Can Google's cloud-based Chromebook find a bigger foothold in schools? Lenovo is going to find out, with its announcement Thursday of the ThinkPad X131e rugged Chromebook designed for K-12 education. And there are reports that the company is about to release Chromebooks for companies.
Some school administrators will likely find the Chrome OS-based Chromebook concept appealing, with fast boot times, simplified software and security management through one dashboard, the lack of viruses, automatic updating and backups, and the ability to readily share devices between students. Chromebooks are entirely Web-based, with applications and stored in the cloud.
In its announcement, Lenovo cited an IDC report that Chromebooks require 69 percent less labor to deploy and 92 percent less to support.
Given the brutal wear and tear of a K-12 environment, Lenovo has added features intended to protect the unit in case it is accidentally dropped, such as a rubber bumper around the top cover and stronger corners. The company also said that the hinges and hinge brackets are designed and built to last more than 50,000 open/close cycles.
Jerry Paradise, executive director of product for the ThinkPad Product Group, said in a statement that the company's testing has shown the X131e to be "very successful in education environments," and the ruggedness has led to "reduced failure rates in the field." The company has indicated that the devices are available only through volume bids, beginning late next month.
The model, which weighs under 4 pounds, offers Google Apps for Education and thousands of apps in the Chrome Web Store. It offers an unspecified Intel processor, an 11.6-inch 1366x768 HD LED anti-glare screen, a low-light webcam for such activities as video conversations with students in other schools, and has Wi-Fi as well as HDMI, VGA and three USB ports.
Lenovo Chromebooks for Enterprises?
To increase its appeal to schools, the model has several customizable options, such as custom colors, device tagging to keep track of the units, and school logo etching.
Caesar Sengupta, director of product management for Chrome OS at Google, said Chromebooks are being used by more than a thousand K-12 schools. In December, Google offered the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, originally with a $430 list price, to schools for $100 each through DonorsChoose.org, an online charity. The offer, good only through Dec. 21, included the device, management, and support.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry firm Current Analysis, said schools "are one place where Chromebooks make sense" because of the "zero setup and maintenance and the ability to allow any student to use any unit."
According to a report earlier this week on financial journal The Street, Lenovo will offer laptops and desktops this year for corporate markets that are based on Google's Chrome OS. The report said that it is hearing from enterprises that they are ready to try Chromebooks on as many as 20 percent of their employees. With its strong brand name in companies, Lenovo's release of Chromebooks for the corporate market could change the dynamics of this thin-client offering.