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Lenovo 500e Chromebook review: A tough little 2-in-1 Chromebook that makes very few compromises

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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: 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 1,366×768-pixel touchscreen
CPU Dual-core 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N3450U
Memory 2GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 500
Storage 32GB eMMC
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.

06-lenovo-500e-chromebook

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

15-lenovo-500e-chromebook

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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