Lenovo 500e Chromebook Review - Tough, Fast, Affordable

The Lenovo 500e Chromebook is inexpensive and capable, lasting and durable.

Chromebooks have made their biggest mark in the world of education, offering inexpensive ways to complete tasks and store information, all while providing a safe and secure operating system. The hardware wasn’t always up to the task though, and that’s where Lenovo is really stepping in with the 500e, a Chromebook that’s designed for the classroom in every way possible. Drop-resistant, liquid spill-resistant, a 2-in-1 foldable design, and even an included stylus are only the beginning of what Lenovo is packing into this incredibly inexpensive $300 Chromebook. Is this the new standard for affordable laptops? Let’s take a look.

Specs and What’s in the Box

With an MSRP of $309, the Lenovo 500e packs a punch with great specs and some significant add-in value for durability. An 8th generation Intel Celeron N3450U 1.10GHz CPU with Intel HD Graphics 500 powers the processing side of the house, while 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM (1600MHz) and 32GB eMMC storage make up the memory side. There is of course microSD card support here is 32GB isn’t enough space, and a 42Wh 3-cell battery keeps things going for a rated 10-hours. A fully-folding hinge allows the screen to tilt all the way back, turning this into a tablet-like device, showcasing the 11.6-inch IPS LCD screen (1366x768 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio). The LED in this screen can reach up to 250 nits of brightness, and supports up to 10-finger multi-touch, as well as Wacom’s EMR pen technology with the built-in stylus. It’s also covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with Native Damage Resistance to help with drops and other types of scrapes and scratches.

A dual-band wireless card is included inside, supporting up to 802.11ac speeds with 2x2 MIMO support, and Bluetooth 4.2 is available for a wide range of wireless accessories. A pair of stereo speakers (2W each) are included, and a pair 720p cameras with microphones are located on the front; one above the display, and the other above the keyboard. A 6-row spill-resistant (up to 1.39 cups/330ml of liquid) keyboard sits in the front, with anti-pry key caps and a single one-piece touchpad to also help keep spills from entering the main chassis. That polycarbonate body is MIL-810-G rated for drops from up to 29.5-inches/75cm in height, with ruggedized rubber bumpers and reinforced hinges and ports. The Lenovo 500e measures in at 11.41-inches wide, 8.01-inches tall, and 0.8-inches thick, with a weight of 2.98 pounds. Ports include 2 USB 3.0 Type-A, 2 USB 3.0 Type-C, a microSD card port, 3.5mm audio jack, and a Kensington lock port.

Lenovo includes a standard Lenovo charging brick with 10ft cord inside the box alongside the 500e Chromebook. A passive Wacom EMR stylus is also included inside the chassis and enables handwriting that’s separate from the touch input of fingers, helping with accurate note-taking and drawing without accidental touches from hands.

Hardware & Design

The Lenovo 500e Chromebook sports a hybrid design that both looks clearly like a Lenovo product, while also simultaneously looking very much like a Chromebook. It sports Lenovo’s familiar textured matte black polycarbonate shell, with rubber bumpers extending around the entire edge of the exterior. These bumpers cover every corner with the exception of the back of the bottom portion, which is just the polycarbonate shell. Lenovo’s hinges are a strong, reinforced metal, with metal connectors to the inside of the rest of the chassis, helping guard against drops and bumps. The Lenovo 500e is MIL-810-G rated for drops of up to 29.5-inches/75cm without suffering damage.

This hinge folds back 360-degrees, allowing the Chromebook to be placed in a number of different configurations including a traditional laptop, tented standing profile, laid flat, or folded back like a tablet. The hinges are fairly sturdy but do wobble a bit when touching the screen or writing on it. This isn’t enough to make the Chromebook feel cheap by any means, but it could affect handwriting if not held steady with the other hand. Being able to fold the unit gives additional leverage and ease of writing, as you can adjust the angle or placement of the display to make it more comfortable for use.

Like many Chromebooks the Lenovo 500e has a very small profile, owing partly to the small 11.6-inch screen as well as the slim design. While there’s a sizable bezel around the display, much of this is done to help prevent damage to the panel if the unit is dropped, as the keyboard on the bottom is an edge-to-edge design. The keyboard itself is incredibly similar to most other Chromebooks in every way. It features a compact design without a dedicated number pad and compacted up/down arrow keys to fit within a vertical space. The anti-pry keys help give the keyboard its spill-resistance rating, and the one-piece touchpad extends that protection to the entire front of the laptop. These keys are easy to press, super comfortable and extremely quiet, however, I did have issues from time to time where I would miss a letter while typing, even though I was sure I pressed the key. It wasn’t super common, but it definitely happened often enough to take notice, and is something I don’t typically have an issue with on other devices.

Unlike some other 2018 Chromebooks the Lenovo 500e does not feature a dedicated Google Assistant key on its keyboard, just the standard search feature that searches apps and other content locally on the Chromebook. Also unlike most Chromebooks, the Lenovo 500e features an electromagnetic resonance (EMR) pen built into its chassis, which sits on the right side of the Chromebook toward the front. This pen clicks into place for a secure, snug fit, and is easily pulled out thanks to a small notch at the end. This pen works via a Wacom EMR layer on the touch portion (digitizer) of the display, and offers an identical look and feel to what you can expect to find on Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of devices. The pen itself is made of a rigid, matte plastic with a fairly grippy outer layer. It feels a little on the cheap side but is far denser and tough than Samsung’s similar offerings. There are no buttons on the pen, and the pen is passive, so no need for extra batteries or charging the pen, all the power is contained in the EMR layer of the display.

Display, Cameras & Sound

Similar to other Chromebooks, the Lenovo 500e’s display sits on the small side of the laptop market, geared more toward portability than anything. The extremely low resolution of the display also makes the 500e feel like a much cheaper device than it actually is, as the pixel structure of this 768p display is extremely noticeable at any distance. This makes the image look fuzzy overall, as all but the least expensive smartphones out there even have higher resolution displays. This is easily the weakest component of the Lenovo 500e, which is a particular shame since it sees the most use out of any other user-facing component on the device. In a day in age when the most powerful phones are sporting up to 4K displays at half the size, it’s more than disappointing to see this low resolution of a panel on any computing device, especially one with this size screen.

You’ll also find the brightness is not the best in the world, but it’s also not terrible either. In outdoor situations, you’ll likely find yourself squinting a bit to see this display, even at full brightness, further made difficult by the shiny glass covering. Contrast and brightness drop quite a bit if viewed at extreme angles, with a moderate loss at angles that are common when multiple people are viewing the same screen. In general, it’s a screen that leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s certainly serviceable, and the multi-touch and Wacom EMR pen features might just help mitigate some of the negatives found in the actual display quality of the panel.

The panel is made of Gorilla Glass 3 with extra Native Damage Resistance layers too, meaning it’s not going to break or shatter easily. As it’s rated for drops up to 29.5-inches/75cm, Lenovo has designed the display panel to withstand more pressure via rubber bumpers and padded bezels all around. You’ll also find that there’s a small lip around the display, helping to protect it from falling on its face when held in tablet mode or folded straight back. The sensors inside will also auto-rotate the display, just like a smartphone, when folded back or turned in any orientation, including native portrait-mode support within the OS. This portrait mode could be particularly handy when writing on the screen for note-taking or drawing.

Watching movies and or TV shows on the Lenovo 500e is a good overall experience, and most of this can be attributed to the excellent sound quality from the Chromebook’s USB Type-C output. Using a high-quality pair of Huawei USB Type-C earbuds delivered impressive quality while watching movies, with an excellent range of audio, deep bass, and an overall immersive nature to the sound. Video wise things could use a bit of improvement, as the 720p picture looks quite soft, although nothing offensive by any means and the contrast ratio of the display is a bit on the low side. Still, these attributes are good enough for casual watching, and the sound output quality is simply fantastic, making up a bit for the lackluster visual side of the house.

The Lenovo 500e’s speakers are quite excellent too, especially if volume and clarity are the main goals of the experience. Boasting dual 2-watt speakers, which located on the underside of the bottom half of the Chromebook, which perform best when used in laptop mode, especially if the speakers are facing a surface that resonates well, like a wooden table. When held in tablet mode or stood on a surface in tent mode they will face away from the person using it, lessening their effectiveness quite a bit. Still, 2-watts per each speaker is fairly substantial for a small mobile speaker, and this means the 500e will likely impress people who are used to the average mediocre quality laptop speaker that often doesn’t get loud enough or doesn’t sound particularly clear.

Lenovo has placed two “world-facing” cameras on the 500e; one above the display in a fairly standard front-facing camera location, and one above the keyboard, which is useful when holding the Chromebook in tablet mode. Both cameras are 720p quality for video and photos (1280 x 720 pixels). The quality is decent for video and works well enough to get the point across. These are made more for video conferencing or calling than anything else, and typically in those situations, quality is reduced to keep latency and stuttering to a minimum. The biggest issue comes in darker situations, like low light indoor areas, where you’ll find quite a bit of noise and significantly reduced details when compared to much brighter rooms or environments.

Software & Stylus Pen

Most Chromebooks offer the same functionality as others, with the exception of a few key elements. The Lenovo 500e offers full Google Play Store access, opening up access to millions of apps that can now run through this important layer of compatibility with Android. In addition to this, Lenovo has packed in a full set of features that work with the included Wacom EMR pen. On the shelf, at the bottom of the screen, sits a small pen icon that contains common Stylus Tools for use throughout the OS. From here you’ll find quick ways to take a cropped or full screenshot, create a quick note, use the pen as a laser pointer or even a magnifying glass.

As it sports a Wacom EMR digitizer, the stylus pen included with the Lenovo 500e supports pressure sensitivity during writing, meaning you can write in thin or thicker lines depending on how hard you press with the pen. This separate EMR layer provides the ability to perform different functions depending on whether or not you’re using the pen to touch the screen or a finger. For instance, you’ll find that touching the screen and dragging in Google Docs will scroll the page, while touching and dragging with the pen will highlight text instead. In many note-taking apps, you’ll even be able to turn off finger recognition, meaning writing on the screen won’t be interrupted by touching or dragging on it with the side of a hand or any fingers.

Notes can be made straight from the lock screen without having to unlock the computer as well, giving quick access to note taking features without having to log in and find the notes app. By default, Google Keep is used, but this can be changed to any program that supports note-taking at a system level.

Managed Devices, Active Directory, and G-Suite

Since this is a model specifically geared towards education, it’s important to cover how schools and other organizations are able to manage the Lenovo 500e from a central standpoint. As with any Chromebook released in the past few years, Google provides a centralized Admin console for IT to manage, with an option to either manage everything from this web-based dashboard or offload some of the management tasks and options to Microsoft Active Directory. Seeing as most organizations are Windows-based on the back-end, Active Directory management is incredibly important to these types of organizations simply because it provides a single resource for managing settings for all devices on the network, not just a single type or single OS-base. Google offers some incredibly powerful, granular tools through the admin console with full administration of devices, including control over apps that are installed by default, can be installed and viewed from the Play store, and plenty of other controls and policy settings for regulation.

Battery Life & Connectivity

Lenovo rates the battery life of the 500e at around 10 hours of usage, which in our time with the Chromebook, easily panned out to be realistic on an average day. Chromebooks are typically known for having great battery life, and keeping the screen resolution and processing power fairly low helps make this more common than not. ChromeOS’s ability to instantly sleep and wake-up help standby time significantly, making it easy to keep the computer in an ultra-low power state by having to do nothing more than simply closing or opening the lid. One of my personal favorite nuances about ChromeOS is the ability to turn off the display even while the computer is still running, done simply by turning the brightness all the way down. This is a great way to use the laptop to listen to music without burning the battery, for instance, and there’s likely a number of other uses for this feature too.

While the Lenovo 500e doesn’t pack the ability to drop a SIM card in for data on-the-go, it does offer support for both 5GHz and 2.4GHz wireless networks up to 802.11ac speeds. 2x2 MIMO support means even faster speeds when connected to networks with supported hardware. Bluetooth 4.2 isn’t the absolute latest Bluetooth version, but it still offers a wide range of compatibility and quality with Bluetooth devices, offering support for things like keyboards, mice, headphones, or anything else you can think of with Bluetooth connectivity. Having both a 3.5mm audio jack and two USB Type-C ports mean that the options for hooking up audio devices are numerous, and being able to charge through the USB Type-C port, via the included charging brick, and listen as the same time is simply invaluable.

Wrap Up

Lenovo’s education-grade Chromebooks are an excellent way to grab something not only inexpensive and capable but also lasting and durable. These are the Chromebooks to get if you’re looking to gift to that person that doesn’t always treat their technology gently, or if you’re just going to be using it in an environment that’s not always safe for delicate electronics. The best part is that you won’t be sacrificing all the things that make a ChromeOS laptop great, including a capable form factor, fast processor, and plenty of ports to make every day use a simple and stress-free experience.

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