It’s easy to find a fine 2-in-1 Chromebook if you’ve got the bucks. Our Editors’ Choice, the detachable HP Chromebook x2, is $ 599.99. Among more affordable convertibles, the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 and Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA are $ 399.99 and $ 349, respectively. But if you’re looking for a model that can fold from laptop to tablet mode without spending a lot of folding green, Lenovo’s new Chromebook C330 is just $ 279.99 with 32GB of eMMC storage ($ 299.99 with 64GB). It’s an appealing pick for Chromebook buyers on a budget.
A Low-Cost Convertible
Naturally, you sacrifice something for the C330’s low price. Though it isn’t flimsy, it hasn’t passed the MIL-STD 810G ruggedness tests of the aforementioned Acer and Asus, and it doesn’t come with a stylus pen as the Acer does.
But if you were expecting a cheap TN display panel, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Lenovo’s colorful IPS touch screen. You’ll also find both USB-C and USB 3.0 Type-A ports, plus an HDMI port so you don’t have to use the USB-C port for an external monitor. (That is just as well, since it’s taken by the AC adapter when the system’s recharging.)
The screen measures 11.6 inches diagonally and has the familiar, lowest-common-denominator 1,366 by 768 resolution. Other specs include 4GB of RAM and a MediaTek MTK8173C processor, an ARM chip with two 2.1GHz and two 1.7GHz cores. The Chromebook is constructed of white plastic with black keys and giant black bezels around the display; Lenovo and Chrome logos decorate the lid.
At 2.64 pounds, the C330 is on the light side for a convertible. (Compare the Acer Spin 11 at 3.09 pounds, though the aluminum-clad, 12.5-inch Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is just 2.43 pounds.) It measures a compact 0.77 by 11.4 by 8.5 inches, roughly the same as the Spin 11 and a bit smaller than the Asus C213SA. None of these 2-in-1 Chromebooks is a burden in a briefcase, though all are a bit heavy to hold with one hand in tablet mode.
The Lenovo’s left side holds the USB-C, USB-A, and HDMI ports, as well as an SD card slot for expanding storage. (Like most Chromebooks, the system also comes with 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years.) On the right, you’ll find an audio jack, the power button, a volume rocker, and a security-cable locking slot.
Sights and Sounds
The 1,280-by-720-pixel webcam, centered above the screen, takes fairly good, if somewhat soft and shadowy images. Sound from the two bottom-mounted speakers is soft and shadowy too—even with the volume cranked way up, audio remains flat and muffled with only a ghost of bass. It’s all right for streaming video, but you’ll definitely want headphones for music.
The screen is much more pleasing, although its low resolution means that fine details look a bit pixelated (as they do on other 1,366-by-768-pixel displays). Brightness is only adequate—you won’t want to turn it down very far to save battery power—but contrast is good, so text on browser or Google Docs pages looks properly black-on-white instead of dark-gray-on-light-gray. Viewing angles are broad but prone to reflections on the glossy touch overlay. Colors are clear and saturated, helping both images and videos look sharp.
It’s not ThinkPad-caliber, but the keyboard is one of the C330’s best features. Laid out in the familiar Chromebook pattern, with a search key instead of Caps Lock and browser navigation, brightness, and volume keys along the top row, it offers decent travel and a snappy typing feel. I had no trouble using it to write most of this review, though like all Windows migrants, I sorely missed Page Up/Page Down and Home/End keys. (The Chromebook equivalents are Alt+Up/Down and Ctrl+Alt+Up/Down, respectively.) The touchpad glides and taps smoothly.
A wide hinge lets you flip the screen into laptop, stand, tent, and tablet modes, with some wobble when the screen is tapped. The Lenovo lacks rubberized edges to keep the system from skidding on your desk or table in tent mode, but the problem is minimal, and the unit felt comfortable and secure as I grasped it in tablet mode, watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix and playing Android games.
Acceptable, if Not Awesome, Performance
The C330 starts briskly, booting in 9 seconds after being switched off. (That said, most Chromebook users don’t do that, preferring to just close and reopen the lid for faster restarts.) That’s faster than most other inexpensive models…
Subjectively, I’d rate the convertible’s performance right in the middle of Chromebooks I’ve tested, trailing Intel Core-based units like the HP Chromebook x2 but leading most low-cost ARM designs. Tabs opened and apps launched swiftly, and the C330 didn’t bog down with a dozen browser tabs active.
For some perspective, the HP Chromebook x2 (more than double the price of the C330, not charted here) scored 125 points on this test.
Principled Technologies’ CrXPRT and WebXPRT 2015 benchmarks, meanwhile, are wider-ranging and measure performance in a suite of Chrome OS-typical applications. CrXPRT comprises activities within simulated Chrome OS apps, while WebXPRT’s testing antics are purely in-browser…
As you can see, the C330 was on par with the better of the budget lot here. For comparison’s sake, the ultra-high-end, Core i5-powered Google Pixelbook scored 202 and 416 on these two XPRT suites, respectively, roughly double.
On our video-playback battery-rundown test, the C330 is one of the few laptops I’ve tested that bettered its advertised battery life. (Lenovo claims 10 hours.)
While it can’t keep pace with our Chromebook record holder, the Lenovo 500e, its 11-hour time in our playback test indicates that you’ll have no trouble getting through an average workday.
A Basic Chrome Convertible With Value
What the Lenovo Chromebook C330 lacks in raw power, it makes up for in convenience. It’s perfectly capable of handling the Web surfing, emailing, Google Docs/Office Online productivity work, and casual gaming of most Chromebooks. And it adds the versatility of a convertible design, plus an above-average screen and keyboard at a low price.
It doesn’t come near to knocking the HP Chromebook x2 off its Editors’ Choice perch for this class of machine, but it doesn’t come halfway to that 2-in-1 convertible’s cost, either. Assuming your computing needs are light and you don’t mind the smallish, modest-resolution screen, you’ll find it a bargain among bargains.