Most Chromebooks look pretty similar, so it's intriguing to see Lenovo break the mold by adding some new features to the company's N22 Touch Chromebook ($230 as reviewed). This machine has a built-in handle for easy carrying and a camera that spins around so students can record their teachers as well as themselves. The computer's mixed performance and poor speakers stymie those small innovations, though. This laptop will work for young pupils who focus on one assignment at a time, but competing machines offer stronger performance.
The N22 has a few more moving parts than your average laptop. From the outside, some parts don't look like you expect them to, but they're actually signs of Lenovo's attempts at innovation. The black plastic lid features the Chrome logo and Lenovo's emblem, as well as a black cutout near the laptop's lip. When I opened the lid, I discovered the webcam can spin around to face away from the user. I was also greeted by a 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display, island-style keys and a deck made of more black plastic.
A retractable handle on the rear of the N22 lets you carry the machine around like the world's smallest briefcase. This seemed a bit like overkill for a 2.6-pound notebook, and my fingers had very little wiggle room under the handle, but I could see the handle being useful for younger students who have less muscle and smaller hands. Between this and the handle, kids will be delighted at how much this seems like a Transformers toy.
At 2.6 pounds and 11.8 x 8.4 x 0.9 inches, the N22 is about the same size and weight as other student Chromebooks, like the Asus Chromebook C202 (2.6 pounds, 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.9 inches). Dell's Latitude 11 for Education is bigger, at 3.2 pounds and 11.9 x 8.4 x 0.9 inches, while the 1.4 x 8 x 0.8-inch CTL Chromebook J4 Plus is a bit lighter, at 2.5 pounds.
The N22 is durable enough to be knocked around in a backpack on the way to and from class. Lenovo claims that this laptop is "semi-ruggedized," suggesting that it can survive drops of up to 2.3 feet and that it features a spill-resistant keyboard. Unfortunately, we were unable to independently verify these claims. We did, however, drop the Asus Chromebook C202 from 4 feet onto concrete, and found it sustained no permanent damage.
The sides of the N22 contain a decent selection of ports. On the left are an HDMI port, USB 3.0 port, SD card slot and audio jack, while the right contains a lock slot and another USB 3.0 port.
DisplayThe 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 touch screen on the Chromebook is a bit dim, but usable. However, its colors simply don't pop. When I watched a 1080p trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," Gamora's bright green skin and the normally vibrant red eyes on Star-Lord's face mask took on more subdued hues. Many touch screens are reflective, but I found the N22's mirror-like qualities to be especially distracting during dark scenes.
Those bland colors occur because the N22 covers just 71 percent of the sRGB gamut. That's low compared to the ultraportable average (96 percent), but most notebooks aimed at the education market are similar or worse. The J4 Plus (74 percent) is slightly better, but the Latitude (66 percent) and C202 (58 percent) fared even worse.
On the bright side, those hues are precise. The N22's panel earned a Delta-E color-accuracy score of 1.3 (0 is best). The average is higher (2.07), and both the C202 (2.8) and Latitude 11 (3.8) scored lower in our tests. The J4 Plus was the best of the group, at 0.4.
The display isn't all that luminous. It measured an average of 254 nits on our brightness tests, which is far below the average of 303 nits, but about on a par with direct competitors. The Latitude, J4 Plus and C202 had brightness scores of 269, 256 and 250 nits, respectively.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the N22 is built tough, but I wish the keys were a bit more responsive. With 1.4 millimeters of travel and 59 grams of force required to push, the keys felt a little flat, but were still usable. I typed 104 words per minute on 10fastfingers.net, just slightly under my average of 107 wpm, but with my usual 2 percent error rate. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no flex in the keyboard as I typed, as most plastic laptops have at least a bit of give.
The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad is spacious and accurate. I had no problems navigating or using gestures like two-finger scrolling and three-finger swiping to switch between tabs.
There's no nice way to say it: Sound coming from the N22's speakers is distorted. When I listened to 311's "Amber," it sounded like I was listening to it on a car radio from 1996, rather than enjoying high-quality audio. The vocals were nice and loud, as were the guitars, which filled up our midsize conference room, but the percussion was so muted that I could barely make it out.
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The N22's 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage may be enough for simple homework assignments, but you won't do a ton of multitasking on this machine. It slowed down significantly when I switched among just six open tabs in Chrome. When I streamed a 1080p episode of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," on YouTube, the computer began to lag with just three other tabs open.
Lenovo's Chromebook struggled with 3D graphics, rendering 2,000 fish on the WebGL Aquarium test at just 15 frames per second. The C202 was much steadier, displaying the same amount of fish at 27 fps.
The N22's greatest strength is its battery life, which will last your entire school day and through some homework, too. It endured for 10 hours and 26 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. This laptop outlasted the category average (8:12), Chromebook C202 (8:23), Latitude (7:22) and Chromebook J4 (6:39).
The 720p webcam on the N22 can rotate 180 degrees to take photos of whatever is on the other side of the screen. The movement is very smooth, but I couldn't spin the camera around in one motion. Though most home users wouldn't need a back-facing camera on a laptop, in a classroom, I could see this being used to take a picture of a whiteboard after class or to stream the lecture to students at home.
The photos, though, are grainy. A picture I took of myself in our lobby was noisy, and details like my hair and beard didn't stand out at all. N22's camera did, however, accurately capture my cream-colored sweater.
Chrome OS and Software
The N22 runs Google's Chrome OS, which will be instantly familiar to anyone who uses the browser of the same name. Most uses require an internet connection, though some apps like Gmail Offline and Google Docs can perform some tasks without Wi-Fi.
The notebook is also on Google's list of Chromebooks that will support thousands of Android apps from the Google Play Store in the near future, though no date is set in stone.
Students will want to keep the N22 off their laps. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the bottom of the notebook measured 99 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The touchpad (80.5 degrees) and keyboard between the G and H keys (89.5 degrees) stayed nice and cool.
Configuration and Warranty
The N22 Touch Chromebook I reviewed came with a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC memory, and the cheapest price I found for it online was $232. Lenovo isn't selling the unit directly, but says that it should run between $220 and $240 from retail stores and websites.
Lenovo advertises options for 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and two other Celeron processors on the company website, but I didn't see these options while online shopping. The company told me that not many retailers sell those variations. You can also buy the laptop with similar specs but without a touch screen.
Lenovo offers a one-year warranty for the N22 Touch Chromebook. See how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands rating.
The Lenovo N22 Touch Chromebook is an affordable laptop aimed at the education market, but this machine's mixed performance is best for students who need to focus on only one task at a time. Its handle is a nice addition for young pupils who are prone to dropping their tech.
If your main priority is the typing experience, the Asus Chromebook C202 (starting at $239) is worth a look. It has loud speakers, the best keyboard we've ever used on a Chromebook and rugged construction that can survive a 4-foot drop onto concrete, but its performance resembles what you'll get on the N22. However, you'll have to be OK with a heavier notebook that lacks a touch screen and whose battery life is 2 hours shorter.
But if you want an education Chromebook with epic battery life and a couple of neat innovations in the camera and handle, the N22 Touch is a strong choice.