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The recently reviewed Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook received high marks from us for its sturdy hybrid design and for pairing a touchscreen with Google's Chrome OS. But, that was a laptop intended for educational use. Built to withstand the rigors of the classroom, it was just too heavy and bulky for casual everyday commuting (and much more expensive than other Chromebooks).
The Lenovo N20p is a consumer-friendly alternative, and Lenovo's first Chrome OS not aimed at either business or education buyers. It's a slim, lightweight ultraportable laptop that takes the central idea of a Chromebook -- a low-cost, simple clamshell for online use -- and adds better keyboard and touchpad than Chromebook users may be used to.
At $330 for a configuration with an Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD, the N20p is still more expensive than many other Chromebooks, which usually run $250 to $300. For that extra investment, you get a touchscreen, still a rare feature for Chromebooks, and a hinge that's less flexible than Lenovo's Yoga line, but more so than a standard laptop.
The system will be coming to the UK as well, and is listed on Lenovo's UK site, but without price or availability information, but converted pricing would be about £200. As for Australia, no price or release information was available, but converted pricing would be about AU$370.
Much like the Windows laptop line Lenovo calls IdeaPad Flex, the hinge on the N20p folds back past 180 degrees. Unlike fold-back hybrids, it doesn't go all the way back a full 360 degrees, allowing you to use it as a tablet. Instead, like the Flex, it stops, somewhat abruptly, at 300 degrees. That allows you to fold the screen back for use in what we call a kiosk mode, with the screen facing out and the base, keyboard facing down, as a kind of kickstand. It's marginally useful, more so if you're playing videos or presenting PowerPoint presentations, but unlike the Yoga hinge, it's probably not a system-selling feature.
Despite the trick hinge that might not get much use, the N20p is one of the better Chromebooks we've tested. The body is well-made and slim, the keyboard and touchpad are excellent for a budget-priced ultraportable, and the touchscreen, while not as useful in Chrome OS as in Windows 8, is still an occasionally handy extra. Yes, you could pay less for a Chromebook, but you'll be getting less, too.
Lenovo N20p Chromebook
HP Pavilion Chromebook 14
Acer Chromebook 13
Price as reviewed
11-inch, 1,366x768 touchscreen
14-inch, 1,366x768 screen
13-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen
2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2830
1.10GHz Intel Celeron 847
Nvidia Tegra K1 (armV7)
PC Memory/HD amount
2GB RAM/16GB SSD
4GB RAM/16GB SSD
2GB RAM/16GB SSD
Design and features
For a laptop intended to grab the eye of the consumer (compared to Lenovo's better-known conservative business systems), the N20p isn't exactly flashy. A matte black interior is connected via a chunky central hinge to a lid covered with dull grey and a small Google Chrome logo on one side, and edge-to-edge glass over an 11-inch display and wide bezel on the other.
Like many ultraportable laptops, the chassis tapers towards the front, helping it feel thinner than it actually is. The N20p is 0.7 inches (1.8cm) thick and weighs 2.8 pounds (1.3kg), versus 0.87 inches (2.2cm) thick and 3.1 pounds (1.4kg) for the Yoga 11e. That may not seem like much, but in the hand, there's a real difference between the two, and it's obvious which one would be a better daily travel companion in your shoulder bag (unless you're especially accident-prone, in which case consider the tank-like Yoga 11e).
If you're considering a Chromebook, you should also be aware of what a Chromebook does, and what it doesn't. This is essentially an online-only operating system that gives you access to many Web services via the Chrome browser, but little more. There are a handful of offline tools for photo and file management, but no ability to download, install, or run traditional Windows .exe files. We've written extensively about the advantages and compromises of using a Chrome OS computer, and it's best suited as a secondary PC for those who are comfortable using online tools such as Google Drive, Gmail or other webmail services, Pixlr for photo editing, or Netflix and Hulu for video streaming.
The keyboard on the N20p closely follows the style in more-expensive Lenovo laptops, with slightly curved bottom edges on keys for great typing accuracy, and the large touch pad is something the Chrome OS could really benefit from. The pad is wider than most, almost letterboxed, which leaves you less room for vertical scrolling, but I still found both two-finger swiping for scrolling down webpages and two-finger tapping for a right-click command worked well.