Negotiate Lenovo down on price and you have a solid 2-in-1 for classrooms, but it makes compromises
- Impressive battery life
- Sturdy design
The Lenovo 300e is a pared-down laptop designed for schools, with the emphasis on a rugged finish, pen input, convertible 2-in-1 design and a low price – think netbook with a rotating screen and you won’t be far wrong.
To confuse matters, there is more than one “Lenovo 300e”. Type those two words into Google and you’ll almost certainly be directed to the cheaper Chromebook incarnation, but Lenovo sent us the Windows version to test. You’ll also need to make sure you choose the second-generation version, with plenty of the first-gen models still floating around.
Lenovo 300e 2nd Gen review: Design and features
This updated model has several things in its favour. The first is a stylus that’s integrated into the design: it’s a slim, old-school affair that has more in common with styluses found in PDAs of 15 years ago than the fat pen-style styluses we’ve become accustomed to. But that’s fine for child-size fingers, and the twin benefits of being constantly charged and, hopefully, less easy to lose make it a solid upgrade.
The new Lenovo 300e is powered via USB-C, but note this isn’t a general purpose port. If you want to attach storage or hook the 300e up to a display then you’ll need one of the other ports scattered on both edges, but the good news is there are plenty of them: USB 3, HDMI and combo jack on the left, USB 3, microSD and Kensington lock on the right.
The final upgrade compared to its predecessor is a set of rubber bumpers, further adding to this machine’s protection when in a classroom. I didn’t dare to drop it (although Lenovo claims that its entire “education portfolio is MIL-SPEC tested with six methods and 12 procedures”) but it feels solid enough to survive most perilous situations. Note that you’ll probably want to enhance the basic one-year warranty that this machine is supplied with.
I could test Lenovo’s all-day battery life claims, and it passed with an A*. While our standardised video-rundown test switches off Wi-Fi and sets the screen brightness to 170cd/m2, a figure of 11hrs 28mins suggests it will easily last a day without needing the charger. Importantly, such a high lifetime means it should still survive several hours of use even after a couple of years, by which time the battery’s capacity will have dropped.
Lenovo 300e 2nd Gen review: Performance
One reason why it keeps going for so long is the modest Celeron processor. Yes, the N4100 includes four cores, which helps when multitasking or running programs that take advantage, but once you start pushing this machine it will slow to a crawl. It doesn’t help to have 4GB of RAM and a relatively slovenly 64GB of eMMC storage: figures of 245MB/sec read and 286MB/sec write in sequential transfer tests are great compared to mechanical hard disks but low by today’s SSD standards.
In fairness, the 300e performs adequately in the supplied Windows 10 Pro Education. There’s a slight delay when opening programs compared to a modern laptop, but nothing too aggravating. What did annoy me is Lenovo’s decision to place the PgUp and PgDn buttons so close to the cursor keys: I lost count of the number of times I scrolled through open tabs in Google Chrome rather than jumping words because I accidentally pressed Ctrl+PgDn instead of Ctrl+right arrow.
Otherwise, the keyboard is fine – the keys are large and well-spaced, and there are easy to understand icons at the top for adjusting things such as volume and brightness – and I have no complaints about the trackpad either.
Don’t expect the world’s finest screen, with the 11.6in IPS display best described as mediocre. It can only reach 253cd/m2, so using it on field trips could prove tricky, and it covered a disappointing 66.9% of the sRGB gamut. Nor is it accurate, with an average Delta E of 3.53. Its saving grace is a high contrast ratio of 1,345:1, but with a paltry 1,366 x 768 resolution it’s grainy compared to the phones and tablets children are accustomed to.
Lenovo 300e 2nd Gen review: Verdict
Does this matter? Arguably not: the 300e is there to fulfill a need in schools, not as a luxury item. Ultimately, the question of whether to buy it or not will boil down to price, and question marks continue to hang here. When Lenovo announced the 300e, it said “prices from $289”, which are in line with the prices of the first generation 300e with Windows. So far, though, the best price we’ve seen is £628 including VAT – and this laptop is certainly not worth that money.