It’s hard to believe but many schools are already planning their technology budgets for the next school year. Even crazier, many institutions are still holding out for new Chromebooks after a massive supply shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As quickly as many manufacturers could get new laptops imported, they were snatched up by schools and businesses that needed to bolster fleets for remote working and virtual learning. Despite the ongoing hardware shortage, it appears that things are loosening up and we now have our hands on our first educational Chromebook powered by Intel’s latest Jasper Lake small core CPUs.
CTL was kind enough to send over its latest rugged Chromebook and I’ve spent a little time with the 11.6″ clamshell so it’s time to take a closer look and see exactly what this drop-tested device has to offer. This won’t be a full review as the model I have is a pre-production unit and I want to make sure I give it a fair shake. Pre-production models often lack the fit and finish of a retail unit and it wouldn’t be fair to place judgment based solely on a developmental product. Instead, we’re going to take a look at what the new CTL Chromebook has to offer and what I think will be the pros and cons of buying this particular device. First, let’s take a look at what the CTL Chromebook NL72 brings to the table.
CTL Chromebook NL72 non-touch
- Chrome OS
- Inter Japser Lake dual-core N4500 CPU
- 4GB LPDDR4x RAM
- 1366 x 768 non-touch display @ 220 nits
- 32 GB eMMC storage
- Rotating web cam
- Integrated carrying handle
- 2 x USB 3.0 (type A) Gen 1
- 2 x USB-C Gen 1 with PD(power delivery)
- MicroSD reader
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Android and Linux app ready
- P41 rated body, drop-tested up to 70cm
- 2.85 lbs
- 11.6 x 8.1 x 0.74 in.
- AUE date June 2029
Okay. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig into this device. My initial thought when I took the NL72 out of the box was “wow, this doesn’t feel like most EDU Chromebooks.” What I mean by that is, most EDU devices fall into one of two categories. They are normally cheap and flimsy or as dense as a cinder block. The NL72 seems to avoid both of those pitfalls. While I understand the need for a device that’s built like a tank in the classroom, that shouldn’t mean that wielding your laptop should feel as if you’re moving sheets of plywood. The CTL does offer the ruggedness of a reinforced chassis but it’s sleek enough to carry about in one hand no differently than you would any other device.
When you look at the I/O of the NL72, you’ll find standard fare for a Chromebook but CTL had the wherewithal to offer up two each of the USB-C and USB-A ports. With HDMI quickly making its way to the graveyard, having the extra USB-C port for connectivity is a plus while keeping two USB-A ports is handy for the many peripherals found around the classroom. This may not seem like a monumental triumph but those OEMs that place only one of each port are shooting themselves in the foot. That’s my two cents, anyway. This model also features a MicroSD card slot which, I think, is a must-have for a multi-user device. Having removable storage allows users to move their files on the go and keep the minimal on-device storage freed up. Like most Chromebooks, the NL72 comes with an audio jack and you’ll get a Kensington lock for securing the device when needed. All in all, this Chromebook has the necessary ports to be versatile in the classroom or any other setting. Hat tip.
On the inside, the CTL Chromebook NL72 looks about like any other EDU device. However, if the retail model ships with this keyboard and trackpad, it’s a big win for students. Many EDU devices have mushy keys and even mushier trackpads. The keyboard on this Chromebook is firm with a lot of travel which is great for younger users as it helps them learn better typing habits. The trackpad, while relatively small, has a great click and hardly any play which is more than we can say for a lot of consumer models. It isn’t glass but it also doesn’t seem to get tacky after prolonged use. Again, this is a pre-production model but you can expect this to be the experience in the finished product.
On to the screen. This is where things begin to get a little rough around the edges. Granted, we’ve come to expect mediocre TN panels on EDU Chromebooks but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it. Now, I am presuming that this is a TN panel and not an IPS one based solely on how washed out it gets when you view it off-angle. When you’re using the Chromebook face-on, it’s “good enough” and the 220 nits of brightness isn’t totally off-putting. In a controlled classroom setting, it should be bright enough but I really wish manufactures would start using IPS as the standard. It doesn’t help that this device, like many, folds flat to 100-degrees so that multiple students can view it at once. With the bad angles, that’s going to be a tough use case. Anyway, moving on.
The camera on the NL72 stands out somewhat as many manufacturers have moved to a two-camera setup with a regular 720P webcam and a 2-5MP world-facing camera. This is fairly standard on many convertible EDU devices but the clamshell Chromebooks often get stuck with a stationary webcam above the display. CTL has opted to keep making rotating webcams for the company’s clamshell devices and I think that this is a big win. It allows users the versatility of two cameras on a device that is designed to keep costs down. It’s still a standard 720p camera but at least it’s not a uni-tasker thanks to the 360-degree rotation.
Last but not least, let’s talk performance. The Chromebook NL72 features the entry-level Jasper Lake N4500 CPU but before you tune me out, hear me out. We’ve tested a few of these late-gen devices and the small core CPUs from Intel are everything they’re cracked up to be. This model puts up Octane scores in the 26,000 range and that’s more than enough power to handle most of what students will encounter in the elementary classroom. Matched with 4GB of RAM, you’ll hear no complaints from me in the performance department. I would like to see 64GB of storage become the norm but again, the NL72 has a MicroSD card slot so you can take your homework with you when you’re done.
That about wraps things up. The CTL Chromebook NL72 is a solid laptop with many redeeming features but it doesn’t come without some sacrifices. Like many EDU devices, the screen isn’t great but it features a good variety of ports, a great keyboard and trackpad, and enough power to handle the average classroom. The best part about this Chromebook? The price. Comparable Chromebooks in the EDU space are going for nearly $400 and they don’t have that nifty rotating camera. The CTL Chromebook NL72 is currently up for pre-order and early shoppers can get it for the discounted price of $289. That’s some significant savings that could equate to stretching your school’s budget even further than you’d hoped. You can find the CTL Chromebook NL72 and CTL’s entire line of Chrome OS devices at the link below.