This $350 Lenovo Chromebook will change your mind about cheap laptops

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Using the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i

June Wan/ZDNET

When I was in college years ago, I put my hard-earned, burger-flipping job dollars into a Toshiba Chromebook 2. It had a generous 13.3-inch display, cost around $330, and looked like a MacBook from afar. (I admit with embarrassment that the last bit was very important to my buying decision.)

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The laptop got me through two semesters before the battery started to drain itself with no regard for student life, the Wi-Fi would switch off at random intervals, and that MacBook-looking display would literally detach itself. My college investment was gone but not forgotten.

Fast forward to this week, when I began testing Lenovo’s Flex 3i Chromebook, first announced at CES in January. If you’ve shopped in the sub-$350 market before, then you know just how difficult it can be to find a laptop that’s actually viable. Viewing angles are never ideal, pressing on the touchpad can feel like you’re breaking a toy, and general compromises are felt more than anything else.

But this $350 Chromebook from Lenovo changes everything.

Using the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i


Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook

An affordable touchscreen laptop that punches above its price class.

After spending the past few days with Lenovo’s relatively cheap laptop, I can’t help but envy college students who have such competent computing options in this price range today.

To put things into perspective, ask yourself this: What do you value in a laptop? Do you want a high-resolution display? Does it have touchscreen support? What ports do you need? Does privacy matter to you?

Also: How to install Android apps on your Chromebook

No matter where your mind takes you, there’s a chance that this Lenovo Chromebook will meet your demands. The Flex 3i has a 1920 x 1080 resolution display that can be folded backward into tent mode and tablet mode, a wealth of ports including HDMI, USB-C, microSD, and a headphone jack, and even a privacy shutter for when you’re not using the webcam — or when you want to know for sure that you won’t pop into a video call looking all awkward.

A top-down shot of the Chromebook Flex 3i

The keyboard feels satisfyingly clicky, with enough cushioning to keep inputs near silent.

June Wan/ZDNET

Now, before I gas you up with what seems like the best deal on the internet since free TVs, let me make it clear that this Chromebook isn’t 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’re a fan of plastic and nothing but it. 

And while I’m at it, it doesn’t help that when you set the laptop in tent or tablet mode, the top-firing speakers become back-firing speakers. It’s like listening to someone talking, but their back is facing you. I digress.

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By and large, the Lenovo Chromebook has more than enough computing power for most students, remote workers, and casual users alike, with 4GB of RAM and an Intel N100 processor. It’s in the more traditional apps and services where the Flex 3i really shines.

Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i in tablet mode

Tablet mode disables the keyboard and trackpad on the back.

June Wan/ZDNET

Things like online content creation, streaming movies and TV shows (or the NBA playoffs), and attending video meetings are handled with grace, and not once did I hear any hissing noises or indicators of overheating. That’s more than I could ask for from a $349 laptop.

Also: This reusable smart notebook is a visual learner’s dream tool 

The portability of the Flex 3i is the cherry on top. Compared to the 16-inch MacBook Pro that I usually lug around, the Lenovo weighs less than three pounds and it’s as backpack-friendly as laptops come.

For $349, I challenge you to find a laptop with more functionality and benefits than the Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook. I’m not saying this is the best laptop on the market, but it would’ve easily been at the top of my buying list if I was still in college, and that’s coming from someone who’s had all the experiences with buying $300 laptops.

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