-Compact and portable design
-Simple software experience
-Chrome OS will feel limited for some
With the release of its first Chromebox, Lenovo is looking to offer the Chrome OS experience in a compact package, and is designed with educational and enterprise institutions in mind. Is its versatility and affordable price tag enough to make it a compelling option? We find out, in this in-depth look at the Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox Tiny!
The ThinkCentre Chromebox Tiny obviously gets its name from its small form factor, with its dimensions of 7 x 7.2 x 1.4 inches, and weight of 1 kg, making this portable device ideal for use in environments like home entertainment systems. The device comes with several rubber feet on the bottom for horizontal use, but there is also a stand included in the box to prop up the PC in a vertical orientation.
This Chromebox can easily be used with any monitor or TV you may have available, as it supports both DisplayPort and HDMI out connections. You also have the ability to convert the Chromebox Tiny into a 23-inch all-in-one, by pairing the device with Lenovo’s Thinkvision monitor which comes with a slot on the back to house the Chromebox, allowing for what Lenovo calls a “space saving transformation.” While this feature may not be particularly necessary if you’re looking to pick up this device for personal use, the ability to easily and quickly remove the device from the monitor to facilitate upgrades and servicing makes a lot of sense when it comes to educational institutions and businesses.
The Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox Tiny is available in two models, the 10H5 and the 10H3. The former is the less powerful of the two, with it packing a dual-core Intel Celeron 3205U processor under the hood, clocked at 1.5 GHz. The 10H3 is the more expensive option and features an Intel Core i3 5005U processor, clocked at 2 GHz. Also contributing to the price point is the fact that either model can be picked with 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM.
This particular review unit is the top-end 10H3 model with 4 GB of RAM, and performance has been excellent. Of course, Chrome OS is a relatively conservative operating system and doesn’t need to pack a lot of power, so the other iterations of the Chromebox Tiny should allow for a smooth performance as well. 4 GB of RAM is definitely recommended though, especially if you are someone who likes to have a lot of Chrome tabs open at once.
The Chromebox Tiny comes with four USB 3.0 ports, an audio jack, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, an Ethernet port, and built-in Wi-Fi support. There is an antenna that is included in the box to boost the Wi-Fi signal, which made a significant difference to the signal strength, and proved to be a very welcome addition. If you do decide to go the AIO route, Lenovo has designed their Thinkvision monitors to accommodate the attached antenna as well. There is no speaker available, so you will either need a monitor with speakers or use the audio jack to connect your own set. You also get only 16 GB of on-board storage, but given the cloud-centric nature of Chrome OS, the 100 GB of free Google Drive cloud storage is the one that will be more useful.
The Chromebox Tiny does come with Bluetooth 4.0 support, but there were some issues when using a Logitech Ultrathin Touch mouse and an Apple Wireless Keyboard. The mouse cursor would occasionally flicker, but what was far more alarming was when the computer would start entering a keystroke repeatedly, which became very frustrating very quickly. Further, the devices would randomly disconnect and refuse to pair again, requiring a reboot to use any Bluetooth devices again.
Switching to the included wired keyboard and continuing to use just the mouse didn’t resolve the problem, and finally, the only solution was to turn off Bluetooth and depend on the included wired keyboard and mouse. Luckily, the included mouse and keyboard are pretty good, with the keys of the keyboard providing a good amount of tactile feedback, while also featuring Chrome OS exclusive shortcuts. I would have still preferred to use wireless accessories though, and hopefully Google and Lenovo will have a solution in a future software update.
Running Chrome OS, the Chromebox Tiny provides a very basic software experience, ideal for those who are comfortable with exclusively using cloud services. Chrome OS is otherwise very easy to use, and offers only what is essential.
Turning on the Chromebox is when you immediately get its penchant for simplicity, with the device showing a Chrome OS logo for a few seconds, before directly taking you to the login screen. Logging in shows you the minimalistic Chrome OS interface, with basically just a search button in the left corner next to pinned applications, with status information seen in the right corner. There is no desktop where you can place shortcuts or files, and is actually just a wallpaper of your choice.
The search button will pull up Google, where you can search the web, launch specific apps, or use Google Now. The primary app that will used is the Google Chrome browser, which works exactly like it would on Windows or OS X. You can install apps and extensions from the Chrome Web Store, and also quickly switch between these installed apps by using the past view shortcut on the keyboard. Clicking on the time in the bottom right corner gives you access to a system menu with options to sign out or power off, connect to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, adjust the volume, or access the full settings app. There is also a help link in that menu which includes a lot of very useful resources to help answer any questions.
Chrome OS is a very spartan take on the traditional PC software experience, and will definitely take some getting used to. Fortunately, the learning curve isn’t as steep as one might expect at first glance. Just keep in mind there isn’t any powerful photo editing and video tools, developer tools, or if you’re looking for some form of local file management, so if that is what you require, Chrome OS is not going to be a good fit. If your primary usage is online however, you do have Google Drive and other features that you can take advantage of.
Pricing and final thoughts
As mentioned, there are multiple variants of the Chromebox Tiny, with the base model starting at $205, all the way up to around $340 for the top end version with the Intel Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM.
So there you have it for this in-depth look at the Lenovo ThinkCentre Chromebox Tiny! While Chrome OS may not be for everyone, this device offers good value for not only educational institutions and businesses, but also home users who are not dependent on Windows or OS X applications, and are looking for a simplified experience. There are some issues with Bluetooth connectivity though, that will hopefully be resolved soon. While this Chromebox will not replace the traditional PC experience you may be used to, it is small and portable, offers excellent performance, and features a smooth and simple software experience, which is more than enough for some people.