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Lenovo offers Chrome OS ThinkPad for well-heeled schools

Toughens up laptops for schoolyard survival

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Google has won over another convert to the Chrome OS cause, signing up Lenovo to sell a ThinkPad X131e Chromebook into the education market – albeit at a very high price.

The new Chromebook uses an unspecified Intel chipset and has Wi-Fi, HDMI and VGA, three USB ports, and a 1366x768 HD LED anti-glare screen. Lenovo says its six-cell battery can get through a full school day and the entire thing weighs in at 3.92lbs (1.78kg). All this comes at a price, however: $429 for the base spec unit, and then only in volume orders from educational institutions.

Lenovo makes much of the X131e's toughness as a selling point. The laptop has strengthened corners, a thickish rubberized top cover, and reinforced hinges designed to last at least 50,000 cycles. The company says field tests have shown the units can put up with a lot of knocks.

"The ThinkPad X131e has proven to be very successful in education environments," said Jerry Paradise, director of product marketing for the ThinkPad product group. "With the rugged features we added to the X131e, we've seen reduced failure rates in the field. This is a huge benefit to schools and students."

But $429 is more than double the cost of the current cheapest Chromebook from Acer, and almost $200 more than the popular Samsung model. At a time when US educational budgets are stretched thin, this is going to be a hard sell for administrators, especially when you add in optional extras like custom casings or "asset tagging services."

Google has been devoting considerable effort to pushing Chrome OS in the education market, and the Chrome Store has a decent selection of applications for the sector. But Google's selling it on the administration angle – the systems can be locked down, swapped, and reset very easily.

"Chromebooks are in use today by more than one-thousand K-12 schools, and they make an ideal one-to-one device because they're more cost effective, easier to manage and maintain than traditional laptops or tablets," said Caesar Sengupta, director of product management for Chrome OS.

Whether that's enough to sell a school board on the pricy Lenovo machines is another matter, but the Chromebooks are proving popular in a limited way, selling well on Amazon. But at $429, the ThinkPad X131e may need more than toughness and Chrome OS to sell. ®

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