Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lenovo N21 Chromebook Review


I have a Lenovo N21 Chromebook (4GB model) that I have been trying out for a couple weeks. This is another one of the new Chromebooks that I think will be very popular for school purchases over the summer.  How does it stand up to the new Dell Chromebook 11 that I reviewed a few weeks ago?


Specs:

-  Intel N2840 (Bay Trail) processor
-  An 11.6" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB or 4GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  1x HDMI, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 2-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC)
-  Rotatable 720p HD Camera with Integrated Microphone
-  Dual-channel High-Definition integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .88" x Width: 11.8" x Depth: 8.5" and weighs 2.8lbs
-  3-cell Battery (36 Wh) for 8 to 9.5 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

I feel the Lenovo N21 is not as professional looking as the new Dell Chromebook 11, or other Lenovo Chromebooks, but I still like the design of it.  It is a very solid device that is based off of the Intel reference design.  This design is rugged, but not to the MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) of the new Dell Chromebook 11 or Lenovo 11e.  It is encased in a slightly textured black matte plastic instead of the white used on the CTL NL6 Education Chromebook, which uses the same reference design.  That change will allow the Lenovo N21 to not get as dirty looking over time.  The Lenovo N21 has a stronger frame around the screen, sides and corners to handle drops from about 2.3 feet.  The plastic casing that covers the frame could still possibly become chipped or cracked in the event of a drop. There are dual speakers on the sides of the Lenovo N21 that are pretty good for the price point.  The hinges are reinforced and go back 160 degrees.  It is not the full 180 degrees that the new Dell Chromebook 11 provides, but it still helps prevent students from possibly damaging them.


Processor/Speed:

The Lenovo N21 uses an Intel N2840 like the new Dell Chromebook 11.  It is part of the Bay Trail line of processors, which are not as fast as Intel's Haswell or new Broadwell options.  As I mentioned in my last review, the Intel N2840 still works well in a Chromebook for what students usually use one for in the classroom.  The Bay Trail processor also allows for a longer battery life and fanless design, which is great in a school setting.  For those who like to see Octane scores, the Lenovo N21 Chromebook with 4GB of RAM scored an 8236 when I ran it.


Screen:

The screen is a typical 11.6" matte TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution that you find in most Chromebooks in this price range.  The quality is acceptable for student use, but they do not have great viewing angles.  In an education setting, it is nice to have these screens in student devices though as they are usually cheaper to replace if broken.


Keyboard/Trackpad:

The Lenovo N21 has a water resistant keyboard and sealed trackpad to help against spills.  The keyboard is also peel resistant to help prevent students from removing keys.  They could still be peeled off, but a student will likely have to intentionally wedge something under a key to do it. Typing on the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  When using the trackpad, I liked the size of it and found it to be a little smoother then the one on the new Dell Chromebook 11.




Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Lenovo N21 is your typical brick design. The connector that plugs into the Chromebook is unfortunately not like other Lenovo models I have seen.  Similar to a number of Chromebook models, it uses a thinner connector that could bend or break easier under student use.




Battery Life:

The Lenovo N21 has a 3-cell Battery (36 WHr), which is smaller then the new Dell Chromebook 11.  That is a little disappointing since it takes some of the benefits of the Bay Trail processor away from the end user.  There is also conflicting reports as to how much battery life the Lenovo N21 is supposed to provide.  According to it's web page, the Lenovo N21 is supposed to give 9.5 hours.  A sticker on the device itself only says 8 hours.




In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Lenovo N21 to get exactly 8 hours on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  That was 50 minutes less then the new Dell Chromebook 11. From this test, and my own usage experience, I think you should get around 8.5 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.

Lenovo also points out that the battery is easily removable by school IT departments.  I decided to open it up and see.  The battery is indeed removable, but I did not find it much different then other Chromebook models I have opened.


  

Rotatable Camera:

This is a feature that has only been on Chromebook models using Intel's reference design.  I love that students can rotate the camera to capture images, video or easily scan QR codes with the ScanQR app.



However, I am concerned of possible damages that could occur to it.  The camera was slightly stiff to rotate initially and loosened up as I was testing it.  There is no guide on the camera to remind students on which way they are supposed to turn it.  If a student would quickly rotate it too far, or in the wrong direction, it could possibly break.  Given how it is designed, I also wonder how well it will hold up in the long term after repeated usage.

I would really like to see an OEM put a rear camera on the lid of a Chromebook instead of a rotatable one.  If we can have rear cameras in bargain level tablets, why not have one in an educational Chromebook where they can be very beneficial in the classroom?  Especially as we start to see more Android apps being ported over to Chrome OS.


Retractable Handle

The Lenovo N21 has a retractable handle on it.  This is a really nice feature when students are taking the device out of a cart and taking it back to their desk.  However, I would probably not use this feature as a substitute to carry cases in a 1:1 environment where students take devices home.




Conclusion:

I am glad to see that Lenovo has finally made an educational Chromebook that is more affordable for schools.  Overall, I think the Lenovo N21 is another strong choice for schools that are looking to purchase Chromebooks.  It has a couple unique features that the new Dell Chromebook 11 does not have and comes in around $30 less.  At the same time, it is missing some key features that I really like on the new Dell Chromebook 11 such as the 180 degree hinges, stronger power connector, rubber trim and longer battery.

So is the Lenovo N21 or the new Dell Chromebook 11 a better choice for schools?  I do not feel there is a clear answer on that.  They are both very good devices that have their trade-offs.  The decision really comes down to which device specific features are more important to you in your environment and the budget you have to work with.  

The Lenovo N21 Chromebook starts at $219 for the 2GB model and $239 for the 4GB model.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.