I wish I had had this $350 Lenovo Chromebook when I was in college


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Using the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i

June Wan/ZDNET

Years ago, when I was in college, I put my hard-earned job money into a Toshiba Chromebook 2. It had a generous 13.3-inch display, cost around $330, and looked like a MacBook from afar. (I’m embarrassed to admit that that last part was very important to my purchase decision.)

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I got through two semesters with the laptop before disregarding student life, the battery started draining itself, the Wi-Fi turned off at random intervals, and the display, which looked like a MacBook, literally detached itself. My college investment was gone but not forgotten.

Fast forward to this week as I started reviewing Lenovos $350 Flex 3i Chromebook, first announced at CES in January. If you’ve shopped in the sub-$350 market before, you know how difficult it can be to find a truly usable laptop.

Using the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i

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Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook

An affordable touchscreen laptop that beats its price range.

Having spent the past few days with Lenovo’s relatively inexpensive laptop, I can’t help but envy college students who have such competent computing options at this price point today.

To put things in perspective, ask yourself: What do you value in a laptop? Would you like a high-resolution display? Does it have touchscreen support? Which ports do you need? Is privacy important to you?

Also: How to install Android apps on your Chromebook

No matter where your thoughts take you, there’s a chance this Lenovo Chromebook will serve your needs. The Flex 3i has a 1920 x 1080 resolution display that folds back into tent and tablet mode, plenty of ports including HDMI, USB-C, microSD and a headphone jack, and even a privacy screen for on the go when you’re not using the webcam – or when you want to know for sure that you don’t awkwardly dive into a video call.

A top view of the Chromebook Flex 3i

The keyboard feels satisfyingly clicky and has enough padding to keep input nearly silent.

June Wan/ZDNET

Now, before I fuel you up with what appears to be the best deal on the web since free TV, let me be clear that this Chromebook isn’t going to replace a MacBook or a high-end Windows laptop. The Flex 3i can barely handle 1080p video editing, the trackpad can realistically only accommodate one or two fingers at a time, and the build quality is an absolute blast if you’re a fan of plastic and nothing else.

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

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

Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3i in tablet mode

In tablet mode, the keyboard and trackpad on the back are disabled.

June Wan/ZDNET

Things like creating online content, streaming movies and TV shows (or the NBA playoffs), and participating in video conferences are handled with decency, and I haven’t once heard a hiss or any sign of overheating. That’s more than I could ask of anyone $349 laptop.

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

The portability of the Flex 3i is icing on the cake. Compared to the 16-inch MacBook Pro I usually carry with me, the Lenovo weighs less than three pounds and is as backpack-friendly as any laptop gets.

For $349 I challenge you to find a laptop with more functionality and benefits Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook. I’m not saying this is the best laptop out there, but if I was still in college it would have been at the top of my buy list, and that’s coming from someone with all the experience of buying $300 laptops has made.

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