Need a laptop to survive falls from desk height? Not to mention those nasty spills during lunch? Perfect, because Lenovo's 500ex Chromebook is a 2-in-1 that was military tested for durability. For $309, you get a rugged chassis, a workday's worth of battery life, a 11.6-inch, colorful display and some decent speakers. There are some minor flaws, such as an unattractive design, dim display, and uncomfortable keyboard and touchpad. But for its affordable price, the 500e Chromebook provides decent performance and will survive a student's everyday workload.
The 500e Chromebook is a dull, black brick that draws comparisons to Shawshank, Attica or Oz -- any movie prison will do. The exterior is bordered by an ugly, thick rubber shell, while the lid is black PC/ABS plastic with an etched hexagonal pattern that's somewhat satisfying to the touch. But unfortunately, the lid is a fingerprint magnet, so I suspect the 500e is going to be a pile of grease by the end of one school day. There is an easily missable Lenovo logo engraved in the bottom-right corner and a shiny Chrome logo on the top left, followed by the word "Chrome" in fading white letters.
The inside of the 500e is just as simple as the outside. You're greeted by a bland, island-style keyboard and a display that's plagued by the aforementioned rubber borders and thick bezels. Additionally, there is an oddly placed webcam just above the keyboard and logos for Lenovo and 500e on the corners of the display.
The laptop is equipped with a pair of 360-degree hinges that let me easily transform the system from a traditional notebook to a tablet. If only accessing the stylus were as simple. Due to its square shape, I had to take particular care when removing and replacing the stylus, as it was incredibly stiff. I also wasn't a fan of the side-mounted power and volume buttons, because of how deeply they're buried in the chassis.
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At 3 pounds and 11.4 x 8.0 x 0.8 inches, the 500e Chromebook is the heaviest and the thinnest among its competitors. The Acer Chromebook 11 N7 C731T managed to be the lightest and thickest at 2.8 pounds and 0.9 inches. The Dell Chromebook 5190 was in between, at 2.9 pounds and 0.8 inches. The Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA was the lightest and thinnest among the group, at 2.8 pounds and 0.8 inches.
Despite the price, the 500e Chromebook offers some decent ports, starting with a USB Type-C on the left with the USB 3.0 port, a microSD slot and a headphone/mic audio jack.
On the right, you get a Kensington Lock, another USB Type-C port and a USB 3.0 port.
Yeah, the 500e Chromebook is ugly, but it's ugly for a reason. Its chunky design passed MIL-STD-810G testing, which means it can withstand extreme humidity, temperatures, vibration and high altitude. Lenovo also claims it can be dropped from a height of up to 29.5 inches and its keyboard can resist spills up to 11.2 fluid ounces. Unfortunately, we were unable to put this ruggedness to the test ourselves, so we'll have to take Lenovo at its word.
The 500e Chromebook's 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 IPS display provides decent color, considering the price, but it's too dim to get past the glare infesting its glossy screen. I watched the trailer for Papillon and noticed actor Charlie Hunnam's dirty blond hair and battle scars were crisp and colorful. As he turned away from Rami Malek to brood and looked toward the off-screen sunset, both of their faces were bathed in a warm orange glow. However, it's difficult to enjoy the emotional tension when I could clearly see myself and everything else around me reflected in the glare.
According to our colorimeter, the 500e Chromebook reproduced a solid 81 percent of the sRGB color gamut, passing the 77-percent Chromebook average. The Acer Chromebook 11 displayed the lowest score at 72 percent, with the Dell Chromebook 5190 performing slightly better at 73 percent. The Asus Chromebook Flip matched the 77-percent average.
The 500e Chromebook's display averaged around 218 nits of brightness, which is considerably dim, compared to the 258-nit average. The Chromebook Flip produced 224 nits, the Chromebook 11 managed 235 nits and the Chromebook 5190 matched the average at 258 nits.
Keyboard, Touchpad & Stylus
The 500e Chromebook has a modest, island-style keyboard with some click to it. However, the palm rest is simply uncomfortable, due to the small surface area and how high the keyboard is raised, creating a poor typing experience.
The keys have a decent 1.5 millimeters of key travel and require 69 grams of actuation force. That falls within range of our 1.5- to 2-mm travel and minimum 60 grams of force requirements. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I managed 64 words per minute, which is under my 68-wpm average.
I tested the stylus in Google's Stylus tools program and was pleasantly surprised that the program followed my movements without tripping up. I was able to write accurately and produce neatly-written notes.
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The 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad feels too stiff and is way too close to the lip of the laptop to be comfortable. But it did easily recognize the gestures for two-finger scrolling and three-finger tab navigation.
Surprisingly, the 500e Chromebook managed to produce some solid sound, which reverberated through a medium-size conference room. While listening to "The Sound Of Silence" by Disturbed, I was entranced by the melodic piano and David Draiman's tear-worthy vocals, all without having my concentration broken -- well, almost. When I watched the bass drum get whacked, it produced a much quieter sound than I expected.
For $309, you're not getting a Ferrari, you're getting your mom's old beat-up convertible. Underneath the 500e's chunky hood is a 1.1-GHz Intel Celeron N3450U processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage and an Intel HD Graphics 500. I noticed quite a bit of lag after opening 10 or so tabs with a couple of 1080p YouTube videos playing in the background.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the 500e Chromebook scored 4,355, which is below the 5,492 Chromebook average. It's important to note that there are more powerful Chromebooks in the average, such as the Google Pixelbook, which starts at $900.
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On the WebGL Aquarium benchmark, the 500e Chromebook displayed 500 fish at 53 frames per second, knocking out the 40-fps average. It also topped the Dell Chromebook 5190's 46 fps and the Asus Chromebook Flip's 51 fps.
Chrome OS and Android
Chrome OS is a very streamlined operating system that relies heavily on the use of the Google Chrome web browser. With the recent addition of the Google Play Store, Android apps are accessible. Just don't think about playing PUBG on it; when I booted it up, it was stuck on a black screen for 5 minutes.
The Chrome OS itself is so minimal that it hurts. Relying on just the Chrome browser for everything can get annoying for people used to Windows and Mac OS. There's no built-in program to navigate through the PC, like a file explorer, or an easily accessible search tab you can roam through. It's all dependent on Chrome's interface, which you need to manually roam through. This isn't very user-friendly from an OS standpoint.
After continuously web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness on our battery test, the 500e Chromebook tapped out after 9 hours and 47 minutes. That's longer than the 9:28 Chromebook average, but it's still short of the Chromebook 5190, which lasted 3 minutes longer at 9:50.
At the very least, the 500e Chromebook's top-mounted webcam provides some decent color. It reproduced the shades of blue and white on my flannel shirt without any weird tints. Other than that, the images were practically vibrating grain and lacked any proper contrast. I couldn't even make out what was outside of the window when the camera was focused on me. The camera above the keyboard is the exact same as the top and produced similar results.
The 500e Chromebook remained relatively cool after streaming a 15-minute HD video. The undercarriage measured at 95 degrees Fahrenheit, matching our comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard and touchpad registered at 91 and 82 degrees, respectively. The hottest location, near the top-left corner of the undercarriage, reached 97 degrees. That's a little warm, but it's not a deal breaker.
Warranty and Support
Lenovo offers a one-year limited warranty for the 500e Chromebook, but it can be upgraded to four years. See how Lenovo performed on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands ranking.
The $309 Lenovo 500e Chromebook is not going to win any beauty contests. However, what it lacks in looks, it makes up with a versatile, durable design with solid performance and over 9 hours of battery life, which is ideal for students. It's also got a decent keyboard and surprisingly good audio. But while the 13-inch panel is fairly colorful, the severe glare and low 1366 x 768 resolution make for a difficult viewing experience. The system could also use better button placement and a more comfortable palm rest.
For a bit more money, you can get the $349 Asus Chromebook Flip, which offers a great keyboard and touchpad for a pleasant typing experience. Otherwise, the Lenovo 500e Chromebook is a solid choice for accident-prone students who need a system that lasts beyond the school day.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag