When Lenovo offered up its IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 to Android Headlines for review, I began by tempering my expectations. At just under $250, it isn't a top-tier gadget. It is, in fact, a decidedly budget-focused device. What I did expect, from a company that's well known for it, is a high-value offering with a few caveats. But those caveats, it turns out, limit this device significantly, while where this Chromebook stands out is not where it might be expected to.
When Lenovo launched its IdeaPad 3 Chromebook series, battery life was one of the key talking points. For the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14, that's rated at up to 10-hours. I was never able to use this device for more than 7-hours with even light browsing. The screen is also low-resolution and easily washed out. But that's a topic for later.
Where this device shines is in performance and design. Starting with the latter, that's nothing too out of the ordinary but it's a build that's comfortable to use too. The quality of the build feels great as well. On performance, this IdeaPad-branded Chromebook is not the most powerful device around either. It accomplished all of the tasks I set out to do, without complaint.
But this device really needs to be looked at more closely than general terms allow. There are stark contrasts here that are endemic in the budget-end but more so here, perhaps, than elsewhere. So let's take a closer look at this Chromebook.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 is sleek for its price and well-built
Under review, it's immediately obvious that Lenovo went out of its way with the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 to build a device that's modern and minimal. Cost, of course, was also a consideration that the company took seriously. The build here doesn't feel like its made of high-quality, high-dollar materials because it isn't. Instead, Lenovo used firm plastics throughout with slightly softer plastics for the keyboard.
That's definitely going to take away from the experience for those who want something more substantial. But it isn't unexpected at this device's price. In fact, it's expected.
Despite being built of plastics, Lenovo did a good job of ensuring the Chromebook itself actually looks and feels solid. It's lightweight at only around 3.08lbs for its 14-inch screen size. It's thicker than many Chromebooks too, at almost three-quarters of an inch. But the sharply beveled edges and slight curve from the back to front go a long way to making that less noticeable. That also makes the device feel more premium.
Thinner-than-expected bezels help there too, as does a solid hinge that leaves almost no wiggle at all.
As seen in the images here, this device is among the very few modern Chromebooks that comes in a lay-flat design with no touchscreen. That makes sharing on-screen content easier. We'll cover the lack of a touchscreen later on but the design isn't at all bad for what it's meant to be.
In terms of ports and plugs, Lenovo includes two USB 3.1 Type-A Gen 1 ports as well as two USB 3.1 Type-C ports. An Audio combo jack and MicroSD card reader are part of the build too. And each of those clicks into place as solidly as could be expected. The keyboard's touchpad follows a similar vein, with solid clicks hinting at a long life to come. That's also smooth and responsive, leading to a better experience than might be expected for the money.
On the keyboard, good key travel — though not the best I've used — provide a similar experience. That's exceptionally comfortable to type on for long sessions even though the key travel does feel a little longer than what I've become accustomed to. The keyboard is also a spill-resistant design. So it definitely has that going for it as well.
The display serves as one of this Chromebook's only real failure points
The display was my biggest pain point when it comes to the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14, under review. That's not without good reason. Lenovo was quite obviously trying to keep the pricing low. But, even at under $250, this display failed to meet my expectations.
Used indoors, under moderate lighting, with the screen turned down to just over half brightness, it isn't terrible. Resolution isn't the issue either. This is a 1366 x 768 220-nits anti-glare 14-inch panel. So it's only going to show pixels up close and that's not going to be a big issue except for those that plan to use this for entertainment. Or for those who are accustomed to and expecting a higher-resolution panel. No. The problems, however, are twofold.
First, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 has a very narrow viewing angle. Details around the edges of the panel begin to dark immediately when that's not looked at head-on. At just a few degrees off, it's obvious. At just 30- or 40-degrees, that is exacerbated to the point of being nearly unusable. That's unless the brightness is ramped all the way up. And brightness serves as the second caveat for this display too.
Not only does this display not feel nearly bright enough. It certainly isn't bright enough for outdoor use on anything but the most overcast days. Looking at the display head-on with the brightness maxed washes out colors too. Lighter hues become almost indistinguishable from white and black colors all shift to a dark grey tone. It's very difficult to find a balance between the two problems.
All of that, if coming over from a higher-resolution display panel with great contrast and readability, makes for an unenjoyable experience. The fact that the problem seems to go away somewhat at a distance greater than a few feet only makes matters worse.
At just under $250, it's enough to drop this gadget from a four-and-a-half star rating to just over a 3-star rating, almost all on its own.
The performance here was surprisingly good, all things considered
Since the screen isn't great and the build is decidedly budget-minded, one of the few remaining questions is just how this Chrome OS clamshell performs. And, surprisingly enough, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 was able to accomplish every task I threw its way under review.
It goes without saying that how well it holds to that is going to be something that varies from user to user though.
For my test, as noted in the battery segment here, I primarily used this device for some in-depth research and typing. Light photo editing using Android apps and a web service was also on my agenda. I didn't spend a lot of time playing games because, as might be expected, many of those rely on a touch screen via Android. So many apps simply aren't going to work as a way to test performance.
And Google Stadia isn't much of a way to test things on performance either since all the processing is handled off-site. So I primarily tested with apps. And button controls for those experiences fall well short of even a moderately enjoyable outing. That's thanks to the fact that they're designed to work with Android phones. So a touch screen are all but required for a good experience.
Having said that, while photo processing was notably slower here, by around a second or two per photo it was doable. Typing up some documents and keeping dozens of tabs open and active weren't problem points either. And, thanks to Chrome OS, those types of tasks shouldn't ever become a problem over the life of this Chromebook.
It's not until deeper tasks are attempted that users are going to notice any discrepancy between more pricey gadgets and this one. For example, if users plan to do any kind of development at all, not even Chrome OS will be able to salvage the Intel Celeron N4020 chipset used here. That's a 2-core, 2-thread chip with a standard clock of just 1.1GHz after all. And 32GB of eMMC storage coupled with just 4GB of LPDDR4-2400 RAM isn't going to make things much better.
What all of that extra spec did do, is to ensure that day to day user needs can be met. And this device will easily meet them on that front, so long as users aren't depending on this Chromebook being powerful, flashy, or more than it feasibly can be. Impressively enough, this Chromebook feels like a workhorse for the activities it does do well, albeit not a very powerful one.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 battery isn't great, even if charging is
Typically, when I review the battery in a Chrome OS gadget such as the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14, I put the battery through its paces by first writing up articles. And by doing other tasks associated with that work. That includes photo editing, some fairly intensive research with dozens of tabs being open and active, and more. Video streaming and other streaming do sometimes factor in as well. But generally, I follow that up with some more entertainment-related tasks.
While hardly scientific, the idea, of course, is to see how the gadget fares with mixed usage. With that said, mixed usage would require a bit more than I was able to accomplish with this device. And that simply didn't happen here because the battery simply didn't last its advertised 10-hours. Instead, under a moderate load, this device lasted just 6-hours and 31-minutes.
As noted in the display segment, that's not because the brightness was turned all the way up either. That would have only made the display approach unusable. So I kept the screen at between 65- to 75-percent of its max brightness. I kept the volume at half of its maximum and I didn't listen to much audio during the battery test either. So it would be difficult to lay the blame for the discrepancy there.
Now, battery life is subjective and just over 6.5-hours may seem reasonable. But this was still 3.5-hours short of the advertised maximum without ever really pushing the underlying hardware.
Lenovo very nearly makes up for that on the charging side of the equation. The 45W USB-C charger fills this battery to full in under one-and-a-half hours. Or more precisely in just a few moments more than 1-hour and 20-minutes. That's quick for any Chromebook and comes close to making up for the shorter-than-expected battery life. But isn't quite quick enough to round out the experience.
Audio is going to be great for video chats and conferencing but not for anything else
Those who may have hoped that this Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 review would take a turn for the better on audio are going to be disappointed. The sole saving grace for this laptop's audio experience is the 3.5mm audio jack.
Now, the single mic performs well enough in a video chat or VoIP call. So that's not an issue here. That also means that, at least in dialogue-heavy content streaming, this should work for video media or podcasts. But the speakers are not only not punchy, they're downright tinny. And that's unfortunate because it is entirely possible for a dual 2-watt speaker array to sound much better than they do here.
In fact, the level of that audio caveat is such that it nearly sounds distorted. Worse still, and taking down the star-rating that I'm comfortable giving this Chromebook further, that starts at a fairly low volume. And that only gets much, much worse at higher volumes.
As noted above, the audio jack does completely resolve the issue. And that means users can get an experience that's beyond acceptable by plugging in headphones or linking up via Bluetooth. The audio experience doesn't have to be terrible. But that also seems to indicate this is as much an issue relating to choice of hardware as software. So users shouldn't expect the experience to improve in the future either. And this device will very obviously not be the choice pick for those who need good sound quality out-of-the-box.
Chrome OS software is as solid as ever with the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14
It doesn't really do to talk about a Chromebook without reminding users of what they'll be getting on the software side. Especially for those who are likely to buy this particular Chromebook. Lenovo's IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 would, with all things considered and with this review to back up the assertion, serve as a decent starter device for anybody getting started with Chrome OS.
To begin with, users should also be aware that this Chromebook goes a step further than most in its bracket. It includes a Google-built security chip H1. That means that things are already going to be more secure than many competitors right out of the box. Lenovo stacked that atop Chrome OS' verified boot, which does a full system check on every startup. And, obviously, Chrome OS is a sandboxed experience. Tabs and apps run in their own partitions, set well apart from others.
With that and Google's walled garden approach, Chrome OS devices are some of the most secure around. The H1 chip ensures on-device data is further encrypted.
Looking past security, this Chromebook comes will full support for Android apps, Linux, and even some Windows-specific software such as Microsoft's office suite. For those who don't want to use Google's G Suite, that's going to be a definite plus. Although most Chromebooks also support the apps. Google also engineered Chromebooks to be multi-user friendly. That means it's easy enough to simply log somebody else in and each user will be given their own space to improve privacy and security.
Google Assistant is built-in as well. That puts AI help right at users' fingertips. Now, that's not necessarily available offline. But with a bit of practice and a quick run-through with Google's tutorials, launched right at the start, working offline is easy too.
Connectivity with the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14
Now, Lenovo didn't include bleeding-edge connection options with this device. The hardware used in the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 wasn't bad during the review, but this remains a budget-friendly gadget. As noted elsewhere in this review, the company started with ports. And it offers an array of those to suit just about any needs.
It packed the frame with two USB-A standard ports, one on both the left- and right-hand edge. It also packed the frame with a USB-C port on each edge. On the right-hand edge, meanwhile, there's also a MicroSD slot and 3.5mm audio jack. The right-hand edge contains a lock slot for those who need one.
Under the hood, connections are afforded via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But neither of those is next-gen or cutting-edge. Instead, Bluetooth 4.2 is used. Lenovo also built this around the more readily available Wi-Fi 5. That's nothing to write home about. But each is a well-developed technology that's well tested by time.
Neither requires new external hardware to take full advantage of either. That means users won't need to go out and buy the latest Wi-Fi 6 router to have a good experience getting online. Or the latest Bluetooth headphones or accessories to have a worthwhile experience.
Lenovo can do better but this is a decent device for the price
Overall, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 holds up well under review. It performs better than a similarly specced Windows machine would, offering users a smooth experience for web chatting, browsing, and even for accomplishing basic photo editing. Browsing, of course, isn't an issue either.
Lenovo did a great job in terms of the keyboard and touchpad experience as well. And there's a lot to love about a sleek, modern, minimalist approach to design. Especially into a comparatively lightweight package. And with build quality taking priority over materials in order to offer a premium-feeling experience on a budget.
But there are also several issues here. To begin with, battery life is acceptable, and charging time is spectacular, relatively speaking. But it doesn't stack up to Lenovo's advertised figures. In fact, I couldn't get through a full workday — although most students and others may easily do so at over 6-hours of moderate use per charge. Secondary to that, this isn't a touchscreen either. So although the keyboard is great for typing, there's no way to use a good number of available Android apps.
More to the point, most of those apps are usable but the experience is terrible without a touch screen. And then there's the screen itself.
While Lenovo's goal was obviously to ensure the price fell below $250 and the experience was still great, it didn't succeed on every front. The display it chose is awful. Lenovo made that plenty bright for indoor use but colors get washed out at the brightest settings. But the display also fails miserably to impress at any viewing angle other than looking at the display directly from the front.
It's almost unusable, at least without distraction, or becoming incredibly annoying. This won't be a great device for sharing the viewing experience with others. That's with the notable exception of viewing from greater than 3-feet, where the viewing angle problem seems to diminish significantly.
So this is not a device for those who need a great display panel. Or for those who need to get coding, audio or video editing, or other heavy tasks done. If a great audio experience is paramount, this absolutely isn't the device to turn to.
Where it does fit is as a budget-first or entry-level device thanks to great performance for what's packed in and a great typing experience. For those who find those caveats to be acceptable or who need a more secure experience than is often on offer at the budget end for Chromebooks, it's going to be a great ultra-portable laptop.