Lenovo IdeaPad 100S Chromebook review

Lenovo's IdeaPad 100S Chromebook cuts the wrong corners

Lenovo’s entry-level IdeaPad 100S Chromebook is simply too cheap for its own good.
Lenovo’s entry-level IdeaPad 100S Chromebook is simply too cheap for its own good.
Lenovo’s entry-level IdeaPad 100S Chromebook is simply too cheap for its own good.

Highs

  • Decent keyboard
  • Good battery life

Lows

  • Only 2GB of RAM
  • Slow processor
  • Weak design
  • Short warranty

DT Editors' Rating

As laptops continue their race to the bottom, sacrifices have to be made in order to achieve sub-$200 price points. Cuts to the RAM, CPU, display, and storage space are usually among the first, and often damage everyday use the most. One compromise is removing the cost and requirements of a full desktop OS like Windows in favor of ChromeOS — and thus the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S Chromebook was born.

A non-Windows version of the IdeaPad 100S, this Chromebook has roughly the same design and specs, with an Intel Celeron N2840, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of eMMC storage. It’s not winning any awards with that setup, but at less than $200, it looks like a good deal on its face.

While power users may immediately notice the difference between an i3 and i5 processor, or between 4GB and 8GB of RAM, that’s not the target audience for Chromebooks. When the corners are cut, can the target demographic actually tell the difference?

Looks strong, feels weak

The most striking feature of the IdeaPad 100S is the remarkably large display bezel. At three quarters of an inch on each side, and just over an inch above and below, the display itself seems to float in the sea of matte black plastic that surrounds it.

While the base of the computer feels sturdy enough, and the hinge doesn’t sway except under forceful movement, the flexibility of the display itself is concerning. Picking up the system by the screen, or even touching it there to change the viewing angle, can cause visible ripples in the display panel.

And that’s not the only quality issue. Gaps are noticeable everywhere, and are inconsistent from one side of the computer to the other. In some places, the gaps are wide enough to shove a business card in easily, and in others they look like convergent tectonic plates, waiting to slip and crack at the first minor drop.

At the very least, the IdeaPad 100S Chromebook has an attractive, faux-carbon fiber texture to it. It’s a welcome departure from the matte greys and blacks that adorn cheap laptops. But it takes more than an up-scale exterior texture to hide the many flaws in this notebook’s construction.

The usual ports

This Lenovo includes a fairly standard set of connections for Chrome OS devices. On the left side there’s a power plug, full-sized HDMI, SDcard slot, 3.5mm audio jack, and a USB 3.0, with a second USB 2.0 and a slot for a lock around the right.

Small victories and compromises

The keyboard and touchpad on the 100S Chromebook are the most refined parts of the computer, but aren’t without their own issues. The touchpad’s surface is nice and wide, but the integrated mouse buttons, a frequent sticking point on budget laptops, are problematic. Instead of clicking, the lower quarter of the trackpad offers up an unsatisfying “thuck” when pressed, and requires quite a bit of pressure to activate.

Lenovo-100S-Chromebook-trackpad
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That makes it even more curious that the keys actually have a nice, pleasing stroke to them. Typing action is quick, and the keys pop back right away, ready for action once again. The downside is that the function keys are even shorter than on other Chromebooks, which isn’t unforgivable, but can be inconvenient during a vigorous browsing session.

Whatever happened to 1080p screens?

Display quality is rarely a high point for Chromebooks, but the screen on the IdeaPad 100S Chromebook is particularly disappointing. Colors are bland, and while we couldn’t test it with a sensor because the software does not work with Chrome OS, solid sections appear grainy due to the combination of poor resolution and low gamma. Notably, the display also has a poor viewing angle, and is best viewed from directly in front – tilting in any direction causes discoloration and weird contrast issues.

It’s just too slow

While a lot of entry-level Chromebooks only include 2GB of RAM, the upgrade to 4GB is one that doesn’t cost much, and provides an excellent boost to performance, especially when multiple tabs are open. Our review system only has 2GB, and when paired with Intel’s Celeron N2840, an underwhelming dual-core chip with a 2.16GHz base clock, performance suffers noticeably.

Our review system only has 2GB of RAM paired with a dual-core Celeron, and performance suffers noticeably.

Even when it’s the only tab open, the few dozen thumbnails on the YouTube homepage causes the browser to stutter and stop responding momentarily. Playing a video adds a second or two of delay to changing tabs, even if the content is already loaded. Pages without a lot of large images, like Twitter or Reddit, fare a bit better, but even loading a .gif can sometimes cause the browser to hang for a few seconds.

While a Chromebook isn’t a gaming device, a quick round of Treasure Arena offers a nice example of graphical performance and system responsiveness, while also probably being the heaviest lifting the Chromebook will do. The IdeaPad doesn’t look the nicest, and the framerate is a bit choppy, but on the whole the game is playable. With a video playing in the background, Treasure Arena crashed once, but that’s not too surprising.

Same footprint, same weight class

Though some manufacturers may stress the importance of size and weight on a millimeter or ounce scale, in reality those small changes don’t make a lot of difference. That’s true of any Chromebook, and the difference between the competing Acer and HP systems isn’t enough to sway the scales one way or the other.

With an 11-inch screen, the total footprint of the device makes it very portable. It fits into almost any backpack or small bag, and at just under an inch thick, it’s easy to take with you. Such is the advantage of Chromebooks, which are far more portable at the price point than comparable Windows systems.

Thankfully, the battery performance of the 100S Chromebook mirrors its portable stature by providing an ample seven and a half hours on the Peacekeeper battery test. That’s a longer battery life than the Lenovo N20P by half an hour, and better than the Acer C720P by over two hours.

No fan, no heat

Like most Chromebooks without higher-end processors, the IdeaPad 100S is fanless, and as such runs essentially silent. It doesn’t warm noticeably, even when stressed, but that’s not particularly special for the category.

Warranty

Normally in a laptop review this section is a standard comment about how the laptop has a one year limited warranty. Lenovo cuts that down to a three month limited warranty, a strikingly short period, especially for a laptop that’s likely to end up as a holiday gift.

Conclusion

A great Chromebook is the computing equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. It can be pulled out anytime you need to complete a quick task or have a short web browsing session. It isn’t intended to repair your car or cut down a tree, but I have to wonder whether the Ideapad 100S is even suitable for tightening up a showerhead. Almost everything nice there is to say about the computer comes with a catch attached to it.

The biggest problem of all is definitely the short supply of memory. Upgrading to the model with 4GB of RAM is the first step towards improving this system, but it won’t solve the other issues. The panels still feel flimsy, the screen is fuzzy even for the resolution, and the touchpad reinforces the importance of portable mice. There’s a lot standing in the way of greatness for the IdeaPad 100S Chromebook. At least the battery life is robust.

What really puts the Lenovo down for the count, though, is the competition. If you’re willing to accept hardware this slow, you can save money by purchasing the Acer C670, which is almost identical but sold for $160. If, as we recommend, you want something quicker, you can the Acer C720 with a much faster dual-core Celeron (based off the same architecture as a 4th-gen Core i5) or $200. And Chromebooks with 4GB of RAM, like the Asus 13-inch Chromebook, start to become available once your budget hits $230.

That leaves Lenovo’s 100S, with its MSRP of $200 and typical sale price of $180, without much room to compete. Every difference counts when the gap between competitors is just a few bucks, and this Chromebook isn’t on par with its peers.

Highs

  • Decent keyboard
  • Good battery life

Lows

  • Only 2GB of RAM
  • Slow processor
  • Weak design
  • Short warranty
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