Lenovo's experience in manufacturing computer hardware has culminated in a relatively great budget Chrome OS device but the C330 Chromebook won't suit everyone.
Among a total of three brand new additions to Lenovo’s Chromebook lineup first announced back at IFA Berlin 2018 at the start of September is the decidedly budget-friendly C330 Chromebook. Although not at all the least expensive Chrome OS convertible on the market and nowhere near the most powerful or most premium in appearance, the C330 is nonetheless a great device. In fact, throughout the time we were able to spend reviewing this Chromebook, putting it through various tests, playing Android games, and doing some relatively straightforward writing-associated work, this device has really gone beyond expectations. That is not to say that the Lenovo C330 Chromebook is by any means perfect. There are actually a number of things about it that will probably stop at least some from picking one up. It is a very solid laptop, however, and none of those caveats make the C330 any less worthy of a closer examination.
Starting at just $279.99, the Lenovo Chromebook C330 is comprised almost entirely of plastics, with a lid and frame that are respectively comprised of polycarbonates and a thermoplastic polymer. That ships in a Blizzard White coloration and the two pieces are held together by a metal 360-degree hinge, allowing the 11.6-inch 1366x768 anti-glare IPS touchscreen panel to be viewed and used in either a laptop, tent, stand, or tablet configuration. The 10-point multitouch panel itself is set at a 16:9 ratio and sits below a 1-megapixel 720p HD camera. Below that, the keyboard features a gray accent color and a variety of ports and buttons. Along the left-hand edge, Lenovo has included a USB Type-C port for charging, alongside a single standard USB 3.0 and HDMI port. The opposing side houses a DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker, and the power button. Along the bottom of the 11.5 x 8.48 x 0.77-inch device, there are two 2-watt stereo speakers for HD audio output.
For internals, Chrome OS is driven by a 64-bit MediaTek MT8173C SoC with two powerful ARM Cortex-A72 cores and two economic ARM Cortex-A53 cores. The company has opted to incorporate 4 GB LPDDR3 RAM to back that silicon up as well as 32GB of eMMC solid-state storage, expandable via the built-in 4-in-1 card reader. Looking past the processor, Bluetooth 4.1 is integrated into the built alongside the more standard WiFi connectivity and the entire 2.6 lbs package is powered by a 45Wh battery that provides up to a claimed ten hours of use between charges.
As briefly mentioned above, this Chromebook is built primarily of varying types of plastic and thermoplastics. From the perspective of build quality, that doesn't necessarily equate to a cheap device. Although metals do offer more rigidity and certainly have a heavier ‘premium’ feel, Lenovo’s choices here make sense for a gadget that’s meant to go through a reasonable amount of wear-and-tear without costing an arm and a leg. What's more, the weight is just enough to feel substantial without becoming too bothersome, although holding anything weighing a two-and-a-half pounds for extended is going to cause strain. The hinges, on the other hand, aren’t made of plastics and should last for quite some time regardless of how many times users flip the lid over into tent or tablet mode. Similarly, all of the ports fit snugly and the buttons and keys don’t present any squishiness at all. The touchpad is responsive and has a smooth feel thanks to what appears to be an added layer of more sturdy material - also a plastic - that gives the pad a glass-like feel.
The only drawback to the hardware itself is that clicks on the touchpad are somewhat louder than more premium options but, unfortunately, that's not the only issue we noticed from a design perspective. Starting with the most obvious suspect design decision, there are two issues that only show up when the device is in tablet mode. The smooth curves present on the bottom of the device give it a modern look and a great in-hand feel when the tablet is closed or open in a clamshell orientation. When in tablet mode, that same curve creates a gap between the display housing and the base of the laptop. At the same time, the design of the hinge does not allow the display to sit flush along the bottom edge either. The keyboard base sticks out by just under an inch when folded into tablet mode. Finally, the hinge does not stay flush with the back edge of the C330 Chromebook except when the tablet is completely closed - sitting at an angle instead. That also creates issues with the left and right edges sitting flush when the lid is shut, although that's only by a centimeter or so.
It's worth point out that the overall look and feel of Lenovo's C330 Chromebook is not cheap just because of those minor quirks. Key travel is on par with much more expensive machines and bezels are just large enough to accommodate tablet mode without the accidental taps or swipes we’ve noticed with devices such as Samsung’s premium Chromebooks. These complaints are mostly subjective and don't really interfere with functionality. They don’t seem to be indicative of a durability issue either. The amount of wiggle between the display and the keyboard isn’t dissimilar from that seen in pricier laptops or Chromebooks, for example, while the gaps and angle of the hinge are only issues from an entirely aesthetic perspective.
Lenovo’s choice of display is fairly standard for Chrome OS devices at the budget end of the spectrum. That’s also one of the few areas where any fault could be found beginning with its maximum brightness level of just 220 nits. Although the combination of that backlighting and an anti-glare overlay works well to enable comfortable viewing indoors, it didn’t seem at all conducive to a good experience where bright environmental lighting is concerned. Put more directly, although laptops and computers are typically used inside a building, a key selling point for these types of portable devices is that users could, if they needed or wanted to, take their work or entertainment outside. We found this particular display to be difficult to see and even more challenging to photograph under even moderate sunlight. That means that those who like to head outside for some computer time would need to find a decently shady spot to browse, watch a movie, or anything else with this convertible Chrome OS device.
Setting aside those somewhat subjective drawbacks, the display is going to be more than adequate at a 1366 x 768 resolution, thanks at least in part to its 11.6-inch size, for most users. Those numbers could always stand to be higher and some users won't be happy settling for a standard HD panel. However, that's one aspect of this device that has helped keep pricing down and the price-point is definitely going to be one of the best values on the market for anybody looking for an entry-level Chromebook. The display also lives up to its 10-point multitouch rating, handling inputs smoothly and responsively.
The software found on Lenovo’s C330 Chromebook is exactly as it should be, up-to-date and on par with pretty much every other device running the OS. That’s because Google’s Chrome OS platform is effectively a walled-garden and doesn’t leave much room for additions. So this Chromebook arrives with the latest version of Chrome OS and not a whole lot by way of applications. Specifically, Google's own services, including Google Play Store, Google's suite of office apps, and Google Keep Notes are included, alongside Play Music, Games, Books, Google Drive, Maps, Photos, Gmail, and YouTube. Of course, a basic camera application, settings, calculator, and file manager are included and users have the option of downloading more Android apps or Chrome apps and extensions from the Google Play Store or Web Store. Having said that, this Chromebook has been well-optimized and the operating system takes full advantage of the hardware here, providing a smooth overall experience that’s responsive and enjoyable to use.
Meanwhile, the nature of Google’s approach to the OS means that security and firmware alike will not go out of date until this device reaches its end of life and stops being supported. That's all fairly standard and this device does ship with a newer Linux kernel underneath so there's a good chance that a future update will open up the use of Linux applications as well, although those aren't present as of this review.
Battery Life & Performance
Our run-through of Primate Labs's Geekbench 4 benchmark tests revealed two cores clocked at 1.7GHz and two more clocked at 2.11GHz. The more powerful of the MediaTek MT8173C cores have a maximum clock of 2.4GHz while the more efficient cores also top out near what those results show, so the numbers shown on that front likely aren’t far off of the mark. In single-core and multi-core performance, the Lenovo C330 Chromebook scored 1,454 points and 2,959 points respectively while its compute score came in at 2,118. On the battery side of things, the benchmark showed a loss of around 36-percent in 3-hours with the processor working at near maximum capacity and screen dimming deactivated. That would equate to just over 8.5-hours of constant use under those conditions. With that said, benchmarks don’t always provide the best representation of exactly how capable a device is and although those scores are lower than those of flagship smartphones from several generations back, we didn’t experience any lag during our test.
Our usage included several high-intensity games such as Warner Bros.'s Injustice 2 and Gameloft's Asphalt 9: Legends as well as some fairly substantial web browsing tasks. For example, at one point we had as many as 25 tabs opened up with uploads and downloads of image files in excess of 10Mb. Simultaneously, we were editing photos using the built-in Chrome OS tools for resizing, cropping, and automated color-corrections and moving some fairly sizeable files around in the file manager app. While there was some slow-down with the actual loading of those tabs, that wasn't actually any different than would be seen with a more expensive Chromebook or any other computer. Mostly, that came down to the Chrome browser itself attempting to load so many pages at once as we didn't note any slow-down or lag in the other areas or in the apps we had open. In short, Lenovo's C330 Chromebook should be more than up to most tasks a user can throw at it. What's more, our use indicates that this Chrome OS convertible will last a minimum of 9 hours between charges under most circumstances.
Pricing equates to a great value
9 to 10-hour battery life
Durable build quality with a modern aesthetic
Moderately powerful processor
Relatively low weight
The overall design has drawbacks in tablet mode
Brightness feels too low
1-megapixel webcam sensor
As with most things in the electronics industry, whether this device is going to be suitable for a given user comes down mostly to what they're looking for in a laptop or laptop-like gadget. There are, as noted throughout this review, one or two drawbacks or deviances from the norm that stand out with the Lenovo C330 Chromebook. Those are chiefly aesthetic, having to do with design decisions or choices on behalf of the company regarding materials used. However, those are also counterbalanced by a kind of charm that's driven by how capable a device this is for its retail cost. Lenovo is fairly well-known as a high-quality manufacturer in terms of quality and performance. That tends to shine through here in spite of those flaws.
Should you buy the Lenovo C330 Chromebook?
Subjective assessments aside, Lenovo's C330 Chromebook decidedly provides very good value for money. The processor has a high enough clock to prevent lag under almost any circumstances and although the display resolution is a bit low, that isn't uncommon in this price bracket either. The remaining specifications follow that same trend, given the sub-$300 price tag, while the build itself feels solid. This isn’t a premium device and obviously isn't intended for power users but those factors should make this a good buy for those looking to replace an older Chromebook or experimenting with the OS for the first time. It is also going to be well-suited for younger users and students or anybody else who wants a budget-friendly but still somewhat capable Chrome OS convertible.