Built to last: Lenovo’s ThinkPad 11e Chromebook reviewed

Beyond its ability to survive a fall, you’ll find general use of the machine to be fairly good. We’re a little surprised to see the touchscreen model of the ThinkPad 11e arrive only with 2GB RAM while its less expensive touch-less brother comes with 4GB, but for the most part, the machine still handles itself well.

There are some slow-downs here and there, usually when you’re touching the screen to get the app menu to pop up, or if you’re running more than four or five tabs, with some of the lag appearing as the words creep onto the screen when the Chromebook is saving to the cloud, but for the most part, the system cruises along as most Chromebooks do: with ease and stability.

Over to the screen, and this is one area where Lenovo gets good marks, incorporating a 11 inch touchscreen LCD with solid viewing angles and a fair amount of brightness.

We do need to point out that this is most definitely not a tablet, though. Chrome OS just isn’t there for touchscreen control, and it’s clear that the operating system — being based off a web browser — is mostly made for the mouse. You can touch and prod things if you choose, scrolling webpages with a swipe of a finger or loading up the Chrome app menu by touching the grid icon at the bottom of the screen, but a mouse is going to work best here until Chrome makes it more finger friendly.

That said, this is one computer that could work as a tablet if you wanted to, as the hinge provided can make the screen flip all the way around so that this computer is used like a tablet, similar to what we’ve seen from previous hybrids.

Used in this way, the touchscreen is relatively snappy, and you could type on the machine if you wanted, but we’re not sure why you would specifically do this, mind you, when the keyboard is one of the better features of the ThinkPad 11e.

It has the right amount of travel, a solid click sound, and generally just feels fantastic to use.

This is Lenovo at its best in this keyboard, building something that performs beautifully, and even though Google has a great template for Chromebooks, and this is close, but it feels even better, because it’s a Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard tried and true, the sort you get on the good — no, great — ThinkPad machines.

Why can’t more keyboards be like this? Hey, why couldn’t Lenovo’s Yoga keyboards be like this?

This keyboard is stellar, and even competes beautifully against the Apple MacBook keyboard, long considered one of the best keyboards in the business.

We rarely had a spelling error or dash with failed punctuation on this keyboard, and with we saw more like it.

Lenovo’s mouse and touch isn’t too far off these either, with a quick and responsive touchscreen that had no problem with the few gestures Google’s Chrome OS can handle, while the basic touchpad was itself speedy enough to use it to browse the web, too.

We even like knowing there’s a USB 3.0 port here, though two would have been more handy than one, and the inclusion of 802.11ac is easily one of the nicest things Lenovo has provided.

This last one is important, because it means wireless speeds can be very speedy, especially when most other laptop companies still struggle with throwing it into their computers unless you spend over $1500. Seeing it in a machine that doesn’t nearly net that sort of price tag is very cool.

Make no mistake, Lenovo’s ThinkPad 11e Chromebook isn’t a bad computer by any stretch of the imagination. It’s very well built, and comes with one of the best keyboards in the business (though it can be seen as a tad noisy).

But it’s not worth the cost, no way.

Lenovo’s Chromebook 11e carries a cost of $749, and we suspect — given what we’re seeing — that most of that cost comes from the case, the ruggedisation, and all of that military grade build that has been thrown into this machine.

It’s true: the Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook is beautifully built, and the moment you pick this computer up, you’ll feel a quality that few computers have. Not even the aluminium unibody of the MacBook Air feels like this, and we spent time in our review throwing this around, dropping it on occasion, and even standing on it, though we did take our shoes off.

But it’s also a Chromebook, and that part of the market was always supposed to be less expensive than the Windows section.

As such, it is very, very hard to justify an over $700 asking price for what is basically a Chrome browser on steroids, it really is. Just under $500 and we’d see it, but tack on well over a hundred more, and it becomes an expensive instance of web surfing and office writing.

The battery could also do with some work, managing a relatively mediocre five to six hours in our experience, though if you use the machine for more of that multimedia — you know, those movies we mentioned earlier — we suspect the life would drop even more.

Lenovo could probably adopt a better charge port, too, which in this computer relies on Lenovo’s recent reversible charge connector, a port that is neat because it doesn’t matter which way you plug it in, but isn’t nearly as useful as the Chromebooks we’ve seen that charge from the much more standard microUSB port.

Mostly, though, the concerns from this computer come from its price, because while we totally agree with Chromebooks being ideal for education — and the “e” in the model name seems to sit well with that, also — a $649 price for what’s on offer is a little unbelievable, even if this will survive the school backpack better than most computers ever will.

The issue here is that while Lenovo has produced a pretty solid computer worthy of the “ThinkPad” name, it’s a shame it’s just a Chromebook, because this really needs to do more for the price being asked.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 11e may be well built, but it's not comfy to hold in one hand as a tablet.

Conclusion

You might not know this, but computers can take a bigger beating than most realise. They can survive the way adults treat them, and some of us are pretty brutal.

But kids, well, they’re a different group altogether, with backpacks tossed, thrown, falling and landing hard on asphalt and cement, and giving what’s inside a serious shake up.

Some computers will survive this treatment, this torture, without a second thought, but others have serious problems and could emerge after months of physical abuse barely hanging on by their hinges.

That definitely won’t be what happens to Lenovo’s ThinkPad 11e, a machine that brings a hint of drop-resistance to a machine sitting under the thousand dollar mark.

We need to say this: we like what Lenovo has produced, we really do, because here is a laptop that can survive a beating made for an audience that will certainly give it one.

But we’re not sold on the price, because spending $769 isn’t an easy call for something that is only a Chromebook, especially when that entire market was designed for budgets.

If ruggedisation is something you definitely need, Lenovo’s ThinkPad 11e will fit that bill, but just be aware that this is pretty much a writing, web surfing, and social networking machine, and if you’re buying it expecting to install Windows apps in the near future, this will not work for you.

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