.
Lenovo 500e Chromebook
|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|
A tough little machine
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.
Respectable as a laptop and tablet
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.