In depth: Meet Lenovo's new dual-mode touchscreen Chromebook

Lenovo Chromebook

Chromebooks are coming out like hotcakes these days -- and while all the choice is obviously a great thing for us as consumers, it's also creating a weird type of problem:

The options are all kinda the same.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, I realize. But lately, we've seen a lot of new Chromebooks that don't offer much meaningfully different from the ones already out there. Same internals, same ho-hum displays, same basic build quality. With a lot of these laptops, there's just not much that sets 'em apart.

Well, gang, get ready: Lenovo's new N20p Chromebook is anything but ordinary.

The Lenovo N20p Chromebook, officially announced this morning, has a touchscreen that can rotate 300 degrees into a backwards-facing "stand" mode. The idea is to give you the ability to tilt the system into a more slate-like setup -- a slate with a stand attached to its back, that is.

Lenovo N20p Touchscreen Chromebook

That might explain why Google's been stepping up its efforts to develop a virtual on-screen keyboard for Chrome OS. While that isn't something you'd ever really need on a more traditional touchscreen Chromebook like the Pixel, once you flip things around and put the keyboard out of reach, an on-screen option suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Chromebook Virtual Keyboard

Touch and tiltability aside, the N20p's display is pretty standard for a low-priced Chromebook, at 11.6-in. and 1366 x 768 resolution. Nothing too noteworthy there.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook (2)

The N20p Chromebook runs on an Intel Bay Trail Celeron N2830 processor -- a different model than the Haswell-based Celeron 2955U chip that powers most of the recent Chrome OS devices, but how much that evolution actually matters is yet to be seen. Lenovo tells me the system that'll sell in the U.S. will include 2GB of RAM. (The company's press materials mention a 4GB version as well, but it's not yet clear where or when such a model might launch or how much it'd cost.)

In my experience, 2GB of RAM is usually enough to make a Chrome OS system usable and responsive, but all things equal, it does tend to make for a noticeably less snappy setup than what you get with 4GB in place -- especially if you get into much heavy-duty multitasking. But we'll see; particularly with that new type of processor under its hood, I won't be able to reach any real conclusions about the N20p's performance until I've had a chance to use it for a while in the real world.

The N20p Chromebook includes 16GB of eMMC-based internal storage. There's also a two-in-one SD/MMC card reader so you can access external media and add additional space.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook (3)

A few final odds and ends: The N20p Chromebook measures 11.6 x 8.34 x 0.70 in. and weighs 3.1 lbs. It has two USB ports -- one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 -- along with an HDMI-out port. And it's listed for "up to eight hours" of battery life. All in all, a pretty intriguing package.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook (4)

Most intriguing may be the price: Lenovo's N20p Chromebook is set to go on sale in August for $329. There'll also be a more standard version without the touchscreen and the 300-degree display rotation, the N20 (no "p") Chromebook, which'll sell for $279 starting in July. Aside from the touch and tilt functions, I'm told the two models are identical.

It's also worth noting that Lenovo has another touchscreen Chromebook on the horizon as well -- one with full 360-degree display rotation. The ThinkPad Yoga 11e is expected to go on sale next month for $429.

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You can bet I'll be spending some quality time getting to know the new systems once we're closer to their launch dates. Between these devices, the upcoming (but delayed) Samsung Chromebook 2, and the various Chrome OS options already out there, this summer's shaping up to be a fine time for those of us with our heads in the cloud.

Get ready for some tricky decisions.

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