CTL sticks to the basics with its latest classroom chromebook. The 11.6-inch Chromebook J41 ($219) ditches the whiteboard lid, rotatable webcam, and retractable handle of the CTL NL61TX we reviewed last year in favor of an all-black body with a rubberized coating that’s pleasing to the touch while also helping to avoid slippage. Its rugged chassis should withstand a drop, as well as being casually tossed around at school. The Editors’ Choice Acer Chromebook Spin 11 offers military-grade ruggedness, but costs about twice as much, making a CTL J41 purchase much more reasonable for student and school district budgets alike.
Rugged With an Understated Style
Most low-cost chromebooks use a flimsy, plastic chassis, but not so with the CTL J41. It has a plastic enclosure, but it’s very rigid with none of the keyboard flex that plagues competing models. Even with this added strength, the CTL J41 isn’t heavier than average, weighing in at 2.67 pounds. By comparison with other 11.6-inch models, the Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA and the CTL NL61TX Education Chromebook each weigh 2.75 pounds, and the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook weighs 2.9 pounds. The Acer Chromebook Spin 11, with its MIL-SPEC 810G toughness, tips the scales at 3.09 pounds.
The CTL J41 measures 0.75 by 11.4 by 8.1 inches (HWD), which places it among the thinner chromebooks. With its whiteboard lid, the CTL NL61TX is 0.88 inches thick, the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is 0.8 inches thick, and the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is 0.82 inches thick.
Like Johnny Cash, the CTL J41 comes dressed in all black. The only pop of color on the system is the gray-and-red CTL logo on the bezel below the display and on the corner of the lid, plus the Chrome logo in another corner on the lid. The overall look is understated yet stylish; the system looks like it should cost more than it does. Many sub-$300, education-oriented chromebooks look like a child’s toy, but the CTL J41 looks like a real computer for doing real work. Middle and high school students can carry the CTL J41 through the halls without worrying about their friends making fun of them.
The lid, keyboard tray, and bottom of the chromebook are coated in a soft-touch rubber coating. While it provides a great feel, it’s also an uber-magnet for greasy fingerprint smudges. They wipe off with a soft cloth, but you may want to refrain from snacking on potato chips while banging out homework assignments on the CTL J41.
Rock Solid, if a Bit Stiff
Designed to take abuse from students with its solid build quality, The CTL J41’s rigid chassis not only protects it against bumps and bruises, but also creates an enjoyable typing experience. The keyboard decks on many budget chromebooks flex under your fingertips as you type, but the CTL J41’s deck doesn’t budge. The keys themselves feel springy with good travel. The non-backlit keyboard is water-resistant and channels liquids away from the internal components, which provides peace of mind for students who might need to sip a Red Bull or a Mountain Dew to get through a term paper. We put the CTL J41 to the test with several drops and spills, and it came out unscathed.
The touchpad, too, provides a good feel; its smooth surface allows your finger to swipe and glide without resistance. It recorded our gestures and swipes accurately, but it feels a bit stiff when clicked. It offers too much resistance for thumb clicks to our liking, and we found ourselves using the pointer finger of our left, non-mousing hand to perform clicks.
The system features a non-touch, 11.6-inch IPS display with a 1,366-by-768 resolution. The resolution is standard for the display’s size. The image is fairly crisp but you can see some pixelation as you get close to the screen. It suffices for web browsing and YouTube watching as long as you stay seated and don’t lean in. It offers the wide viewing angles of an IPS display, and CTL outfits it with an anti-glare finish that does an admirable job combatting annoying glare and reflections. And unlike the rest of the soft-touch chassis, the display repels fingerprints, although you won’t be touching the non-touch screen on purpose. Lastly, the display stays firmly rooted in place no matter its angle (it can rotate 180 degrees so its lying flat), thanks to its sturdy hinges. Display wobble isn’t an issue.
You’ll want to keep headphones in your backpack and a Bluetooth speaker within range at home because the CTL J41 produces predictably poor sound. You may be able to sit through some YouTube videos, but music playback is a definite no-go. The system’s tiny stereo speakers fire downward and offer tinny, muddy sound.
The webcam doesn’t rotate like that of the CTL NL61TX, but sits fixed in place like your typical webcam. And like a typical webcam, it produces a somewhat grainy image that washes out easily. It’s adequate for video chats.
There is a useful selection of ports, including both USB Type-A and Type-C. You’ll find a USB Type-C port, a USB 3.0 port, a microSD slot, and a combo audio jack on the left side. On the right, you’ll find the same pair of USB ports along with a Kensington lock slot. What you won’t find is an HDMI port, which means you’ll need a USB-C to HDMI adapter if you want connect to a secondary display.
Good Performance, Great Battery
The CTL J41 features the 1.1GHz (2.4GHz turbo) dual-core Intel Celeron Processor N3350 CPU (from Intel’s Apollo Lake family), 4GB of RAM, integrated Intel HD 5000 graphics, and 32GB of eMMC flash storage. Those are fairly meager specs for a chromebook; pay a bit more and you’ll find options that include a quad-core processor and double the RAM. In fact, CTL will let you customize the J41 with a quad-core Celeron N3450 chip, 8GB of RAM, and a touchscreen display. (The version of our model with a touch display is $249; pricing for the other upgrades has not yet been released.) Despite its basic specs, our J41 review unit feels peppy because Chrome OS doesn’t require much muscle to run smoothly. And great news for busy students; the J41 boasts outstanding battery life. More good news: Like other Chrome OS systems, the J41 nets you a free 100GB of Google Drive space for two years.
Boot time is a lackluster 14 seconds. The older CTL Chromebook J2 booted in 8 seconds and the Core-i3-equipped Dell Chromebook 11 booted in 4 seconds. After it starts up, however, the J41 provides more than acceptable performance. Chromebooks can’t run our usual array of Windows benchmark tests, so to put it to the test, we launched Chrome and opened 15 tabs, including one streaming video on YouTube. The J41’s dual-core Celeron CPU and 4GB of RAM were up to the task. We didn’t notice any slowdown under this multitasking load; the system continued to feel snappy and responsive, and the YouTube video played without skipping, stopping, or buffering.
See How We Test Laptops
In the one test that chromebooks do share with Windows laptops, our video-playback battery rundown, the CTL J41 lasted for an impressive 13 hours and 5 minutes. That’s 35 minutes longer than than the CTL NL61TX and 17 minutes more than the Acer Spin 11, both of which, it should be noted, offer impressive battery life in their own right. The CTL J41 will last all through the school day on a single charge, with enough juice left over for homework well into the evening.
Inexpensive but Smart
CTL spent its money wisely when putting together the J41. It outfits the chromebook with basic specs and a small display but wraps them in a rugged, compact enclosure along with a battery that will run all day. Students and school districts with tight budgets will find the CTL J41 to be a capable performer that will fit the bill for primary or secondary school use. The Editors’ Choice Acer Chromebook Spin 11 offers higher-end features including a touch screen and included stylus, but costs almost twice as much, making the CTL a bargain for students looking for a basic but good-performing chromebook.
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