When I was in college years ago, I put my hard-earned, burger-flipping dollars into a Toshiba Chromebook 2. It had a generous 13.3-inch display, cost $330, and looks like a MacBook from a distance. (I admit with shame that that last bit was very important to my purchase decision.)
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The laptop got me through two semesters before the battery started to drain on its own regardless of student life, the Wi-Fi would turn off at random intervals, and that MacBook-looking display literally disappear by itself. My college investment was lost but not forgotten.
Fast forward to this week, when I started testing Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook, first announced at CES in January. If you’ve shopped the sub-$350 market before, you know how hard it can be to find a laptop that actually performs. Viewing angles aren’t great at all, pressing the touchpad can feel like you’re breaking a toy, and the overall compromise is felt more than anything else.
But this $350 Chromebook from Lenovo changes all that.
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Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook
An affordable touchscreen laptop that is above its price class.
After spending the last few days on a relatively cheap Lenovo laptop, I can’t help but envy college students who have such computing options in this price range today.
To put things into perspective, ask yourself: What do you value in a laptop? Do you want a high resolution display? Does it have touchscreen support? What ports do you need? Is privacy important to you?
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Wherever your mind takes you, there’s a chance this Lenovo Chromebook will meet your demands. The Flex 3i has a 1920 x 1080 resolution display that can be folded back into tent mode and tablet mode, multiple ports including HDMI, USB-C, microSD, and headphone jack, and even a privacy shutter if you’re not using the webcam — or if you want to know sure that you don’t pop into a video call looking bad.
Now, before I gas you up on what seems like the best deal on the internet since free TVs, let me be clear that this Chromebook is not going to replace a MacBook or high-end Windows laptop . The Flex 3i can barely handle a 1080p video edit, the trackpad, realistically, only has room for one to two fingers at a time, and the build quality is an absolute grand slam. if you are a fan of plastic and nothing else.
And while I’m at it, it doesn’t help that when you put the laptop in tent or tablet mode, the top-firing speakers become back-firing speakers. It’s like listening to someone speak, but their back is facing you. I walked away.
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Overall, the Lenovo Chromebook has more than enough computing power for most students, remote workers, and casual users, with 4GB of RAM and an Intel N100 processor. It’s in the more traditional apps and services where the Flex 3i really shines.
Things like creating online content, streaming movies and TV shows (or the NBA playoffs), and attending video meetings were handled with grace, and I never once heard any hissing noises or signs of overheating. That’s more than I can ask from a $349 laptop.
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The portability of the Flex 3i is the cherry on top. Compared to 16-inch MacBook Pro which I usually stretch, the Lenovo weighs less than three pounds and is as backpack-friendly as laptops come.
For $349, I challenge you to find a laptop with more features and benefits than that Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook. I’m not saying it’s the best laptop on the market, but it would easily be at the top of my to-buy list when I was in college, and that’s coming from someone with all the experience of buying for $300 laptops.