Some budget Chromebooks are clearly cheap-looking, with ugly styling and questionable build quality. Not so with the attractive, solidly built Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook ($249.99). This bargain laptop achieves its low price by compromising in a few sensible areas, such as screen resolution and memory quantity. Its Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 720p HD display are skimpy by Windows and Mac standards, but they’re adequate for the typical Chrome OS user, and their low unit costs seem to have freed Lenovo from having to skimp on the IdeaPad 3’s engineering and manufacturing. It feels much more solid than your average $250 laptop.
A Sleek, Modern Exterior (at a Cheap Price)
From the outside, the Platinum Gray IdeaPad 3 isn’t gorgeous, but it does appear sleek and modern. No screws or gaps mar the clean lines of the display lid or the edges of the laptop, which is clad in a mixture of polycarbonate and ABS plastics. The IdeaPad 3 is relatively light for a 14-inch laptop, though it’s a bit on the bulky side. It weighs 3.08 pounds and measures 0.74 by 12.9 by 9.2 inches, comparable with the HP Chromebook 14. It’s significantly thicker than the 0.5-inch-thick Google Pixelbook Go, though that premium Chromebook has a smaller 13.3-inch screen.
There’s a bit of flex in the base and display lid of the IdeaPad 3 when you apply pressure with your hands, but it doesn’t feel flimsy. The only physical aspect of the IdeaPad 3 that belies its budget nature is the rather large black plastic border around the screen. There’s also a startlingly large camera lens set into the top border. The big 720p camera is a throwback to a few years ago, before the first millimeter webcams and ultra-thin screen borders started showing up on laptops at diverse price points.
If the screen borders and camera are downmarket, the screen itself is decidedly so. The 14-inch HD display, which lacks touch support, has a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. It uses a twisted nematic (TN) panel and an LED backlight rated for just 220 nits of brightness. All of this makes for a dim, fuzzy viewing experience that’s materially worse than that offered by the more common full HD (1080p) resolution and 350-plus nits of brightness on midrange Chromebooks like the Chromebook 14 or the Asus Chromebook C523, which usually cost around $150 more than the IdeaPad 3. The use of a TN panel instead of a more advanced in-plane switching (IPS) one especially reduces the IdeaPad 3’s screen quality, making colors appear washed out if you view it from an angle.
We rarely recommend laptops with screens below full HD resolution, but there are two ways to justify the IdeaPad 3’s rather lackluster screen quality. The first, obviously, is price. TN panels are cheap to source, and Lenovo appears to have reinvested the savings in other parts of the IdeaPad 3. The second is battery life. With fewer pixels to power, the IdeaPad 3 manages extraordinary endurance away from the power outlet, lasting for nearly 17 hours in our battery-rundown testing.
Surprisingly Deep Connectivity
Battery life is critically important for Chromebooks. In normal times, they’re typically used for taking notes in crowded, power-outlet-deficient classrooms, or being shuttled from meeting to meeting. With coronavirus shutdowns putting a hold on many of these activities, Chromebooks still need long battery life for kids who use them as remote-learning devices in the basement or backyard while their parents work in the home office.
A propensity to wander also means that Chromebooks need solid Wi-Fi, since they may be far from a wireless base station. While I didn’t experience any random disconnects or slowdowns while testing the IdeaPad 3 connected to a Netgear Nighthawk router, it is unfortunate that the laptop uses the older 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. This offers adequate speed and reliability today, but the next-generation 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard provides better future-proofing.
The IdeaPad 3 also has a cramped 32GB flash storage drive, so you’ll need to keep most of your large files—photos, videos, and the like—in the cloud or on an external drive. Luckily, the IdeaPad 3 has a built-in microSD card slot. This makes it easy to add very low-cost storage if you need it.
The microSD card slot is located on the IdeaPad 3’s left edge, where you’ll also find a USB-C port, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a headphone-microphone combination jack. On the right edge, you’ll see an additional USB 3.1 Type-A port and a USB-C port. With four USB ports in total and a microSD card reader, the IdeaPad 3 offers superior physical connectivity, even compared with the Pixelbook Go and other Chromebooks that cost far more.
I also appreciate that the IdeaPad 3 uses a USB-C cable for charging. This makes it easier to use a charging cord from another device if you can’t remember where you placed the AC adapter. Many bargain-basement Chromebooks still use proprietary barrel-style charging cables, which can be difficult and expensive to replace if your child loses them.
Plenty of Typing Comfort
The IdeaPad 3’s keyboard offers plenty of typing comfort, with sturdy, well-spaced keys and stable key switches that deliver a solid, low-pitched clicking sound. The arrow keys are in an inverted-T arrangement, which makes them easier to use by feel than the more cramped layout of the Pixelbook Go, whose left- and right-arrow keys are larger than the up- and down-arrow keys. As a bonus for accident-prone kids, Lenovo says the keyboard is spill-resistant. I didn’t try dumping a full glass of milk on it, but a few drops of water brushed off with no adverse affects.
The keyboard is not backlit, which may be a deal-breaker for people who need to type in low-light conditions. (But that’s really not a reasonable feature ask at this price.) The IdeaPad 3’s touchpad is adequate, though I found its Mylar surface to offer rather jerky trackpad movements.
Audio quality is decent, though the stereo 2-watt speakers fire through bottom-mounted grilles, which means their output can sound slightly muddy when you’re watching a video or listening to music.
The base warranty that Lenovo includes with the IdeaPad 3 lasts for one year. While Lenovo and third-party retailers offer extended warranties that may be a tempting option for budget systems like this, the additional cost may not be worth it if you plan to upgrade to a new laptop in less than two years. If you like to hang on to your device as long as possible, on the other hand, Google promises that the IdeaPad 3 will receive Chrome OS software and security updates through 2026.
Power for Essential Tasks
In addition to the 4GB of memory and 32GB of flash storage, our IdeaPad 3 review unit also features a dual-core Intel Celeron N4020 processor with a base clock speed of 1.1GHz. It’s what you’d expect in a Chromebook at this price. To step up to a more capable Intel Core i3-powered Chromebook, you’d typically spend at least $150 more.
You don’t necessarily need to upgrade, however. Over a day or so of light use, including web browsing with a handful of tabs open at once, I found the IdeaPad 3 to be mostly free of sluggishness. It also took only around 10 seconds to boot up. I did encounter a significant slowdown when I was transferring a multi-gigabyte file from an external drive, but the system never froze up completely.
If that experience doesn’t sound particularly reassuring, you’re probably not in the target market for a budget Chromebook. Many IdeaPad competitors in the $250 range use even slower ARM-based processors, which can struggle to handle even basic tasks. By these standards, the IdeaPad 3’s performance is adequate, and exactly what we expect for its price range.
For a closer look at the IdeaPad 3’s performance, I ran a few browser-based and standalone benchmarks, including WebXPRT, CrXPRT, JetStream. It’s clear from these tests that the IdeaPad 3’s theoretical performance is slightly better than that of many similarly priced competitors, such as the Acer Chromebook 315, as well as the Chromebook 14 and the Chromebook Duet mentioned earlier.
But it’s also clear that there’s quite a significant gap in theoretical performance between an Intel Core chip like the Core i3 in the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook and the AMD A-series processors, MediaTek chips, and Intel Celerons that are present in most of the under-$300 Chromebook set.
When it comes to battery life, however, the IdeaPad 3’s advantage is apparent. No other Chromebook we’ve tested recently comes close to its result on our video battery rundown test, which involves playing a locally stored video at 50 percent screen brightness with Wi-Fi turned off until the laptop dies.
Again, it’s very likely that the dim, low-resolution screen played a big part in the IdeaPad 3’s strong showing here.
A Bargain Chromebook
If you need a Chromebook for simple computing needs, and budget is your primary shopping criteria, the IdeaPad 3 will likely meet your needs. By giving up a high-resolution display, you get enough computing power for basic tasks, plenty of external connectivity, excellent battery life, and a reasonably attractive, well-built chassis.
The IdeaPad 3’s strengths make it a strong choice for an elementary- or middle-school student. While you could use it yourself, as well, it’s best not to make it your main machine because of its low-resolution display. If you can spend an extra $100 or so, your eyes will thank you for choosing a model with a 1080p screen resolution.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook Specs
|Processor||Intel Celeron N4020|
|Processor Speed||1.1 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||4 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||eMMC Flash Memory|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Screen Size||14 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1366 by 768|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel UHD Graphics 600|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ac, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.74 by 12.9 by 9.2 inches|
|Operating System||Google Chrome OS|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||16:55|