Lenovo's new N20p Chromebook adds touch and a 300-degree hinge (hands-on)

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/ Updated: May 5, 2014 9:05 PM PDT

Despite being at the forefront of hybrids and touchscreen laptops, Lenovo has been surprisingly slow to climb aboard the Chromebook bandwagon before now. Instead, the company has released only a couple of business or education-targeted Chromebooks, leaving mainstream consumer models to Acer, Samsung and others.

The Lenovo N20p and N20 are the first consumer Chromebooks from Lenovo, announced the same day as Intel and Google's May 2014 press event on the future of Chrome OS. The N20p in particular is a second-gen Chromebook, evolving beyond the basic clamshell of the first wave of Chromebooks.

If there's any doubt that Chromebooks are a big business already, just take a look at any list of best-selling laptops. Two of the three most-popular laptops on Amazon right now are Chromebooks (with the top slot occupied by the Asus T100, a Windows hybrid with a Chromebook-like price).

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The N20p Chromebook in its kiosk mode. Sarah Tew
The N20p and N20 both have 11.6-inch 1,366x768 screens, and are reasonably slim for low-cost laptops, at about 18mm thick. The N20p adds a touch screen, a feature found on only a handful of Chromebooks (such as the Acer C720p and Lenovo's own Thinkpad Yoga 11e), and a hinge similar to the one used on the IdeaPad Flex line. That means the display can fold back up to 300 degrees.

That allows you to flip the screen part-way over and use the system in what we like to call a kiosk mode, with the screen pointing toward the user and the keyboard tray hidden from view. You can also flip the entire assembly upside down and use it in a table tent mode.

Missing from this setup, however, is the full 360-degree hinge found on the Yoga line, including the Chrome OS Chromebook Yoga 11e. Having used both Flex and Yoga systems extensively, I can say that the Flex-style 300-degree hinge always feels half-finished in comparison, and I have yet to discern a reason, aside from creating separate price structures, for the Flex or N20p hinges not to fold all the way back.

That concern aside, in our hands-on time with the N20p and N20, both felt like a distinct step up from the least-expensive Chromebooks, such as Acer C720 line. The keyboard 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.

Having a touch screen on the N20p version certainly makes it more modern-feeling and there are uses for it, but at the same time, Chrome OS is not designed with touch in mind in the same way that Windows 8 is (or Google's other OS, Android). It will be interesting to see how Google or Chromebook makers try and adjust the OS to make better use of touch.

The N20, starting at $279, will be available in July, with the $329 N20p following in August.

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Lenovo N20P Chromebook

Part Number: N20PCHROMEBOOK
Pricing is currently unavailable.