The 11-inch-class Lenovo Chromebook 3 ($169.99) is proof that you can buy a well-built laptop with a long-lasting battery for less than $200. But should you? If you really are stuck with that spending ceiling for a laptop, you could do worse than this Chromebook. On the other hand, the cramped 11.6-inch display, with a less-than-full-HD resolution, should prompt you to take stock of your priorities. Cash-cramped students who can get by with Chrome OS, and shoppers seeking a secondary, nightstand-side laptop, might put it on the shortlist. But for less than twice the Chromebook 3’s price, you could buy an Apple iPad, which is more than twice as good in nearly every respect.
From the outside, this Walmart-exclusive Chromebook 3 is actually quite stylish. The colorful Google Chrome logo is set into the upper right corner of the display lid, and a striped pattern fills the space below it and contrasts nicely with the solid Onyx Black color that makes up the rest of the lid. This two-tone color scheme would look tacky on an expensive laptop, but here I think it works quite well.
Google Pixelbook Go, a premium ultraportable with a much larger 13.3-inch display but not much more footprint, measuring 0.5 by 12.2 by 8.1 inches.
The Chromebook 3’s 11.6-inch screen is by far its weakest feature. It feels cramped, partly due to its small size and partly because of the large plastic borders surrounding it, which make the panel appear even smaller. The screen is also dim and slightly fuzzy, with a backlight rated for just 250 nits of peak brightness and a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. Using it reminded me of how mobile computing used to be five or 10 years ago, before the advent of slim display bezels and screens with full HD or 4K resolutions.
Samsung Galaxy Chromebook (starting at a grand) or the Google Pixelbook Go (starting at $649) for this level of quality. While the excellent Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a detachable Chromebook with a touch screen, it tops out at an approximately full HD resolution (1,920 by 1,200). Not bad, but not iPad.
If you’re doing typical Chromebook activities like watching videos or browsing the web, things for which the screen is the most important component, the Chromebook 3 is clearly deficient. But even though an iPad offers more bang for your buck, there are still a few reasons why you might want to buy the Chromebook instead.
The most obvious is typing. The Chromebook 3 actually offers a decent typing experience, with sturdy key switches and satisfying click feedback. Its only real shortfall is the lack of key backlighting, though that’s not a realistic feature to expect at this price. And the iPad lacks a physical keyboard entirely (though you can buy one to supplement the tablet, of course).
Testing the Chromebook 3: With Celeron, Just a Bit of Performance Pep
Performance from the Chromebook 3’s Intel Celeron N4020 processor and 4GB of memory is adequate by Chromebook standards. It performs significantly better on synthetic benchmark tests than ARM-based processors like the one in the Chromebook Duet, which make up a sizable portion of the processors in extreme budget Chromebooks.
That said, that Celeron is not nearly as powerful as an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor, the classes of chip found in many Chromebooks that cost $500 and up. During my testing, I occasionally experienced slowdowns and sluggishness when navigating resource-intensive websites like YouTube, but overall the machine was perfectly usable. The Chromebook 3 takes about 10 seconds to boot up.
Comparing the Chromebook 3 with other Chromebooks on browser-based benchmarks like WebXPRT and JetStream helps illustrate performance differences. In the charts below, the Pixelbook Go and the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook both have more capable Intel Core processors, while the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook shares the same processor as the Chromebook 3.
Chromebook versus iPad
It’s a bit unorthodox to compare the Lenovo Chromebook 3 with an iPad, which costs almost twice as much and has a tablet form factor, a different operating system, and no keyboard in the box. But neither of them is expensive by absolute standards relative to most laptops, and the two devices set out to accomplish similar goals. They’re platforms for consuming content on the modern internet, from video conferencing to playing games to taking advantage of the extensive Google and Apple app ecosystems.
It’s more straightforward to compare the Chromebook 3 to another budget Chromebook that has a higher-quality screen. But doing so risks losing sight of why people seek an inexpensive point of access to the web in the first place. Unless you are on the strictest of budgets or need the modern equivalent of a portable typewriter, the Chromebook 3’s main selling points—a bargain price, a comfortable keyboard, minimal weight, and long battery life—don’t quite make up for a screen that’s well behind the times.
Lenovo Chromebook 3 (11-Inch) Specs
|Processor||Intel Celeron N4020|
|Processor Speed||1.1 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||4 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||eMMC Flash Memory|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Screen Size||11.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1366 by 768|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel UHD Graphics 600|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ac, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.71 by 11.28 by 8.09 inches|
|Operating System||Google Chrome OS|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||18:54|