Lenovo's N22 Chromebook is an enticing little secondary computer for budget-minded workers ̶ and not just because it looks like the world's tiniest briefcase when carried by the retractable handle. It was actually built with students in mind, but workers might like it for its long battery life and super-portable design, not to mention the fact that it's dirt cheap. Business users who want a sharper, brighter display or a bit more performance should pass on this $160 laptop, though.
The N22 Chromebook's matte black plastic shell is far from luxurious, but at least it feels nice and sturdy. You won't think twice about sliding this system into your work bag, with or without a protective sleeve. I also like the notebook's smooth, rounded corners and edges, which look inviting and are comfortable against my wrists while I'm typing.
Here's a design quirk I've never seen on a laptop computer: The N22 Chromebook's webcam, which is located in the usual spot above the display, can actually be flipped back a full 180 degrees so that it's facing inward or outward. That way you can point it at yourself for a remote video meeting, or point it outward – perhaps to snap a photo of the office whiteboard during a meeting. It's actually a very clever design, since it allows for both front- and rear-facing orientations without the need for two separate cameras. That might have even helped Lenovo keep the price of the system down.
The other interesting design decision here is the inclusion of a retractable handle, which can be pulled out from the rear hinge of the laptop when it's closed. I found it sort of useful for toting the notebook around, even if it's hardly necessary for a laptop this compact. My guess is that Lenovo included it to reduce drops when students are carrying the N22 around, since the system is targeted at the education market, but it could be just as useful for carrying it from your desk to the meeting rom. If you're not interested in using the handle, it's easy enough to ignore completely.
This is a seriously portable laptop, weighing in at 2.6 pounds. That's about half a pound less than 11-inch Windows laptops like Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 (3.1 pounds) or HP's Pavilion x360 11 (3.2 pounds) Among Chromebooks, Dell's Chromebook 11 comes close at 2.8 pounds.
You still get a decent selection of ports here. The left side has an HDMI port, USB 3.0 and an SD card slot for expanding the system's measly 16GB of onboard storage. The right edge has a second USB 3.0 port, as well as a lock slot so you can physically chain the N22 Chromebook to your desk to deter thieves.
The N22 Chromebook sports an 11.6-inch touch display that's not just small, but also dull and a bit dim – but that's typical for a laptop this cheap. The 1366 x 768 resolution doesn't leave a lot of room for screen-intensive tasks like viewing large documents either, and multitasking with two side-by-side windows can feel claustrophobic. That's the trade-off for a laptop this small and portable, though. The display is more than serviceable for simple productivity tasks like checking your email and editing documents.
Touch input felt responsive. I liked using the touchscreen to open apps and navigate webpages in the Chrome browser.
The N22 provides a surprisingly comfortable typing experience, especially compared to other budget laptops. You get a good amount of key travel ̶ about 1.4 millimeters, which is roughly on par with what we look for in a work laptop. The keys could be snappier, though. As it is, they don't offer much tactile feedback on each stroke.
As on other Chromebooks, the Delete key is replaced by the system's power button (you can achieve the Delete function by pressing Alt + Backspace). Touch typists who aren't that familiar with the Chromebook layout will need some time to get used to that quirk.
Leave your charger at home – the N22 Chromebook's battery will easily last through the end of the workday. The system ran for a solid 10 hours and 26 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. In other words, it easily outlasts competing laptops like the Asus Chromebook C202 (8:23), though Dell's Chromebook 11 nearly matches it with 10 hours and 9 minutes of battery life. The overall laptop average is around 8 hours and 12 minutes.
The spinning design of the N22 Chromebook's webcam is certainly clever, but the laptop's 720p camera itself doesn't capture very high-quality photos or videos. When I tested it out, images tended to come out a bit grainy, without very accurate colors. Still, it's more than good enough for basic videoconferencing, or for capturing photos or video during a meeting.
Like all Chromebooks, this one runs on Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system made by Google. If you've never used Chrome OS, the first thing you should know is that it can't run software made for Windows or Macs (at least not without cumbersome virtualization apps, which wouldn't run very well on the N22 anyway). Instead, the system relies on web apps. If you've used the Chrome browser on your desktop, then you know what to expect.
Chrome OS isn't quite as limiting as it sounds, though. After all, plenty of full-featured apps are freely available, including web versions of Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs, all of which can be accessed and used offline. The N22 Chromebook is also slated for an update sometime this year that will allow you to run any Android app on the system, greatly expanding its software library – though it's not yet clear when that functionality will be rolled out.
For workers, Chrome OS does have a few advantages. The operating system requires no maintenance; there are few advanced settings to tinker with, and updates install seamlessly in the background while you're working, so you're never forced to endure a lengthy update during a reboot. Plus, the system boots up in just a few seconds, so you can start working right away.
The N22 Chromebook can handle basic productivity tasks without any issues – think managing your email inbox, typing up documents and browsing the web. Performance suffers during even moderate multitasking, though. I opened up 10 tabs in the Chrome browser – including one streaming HD video and another viewing a spreadsheet in the Google Sheets app – and noticed a few moments of lag while toggling between tabs.
While it's targeted at the education market, Lenovo's N22 Chromebook isn't a bad option for workers or small businesses who want a cheap, portable secondary computer. The system is incredibly compact and offers long enough battery life to last through your longest work flights. Plus, it has a really nice keyboard for a budget computer.
The N22's weak performance and dim display are its biggest liabilities. But since it's dirt cheap (just $160), those shortcomings are easy to overlook.