Today, Research Triangle Park, N.C. based Lenovo announced they will begin offering a Chromebook marketed to schools. This is good news for schools, like Ravenscroft, whose students in grades 7-12 started using first-generation Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks during the fall of 2012 after a pilot program in the spring of 2012. While the Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks have been a good device with which to start our mobile learning community they have been prone to screen and hinge damage when subjected to the daily grind of life at the side of today’s teens.

After spending the past week with a pre-production version of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X131e Chromebook I offer the following review and pre-production unit specs:

Overview

Based on the rugged X131e ThinkPad Winodws laptop, Lenovo’s new X131e ThinkPad Chromebook is a sturdy device designed to handle the rigors of academic life and, at the moment, will be marketed solely to educational institutions. The 1366 x 768 High Definition LED anti-glare screen is bright, yet easy on the eyes, in both low light conditions and when viewed outdoors. The device feels sturdy in the hands and, despite it’s 3.92 lbs weight, feels light enough to be toted around campus all day. In addition, it fits snugly into Higherground’s FlakJacket Plus which is standard issue at Ravenscroft.

The boot time for this device is just under 5 seconds, as reported by chrome://system reports, which is quicker than the average 6.64 boot time I experience with my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook. Web-browsing is quick and, in tests, the school website, which contains java based scrolling pics, came up in 2.52 seconds. Graphic heavy sites, like Ravenscroft’s Pinterest page came up in 2.46 seconds while Lenovo‘s home page loaded in 1.87 seconds. The X131e ThinkPad Chromebook’s speakers, built-in the front-side of the bottom housing, offer a good user experience and are loud enough to to heard in a standard classroom from any seat.

Having (3) USB ports is a huge plus as I was able to use a USB mouse, a thumb drive, and Logitech’s Wireless Presenter R400 with a SlideRocket Presentation at the same time which makes the X131e ThinkPad Chromebook a viable option to my Lenovo X201 Tablet when presenting while on the road. Being able to direct connect to either VGA or HDMI for presentations is huge as it removes the need for me to carry the VGA dongle offered on the Samsung Series 5 I have now. The built-in RJ-45 Ethernet port is a plus as it offers an option in situations when WiFi might not be available.

Finally, the rugged version offers “a rubber bumper around the top cover and stronger corners to protect the system in the case of an accidental drop” and a thicker bezel better safeguards the LCD. In addition, “the hinges and hinge brackets are also strengthened to last more than 50,000 open and close cycles” which will reduce hinge breaks we routinely see on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks. The rugged keyboard feels pleasant to the touch and offers good tactile feedback when typing while providing better protection from keys being removed.

Release Date

February 26, 2013 (via special bid)

Price

$429.00 (US) per Google Enterprise Blog

OS

ChromeOS

Screen

11.6 with anti-glare screen; 1366 x 768 High Definition LED

Processor

Intel (R) Celeron (R) CPU 877 @ 1.40GHz

Memory

4 GB RAM

Ports

(3) USB Ports, (1) VGA, (1) HDMI, (1) Card Reader, (1) RJ-45 Ethernet, and (1) Combo Mic/Headphone Jack

Mouse

TrackPoint & TouchPad

Battery

6 cell

Weight

3.92 lbs with 6 cell battery

The Pros

A rugged device designed to withstand the carefree attitude of teens when using technology, the X131e is a speedy device with (3) USB ports to handle external mice, thumb drives and more and comes equipped with both VGA and HDMI for easy connections to digital screens and projectors for student presentations. The choice of a TrackPoint or Touchpad is a plus. The ability to direct network connect via RJ-45 is a win over other Chromebook models when WiFi is not available. In addition, the power adapter that works on the Lenovo X201 or X220 tablets will also charge the Lenono X131e ThinkPad Chromebook in a pinch though it is not recommended long-term as the X131e ThinkPad Chromebook power adapter is rated at 65W/70V while the X201 Tablet’s power adapter is rated at 90W/70.

The Cons

At 3.92 lbs — that’s 7 ounces heavier than Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook, 2.6 lbs heavier than Apple’s iPad, and on par with other Lenovo ThinkPad tablets like the X220 — the X131e ThinkPad Chromebook’s weight may be a deterrent for those concerned with crowded student backpacks. The slightly smaller 11.6 screen as compared to the Samsung Series 5 12.0 screen might raise an eyebrow or two though the difference is negligible. In addition, the lack of an announced 3G model may deter some schools who wish to provide students with internet access while on the go.

The Bottom Line

Despite it’s traditional laptop weight Lenovo’s X131e ThinkPad Chromebook will be an excellent option, in the right price range, for schools looking to move towards Chromebooks with a device specifically designed to handle the wear and tear found in schools with a 1:1 environment. With rugged features including “a rubber bumper around the top cover and stronger corners to protect the system in the case of an accidental drop” and “hinges and hinge brackets are also strengthened to last more than 50,000 open and close cycles” Lenovo has a winner on its hands and should jump to the top of the Chromebook education space with this offering.

Video Review

For my video review of Lenovo’s X131e ThinkPad Chromebook visit: http://goo.gl/hEZpM

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