The first Chromebooks were budget laptops, which made sense for a stripped-down OS. Over time, Chrome OS has gotten (somewhat) more capable, and OEMs have paired it with premium hardware. The Pixelbooks and Galaxy Chromebooks of the world have their fans, but most Chromebooks are much more modest. However, few are as modest as Lenovo's $250 Ideapad 3 14-inch Chromebook. It sports a Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 14-inch 1366 x 768 LCD. This Chromebook gets the job done—the performance is acceptable though not impressive, and it has a passable keyboard. The fuzzy, dim screen is the biggest problem, but even that I can partially forgive at this price point.

Specs

CPU Intel Celeron N4020
RAM 4GB
Storage 32GB
Display 14-inch 1366 x 768 LCD
Battery 42Wh, up to 10 hours
Camera 720p
Software Chrome OS
Connectivity WiFi 802.11AC, Bluetooth 4.2
Measurements 328.9mm x 234.3mm x 18.8mm, 3.09 lbs (1.4 kg)
Price $250

The Good

Ports The Ideapad 3 has four total USB ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD reader.
Battery life Lenovo's 10-hour quoted battery life is a stretch, but not by much.
45w USB-C charging The included USB-C charger juices the Ideapad 3 at 45W, the same as some high-end laptops.
Price The $250 price tag is easy to swallow for people who need a computer on the cheap.

The Not So Good

Display The 768p LCD with TN technology is not pleasant to look at. Everything from brightness to contrast is bottom-of-the-barrel.
Performance and RAM The Celeron CPU gets bogged down with heavy sites, and the 4GB of RAM is only enough for light Chrome use.
Touchpad Sluggish and not very precise.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

You won't mistake the IdeaPad 3 for a high-end Chromebook when you get your hands on it... or even when you see it from a distance. The build is a bit on the thick side with a matte plastic chassis that tapers slightly toward the front. That makes it look a bit slimmer than it is, but a glance from the side reveals the true chonk. One upshot of that is the laptop doesn't have much flex—it feels rather solid for a plastic computer. The speakers are on two upward-angled fascets on the underside, and the audio quality is predictably poor.

The IdeaPad 3 has a surprising number of ports including two USB-A 3.1, two USB-C 3.1, a headphone jack, microSD card slot, and a security lock. The ports are even spaced well with one USB-C and one USB-A on each side. The only drawback here is that just the left USB-C port can charge the laptop (max 45W). Too many ultra-cheap laptops still use DC plugs, so I applaud Lenovo for using a high-wattage USB-C port on the IdeaPad 3.

The tapered shape makes the laptop easy to open, and the hinge remains where you put it even with moderate jostling. The Ideapad 3 is not a convertible, which is understandable at this price. I wouldn't expect a top-tier display for $250 either, but the IdeaPad 3's display is disappointing regardless. This is a 1366 x 768 LCD, which has been the standard ultra-budget laptop resolution for as long as I can remember. The real issue with the display is that it uses a TN panel. The IPS technology in most modern LCDs has better viewing angles, brightness, contrast, and color accuracy compared to TN. The IdeaPad 3's LCD washes out if you're even a little to the side, and the contrast is poor enough that it can be hard to read. Combine that with the low resolution, and you've got a recipe for eye strain.

You won't find a wealth of accessories in the box with the Ideapad 3. There's just the Chromebook, a quick start guide, and the 45W USB-C charger. Between the AC and USB cable sections, the charger is about 8 feet long.

Keyboard and trackpad

The IdeaPad 3 comes with a non-backlit keyboard in the standard Chrome OS layout. It's wide enough that there are no weirdly compressed keys a la the Lenovo Chromebook Duet keyboard. In fact, the Control and Alt keys seem a little oversized on the bottom row. The keys are tactile, but not as sharp or precise as the Pixelbook's keys. Unsurprisingly, the keys have a soft, somewhat spongey landing. Some Chromebooks have so little internal support that you can feel the keyboard deck flexing, but that's not the case here. It's a fine keyboard, particularly given the price.

The trackpad is centered in the body of the Chromebook rather than being aligned to the spacebar.  I prefer this design, but the trackpad itself could stand to be a little larger. Chromebook trackpads are rarely what I'd call good, but most of them are at least passable these days. The trackpad on the IdeaPad 3 barely earns that distinction. It's noticeably sluggish compared to more expensive laptops, and it misses clicks every now and then.

Performance and software

The Ideapad 3 has a modest Intel Celeron N4020 CPU (Gemini Lake-R), which is a 6W dual-core chip that runs at 1.1GHz. Chrome OS doesn't need a ton of CPU power to be usable, but the N4020 does seem to struggle on heavy webpages or when hopping between apps. The 4GB of RAM is more problematic, though. You'll be okay with four or five tabs, but the laptop gets progressively slower with each new tab after that. Even without any open tabs, RAM usage is around 60%. Granted, this is a budget laptop. If all someone needs is a way to check Facebook and send some emails, the Ideapad 3 is plenty capable. Here are a few benchmarks to put it in perspective.

  • 53.2 on Speedometer 2.0
  • 56.137 on Jetstream2
  • 153.77 on MotionMark 1.1

You've probably noticed that the Ideapad 3 doesn't get fancy with the hardware; there's no stylus, 360-degree hinge, or even a touchscreen. So, there aren't any extra software features to go over. If you've used Chrome OS in the past few years, the Ideapad 3 won't have any surprises. You have access to all the usual Chrome extensions and web apps, as well as content from the Play Store. However, most Android apps are woefully ineffective on a device that lacks a touchscreen. I can't think of any Android apps I'd really want to use with just a mouse and keyboard.

Likewise, there's Linux support if you want it. Although, the Ideapad 3 already chugs hard enough just running Chrome that I'd be hesitant to start loading it up with poorly optimized Linux programs. I didn't push the Ideapad 3 too hard (because I really couldn't), but it lasted a full workday with no issue. Lenovo claims 10 hours of use, and I think a healthy eight hours is within the realm of possibility.

Should you buy it?

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 Chromebook
7/10

Maybe, if you're on a budget. The IdeaPad 3 14 Chromebook has a few surprisingly good aspects and just as many notable drawbacks. The array of ports is impressive, and I like that it charges over USB-C at 45W. On the other hand, performance is lacking and the TN display panel is terrible. Everything else is somewhere in the middle.

Make no mistake, the low price is what saves the Ideapad 3. I would never tolerate a screen like this on a more expensive laptop, but there's a case to be made for something that only costs $250. This is a capable ultra-budget computer for basic browsing and productivity. As long as you know that going in, the Ideapad 3 should be fine. I'd probably spend another $50 to get a better LCD, but not everyone is as picky as me.

Buy it if...

You want a very cheap Chromebook for basic tasks and don't mind the bad display.

Don't buy it if...

You're even a little bit picky about display quality or performance.

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