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Lenovo Chromebook 500e review: A practical, sturdy little machine

Expert Reviews Staff
9 Sep 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
249
inc VAT

A lovable and rugged little convertible that’s too good to leave for schools – and the update looks even better

Pros 
Excellent durability
Solid build quality
Cons 
Bog-standard display
64% of the sRGB colour gamut
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Ruggedised convertible Chromebooks are nothing new, particularly in the education market, but the 11.6in Chromebook 500e takes things a little further. For one thing, Lenovo’s design has hit a near-perfect balance between versatility, durability and all-round practicality. With a desktop footprint of 290 x 240mm and thickness of just over 20mm, it’s an easy fit for crowded classrooms and won’t stick out amongst the textbooks in the school bag – yet it will effortlessly shift between clamshell, tablet and tent configurations.

Lenovo Chromebook 500e review: What you need to know

What’s more, it’s about as rugged as they come. From the rubber bumpers and spill-proof keyboard to the Gorilla Glass 3 screen, this thing feels built for the battlefield – and it’s passed the MIL-STD-810G tests to prove it. Don’t be put off by the education angle, either. There’s something really appealing about a laptop that can take several thousand knocks, even if you’re just lugging it into the city or leaving it lying around the home.

Buy the Lenovo Chromebook 500e now


Lenovo Chromebook 500e review: Design

As for versatility, Lenovo has paired the already responsive touchscreen with a garaged EMR stylus, which slots into a hole in the base. It’s not an active pen, using Google’s machine learning technology to infer sophisticated tracking from a passive piece of plastic and capacitive touchscreen, but it feels surprisingly like one, complete with pressure sensitivity for drawing. For taking notes or sketching out ideas, it’s a cheap and very cheerful way to go.

Prefer the more traditional approach? Well, the 500e still has you covered. Lenovo rarely puts out a bad keyboard, and while this Chromebook can’t match a ThinkPad for layout or feel, the action is light but responsive and you can easily reach a good typing speed. The rock-solid build quality also means that you don’t get the bounce you find in many budget laptops. The trackpad is effective, too, although it’s more prone to picking up greasy finger marks than others we’ve seen.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best Chromebooks

Lenovo Chromebook 500e review: Display and performance

Look further and some signs of cost-cutting creep in. We won’t carp on about the bog-standard 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is the norm on 11.6in devices, but the 500e’s twisted nematic (TN) screen can only deliver 64% of the sRGB colour gamut and its brightness slips just below 200cd/m2. In practice, this isn’t a disaster; it’s bright enough for general use and Lenovo’s anti-reflective coating helps in bright conditions, but dark scenes in movies can pose problems. You simply don’t get the punch of the best IPS screens. It’s worth noting, though, that Lenovo is just updating the 500e at the time of writing, and the new model has an improved 250cd/m2 IPS display. However, it couldn't send a sample to us in time for testing.

The new version also boasts a slightly faster Celeron N4100 with four cores running at up to 2.4GHz, which is good news when the existing model, with a Celeron N3450, is one of the slowest Chromebooks we have on test. It doesn’t actually feel slow in everyday use, even with half a dozen Chrome tabs running, but if you want something that can tackle more demanding apps then you’ll need to move upmarket. The new model will also support up to 8GB of DDR4 RAM, although we didn’t have any issues with the 4GB fitted here.

Buy the Lenovo Chromebook 500e now


Lenovo Chromebook 500e review: Verdict

As for battery life, the 500e trails behind the leaders but was still good for nearly eight hours of video playback, so should survive the average working day. When it comes to stamina, it’s no match for the Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1, and much the same goes for performance, but take a look at the overall design, the stylus and the price, and it’s the Chromebook 500e that’s the better deal. If you like what you see, we’re willing to gamble the 2nd Gen will be even better.