Hands on: Lenovo's dual-mode Chromebook is decidedly different

Sometimes, hearing about new Chromebooks feels a little like déjà vu.

You know what I'm talking about, right? We're reaching the point where there are so many Chrome OS options that it's getting hard to keep 'em all straight. Choice is a good thing, of course, but too many of the current contenders suffer from Yet Another Chromebook Syndrome: They're fine but forgettable, with nothing particularly remarkable that makes them stand out from the pack.

(Side note: That syndrome sure sounds familiar...)

That's why I've been especially excited to get my hands on Lenovo's two latest offerings, as they each bring something new and noteworthy to the table. The first is the $300 Lenovo N20p Chromebook, which delivers an unusual dual-mode touchscreen configuration.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook Hands On

I'm in the midst of living with the Lenovo N20p Chromebook and getting to know it inside and out. I'll have a full review to share with you soon, but in the meantime, here are some scattered initial impressions after my first day with the device:

• The build quality on this thing is surprisingly decent. It's still plastic, like most Chromebooks in its class, but it feels sturdy and well-constructed.

• Even though it's the typical low-end 1366-x-768 TN panel, the N20p's display actually looks pretty good, relatively speaking. It's glossy and not half-bad on the eyes -- especially compared to some of the grainy-looking alternatives on other similarly priced systems.

• The N20's tilting capability really is quite cool. The screen rotates back a full 300 degrees, converting the Chromebook into a "stand" mode in which the keyboard faces downward and serves as a base.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook Hands On

The physical keyboard is automatically disabled when you get into that mode, so you don't have to worry about accidental key presses. Instead, what you get is a slate-like experience, complete with a virtual on-screen keyboard when you need it.

We've seen touch-enabled Chromebooks before, both on the low end and the high end of the spectrum, but having a device that converts into a stand-supported slate is a fresh and interesting idea. I could see it being useful when you want to do something less input-oriented and more browsing-based -- reading articles that you've saved, scrolling through social media, or watching videos on the couch -- and want the screen propped up in front of you with nothing else in the way.

And that's all just scratching the surface: I'll have much more to share on the Lenovo N20p Chromebook soon, including detailed thoughts on the display, the keyboard and trackpad, and the system's performance (remember, this device uses an Intel Bay Trail chip as opposed to the Haswell-based processors we've seen on most recent Chromebooks). 

I'll also be looking at the N20p's cousin -- the higher-end and fully convertible Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook -- along with the newly announced Acer Chromebook 13 in the days and weeks ahead.

Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon, gang. Get ready for some delightfully difficult decisions.


Lenovo N20p Chromebook review: An affordable dual-mode device

Hands on: The ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook could be the one

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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