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Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook (11in) review: How cheap is too cheap?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
Inc VAT

An ultra-cheap Chromebook with reasonable performance, but the screen and build are sub-par

Pros 
Low price
Okay ergonomics
Good performance for the money
Cons 
Dim screen with poor viewing angles
Cheap, plasticky construction
Tinny sound at higher volumes
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If there’s one good reason to get excited about the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook, it’s that it’s astonishingly cheap. £180 is a tiny amount to pay for a fully featured laptop, even one with a basic specification and an 11.6in screen. What’s more, Lenovo knows how to put a cost-conscious Chromebook together. The old 11.6in Chromebook 500e was a fantastic little ruggedized convertible and came from a fairly long line of great value Lenovo-branded Chromebooks.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: What you need to know

Just like its predecessors, the IdeaPad 3 is very much an entry-level Chromebook – in fact, it’s one of the cheapest available in the UK. It’s a strictly frills-free device: it has a conventional clamshell design, an 11.6-inch screen and a Celeron processor, so nothing unexpected in the slightest.

And while it hasn’t got much in the way of processing power or storage – you get a tiny 32GB eMMC flash drive – these things matter less on a low-cost Chromebook, which is designed primarily to run a browser and lightweight, web-based apps. Here, you could argue that what matters more is Chrome OS’s minuscule start-up times, hassle-free upgrades, baked-in security and overall ease of use.

READ NEXT: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 review

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Price and competition

So, is the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 11 the Chrome OS bargain of the century or a cut-price duffer we should warn you of? Inevitably, the truth lies somewhere in-between. This might be a super-cheap Chromebook, but you don’t have to spend a whole lot more to find some competition.

If you can find an extra £20 in the kitty, then the Asus Chromebook C223 (£200) will give you a slightly more elegant thin-and-light design and a decent HD screen – although it doesn’t have a vast amount of processing power at its disposal.

If that doesn’t quite hit the spot, then HP, Dell and Acer also have some strong contenders for around £200 to £230. Suffice to say, if you’re tempted by the Lenovo, you really need to shop around first.

READ NEXT: Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Design

In terms of the physical design, Lenovo has made the best of a limited budget. The all-plastic construction feels cheap, but there’s a nice two-tone textured effect on the lid, which itself isn’t as weak and flexible as on some budget Chromebooks. Bar the massive bezel below the screen, it’s not a bad-looking device.

Connectivity isn’t a problem, either, with two USB 3.1 Type-A ports and two USB 3.1 Type-C. Sure, you’re not getting the absolute fastest ports, but do you really need them on a budget Chromebook? It’s much the same with the wireless connectivity, and you can’t really moan about 802.11ac with 2x2 MIMO at this price.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Keyboard and touchpad

First impressions of the keyboard and touchpad aren’t great. There’s something a bit cheap-looking and toy-like about the IdeaPad 3’s square chiclet keys – we’re a long way away from the classy, sculpted keytops found on Lenovo’s business-grade ThinkPad laptops.

However, give it a little time and the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook turns out to be surprisingly useable. The flat keys don’t have much travel, but they do have a light and fairly crisp action with no wobbles or flexing in the middle.

The touchpad, meanwhile, may be on the small side, but it’s perfectly accurate. Our only grumble is that if your fingertips are even slightly wet – say, after you’ve just washed and dried your hands – they seem to stick on the surface more than on other budget laptops.

READ NEXT: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet review

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Display and sound

One area where this Chromebook does fall down is the display. The low 1,366 x 768 resolution still looks reasonably crisp when it’s crammed into an 11.6in diagonal, but the problem here is that the backlight isn’t very bright. Lenovo claims a 250cd/m² peak brightness, but our tests say it’s closer to 200cd/m².

What’s more, it has awful vertical and horizontal viewing angles, meaning you have to sit directly in front with the screen tilted just so if you want to see what’s going on.

Colour reproduction is exactly what you’d expect from a sub-£200 laptop, and by that we mean it’s not very good. It can only reproduce around 57% of the sRGB colour gamut, while the average Delta E is an impressively bad 10.3. To the layperson, this means that colours look washed out and lack the vibrance and accuracy of finer laptop displays.

Yet, somehow, it’s actually quite acceptable for everyday use. As long as you don’t try and use it outside, or under particularly intense lighting, the screen is perfectly workable – movies and games played via Google’s Stadia streaming games service actually don’t look too bad at all.

The sound from the stereo down-firing speakers is listenable at lower volumes, too, though we’d advise against pushing the volume much past the halfway mark. Do that, and it quickly distorts and becomes tinny and hard on the ears.

READ NEXT: Dell Latitude 7410 Chromebook Enterprise review

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Performance and battery life

Now for the big surprise. Where other ultra-budget Chromebooks stuff in dated Celeron N3350 and N4000 processors, the IdeaPad 3 has a 2019-vintage N4020 running at up to 2.8GHz.

That’s still a dual-core, dual-thread chip, which has an impact on performance – and benchmark results – but we didn’t experience any painful pauses or slowdowns during testing. Or at least we didn’t until we had half a dozen Chrome tabs up and running with in-line video playback, and it’s tough to complain about that.

The scores in the Android Geekbench 5 benchmark are a little higher than the Celeron N4000-based Chromebooks, too, though not up there with the faster Pentium and Core i3 models. All told, the IdeaPad 3 feels a little snappier than some of its rivals in day-to-day browsing and general use.

Meanwhile, battery life is very respectable, with the Lenovo surviving for just over eleven and a half hours of video playback before collapsing – long past the specified ten.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook review: Verdict

We’re not going to tell you that this is the perfect budget Chromebook. It feels cheap, the screen really isn’t up to scratch and you don’t have to spend much more to get a better device. If it had the lightweight design and better screen of the Asus C223 it might nudge closer to budget brilliance.

If you can live with the compromises, however – or find it on a spectacular deal – the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook remains a genuinely usable laptop. For example, it could make a cheap, lightweight option for kids doing homework or a little sofa-based surfing. As it is, it’s not the full package, but it’s still worth considering – and especially if the price is right.

Buy now from Argos


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