Lenovo has updated its lineup of Chromebooks with the new IdeaPad 3 – but just ‘Chromebook 3’ in the USA – which offers a 14in display, the simplicity of ChromeOS and all for a very reasonable price. So, is the package in reality as good as it seems on paper? Let’s take a look.
Design & Build
The IdeaPad 3 (14in) is a reasonably sedate looking machine in terms of Chromebooks these days. You won’t find any 360-degree hinges that allow you to stand it on its head or even a detachable keyboard like on Lenovo’s own 2-in-1 Duet Chromebook. Instead, it’s a classic notebook with a simple, business-like aesthetic.
The plastic chassis on this review model comes in a handsome dark blue, which Lenovo calls Abyss Blue. There is a Platinum Grey version if that’s more your style. The lid bears the ChromeOS logo, which is an embedded sticker rather than the normal screen printing I’ve seen of late. Nice touch. There’s also a silver-coloured plate on the side of the panel with Lenovo emblazoned within.
Curiously, there’s an identical plate found on the inside, just to the right of the palm rest. While Lenovo might indeed be proud of its creation, this does seem a little bit of overkill in the design department. There are also stickers to inform the user that Intel processors lie within, plus a QR code that takes you to the Lenovo eSupport page. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of the sticker culture that’s beginning to appear on Chromebooks.
Of course, Intel wants its glory, but one of the nicest things about Chromebooks has always been that they don’t come with pre-loaded crud that often makes setting up Windows PC a chore. Having stickers plastered all over the place just invokes that messy experience and detracts from the clean and sparse nature of the Google-powered laptop. Put the stickers on the base and everything will look much better. ‘Keep it simple stupid’ is a saying for a reason.
Keyboard & Trackpad
One area where there are no complaints from this reviewer is with the keyboard. The grey keys look very smart against the Abyss livery, and they offer a very comfortable typing experience. There’s enough travel to let you know you’ve hit each key, but it’s all light enough to avoid tiring your hands out if you’re typing all day. Ok, one possible niggle is that there’s no back-light, which is a shame but not uncommon at this price point.
Again, the trackpad is solid and behaves as you’d hope. I could do with it being a little bigger, such as the one found on the Acer Chromebook 314, especially judging by the sea of plastic that surrounds it. But the cursor moves edge to edge on the screen without issue and multi-touch gestures are all executed rapidly and consistently. It may be the case that a larger trackpad would compromise the excellent keyboard, and as I much prefer the one on the Lenovo, I think this arrangement is perfectly acceptable.
Speaking of screens, the LCD panel is a TN variant which is usually the case on Chromebooks of this kind. And, like most of the others we’ve tried, it’s usable but unimpressive. If you’re using apps in full-screen mode (which is always the way I tend to use Chromebooks), then everything is clear and readable on the 1366 x 768 resolution, if somewhat washed out in the colour department.
We did find some Android apps that run on ChromeOS could display text a little on the small side, with Slack being a prime example, and in those instances we’d definitely like some way to adjust the font size to make it more comfortable to read. There’s also no touchscreen here, for that you’ll want to explore the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex range. But, for those who prefer to keep their hands on the keyboard when using their laptop, you should find it a decent enough display.
Ports & Speakers
The IdeaPad 3 (Chromebook 3) is a compact device, considering it has a 14in display, with the 328.9mm x 234.3mm x 18.8mm dimensions and 1.4kg weight making it a laptop you could throw in a backpack and not worry about sore shoulders by the end of the day.
This doesn’t mean that Lenovo has skimped on the connection ports though, as investigating both flanks reveals two standard USB ports, two USB-C (one marked for charging), a microSD card reader, 3.5mm headphone jack and the obligatory Kensington lock.
This is a pleasing range of options, with the microSD card a nice one as you can store all of your music or photos on a card in your Android phone, then quickly switch it to the Chromebook to transfer the ones you want, or just use it as a temporary drive.
There are two 2-watt speakers on the underside of either side of the chassis which produce enough volume to fill a small room. Sound quality is fine, with the usual tendency towards treble-heavy frequencies that is the norm on cheaper, lighter laptops. For Netflix, YouTube and the like, this will be a good servant, but if you’re an audiophile, you’ll lament the lack of bass.
Webcams are often an overlooked area with not only Chromebooks but even high-end laptops. Well, in these days of never-ending Zoom calls, this has become an essential element of any home setup. It seems though that the team at Lenovo didn’t get the memo about that, as the 720p HD camera in this device is poor.
In less than well light areas (ie, most people’s houses) the footage is grainy and washed out. Things improve when the sun is shining, but it never gets more than merely passable.
Specs & Performance
Processor, memory and storage
Lenovo has opted for an Intel Celeron 1.1GHz N4020 processor to handle the thinking in this machine, which is a slight step up from the N4000 in the Acer Chromebook 314. Neither are going to set the world on fire in terms of performance, but these types of machines aren’t really intended for heavy gaming or 4K video editing, and the N4020 ticks along quite happily in day-to-day use of web surfing, streaming video or music, writing in Google Docs, and all with plenty of tabs open in the background.
This is given a helping hand by the 4GB of RAM that’s installed. This might seem low compared to Windows PCs, and I’d certainly advise against buying the latter if it only had 4GB, but ChromeOS is a lightweight operating system and functions happily within these constraints. In fact, all the tasks I needed to complete on the IdeaPad were done with no fuss and nary a crash in sight. It’s a solid device that gets the job done.
Putting it through the normal benchmark tests, the Chromebook posted the following scores; Jetstream 2 – 58.31, Basemark 3.0 – 340.71, Geekbench 5 (Android version) – single-core 447, multi-core 855. This puts it miles behind the likes of the premium Acer Spin 713 we reviewed not so long ago, but is a slight step up from the aforementioned Acer 314 that is around the same price as the Lenovo.
64GB of eMMC storage is the order of the day, which is plenty for a Chromebook, plus as we’ve mentioned above you can always augment this with the microSD slot.
You won’t find the latest in terms of WiFi on the Lenovo, which is understandable, as it comes with 802.11ac (WiFi 5) which means that owners will miss out on WiFi 6 going forward. This is hardly the end of the world, and I didn’t find myself wishing for quicker connections during the test.
The choice of Bluetooth 4.2 is a little disappointing though, especially as more of us are switching to wireless headphones and earbuds. Connections are reliable enough, but the additional range and solidity of Bluetooth 5.0 would have been preferable, even at this price.
It’s true that most of us are stuck at home far more now than in previous years, but you still need a laptop to be free from needing a power-point otherwise you might as well get a big old desktop machine.
The Lenovo can certainly manage this, with it lasting for nine and a half hours in the standard trial of streaming HD video from YouTube with the display at around 60% and volume at 50%.
As this is a Chromebook it runs ChromeOS, Google’s own bespoke operating system. This means you’ll be using web versions of most popular services, unless there’s an Android app or it’s available in the ChromeOS store.
One of the reasons that Chromebooks have grown in popularity, and also are often the choice for schools, is their simplicity and ease of use. If you’ve used the Chrome browser, then you’ll already feel at home on ChromeOS. It’s essentially a big web browser, but with the added advantage of apps like Google Docs working offline and the ability to run Android apps on your laptop.
For those who don’t want to mess around with loads of settings, install a bunch of apps, and worry about antivirus software, ChromeOS remains an oasis in the sea of confusing tech. That being said, if you use your laptop for editing photos, videos or any kind of professional creation, then you’ll probably find the limitations of the platform quite irritating.
For a brief overview of the differences, and to get a grasp on what Chromebooks have to offer, read this Chromebook vs Laptop comparison, and you can also see which models are worthy of your attention in the Tech Advisor roundup of the best Chromebooks.
Price & Availability
Lenovo has priced the IdeaPad 3 (14in) at £379/$394.99, which is a reasonable amount for the package you’re getting. This places it around £100/$100 cheaper than the excellent Asus C433TA Chromebook and £100/$100 more than our current budget pick, the Acer Chromebook 314.
That means the IdeaPad 3 occupies a sweet-spot in terms of performance and price. This is enhanced even more when you see the street price from the likes of AO where it was £329 at the time of writing, while those in the USA can buy a Chromebook 3 directly from Lenovo for $319.99.
Chromebooks seem to have gently separated into two distinct camps over the past couple of years. There’s the premium tier that boasts great displays, powerful processors, and can transform into tablets at the twist of a hinge. Then there’s the basic, laptop-style that quietly gets on with what most people do online.
The Lenovo falls firmly in the second category, and that’s no bad thing. If you’re looking for a no-frills, dependable, quick Chromebook for document work, social media, web-browsing and other light tasks, then this is a fine machine for a very reasonable amount of money.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14: Specs
Intel Celeron 1.1GHz N4020
64GB eMMC storage
14in LCD TN display with 1366 x 768 resolution
720p HD webcam
2 x USB 3.0 ports
2 x USB-C ports
microSD card reader
3.5mm headphone jack
328.9mm x 234.3mm x 18.8mm