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

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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