Is Chrome OS the next Windows 8.1? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but Google's Chromebooks have certainly inspired vendors with their low power, high impact approach to computing. Lenovo is next to jump in on the leisure Google laptop trend, but with a twist.
This is the Lenovo N20p Chromebook, a multi-mode Chrome laptop with a 10-point, multi-touch display – the first of its kind, I reckon. Lenovo fans will immediately notice that this Chromebook is essentially a shrunken Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 with a new OS on top.
And Lenovo used that strategy to great effect, crafting one of the sharpest Chromebooks seen yet. However, talk about combining two of the most divisive technologies into a single machine, neither of which seem like much of a fit for Chrome OS. And to think that Lenovo brought even more primo hardware to Google's laptop spec.
Only the coolest for Chrome
Many of the components rattled off for the N20p could be copied and pasted from an earlier Chromebook review. You have the 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 touchscreen, a quad-core Intel Celeron processor, 16GB of eMMC storage, up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 1MP webcam. This is all standard fare for the Chrome OS notebook spec.
But Lenovo spared no expense as far as connectivity is concerned. Not only did the company provide the N20p with Bluetooth 4.0, but with 802.11ac Wi-Fi to match. That could be a bigger deal than it sounds.
Where Acer looks to boost video conferencing and other more intense tasks through the first Core i series-equipped Chromebook, Lenovo hopes to do much of the same through the latest Wi-Fi standard. Honestly, both would be nice, but since Chrome OS relies so deeply on an internet connection, AC networking could give the N20p the edge it needs.
Touchy, yet flexible
And if that doesn't do the trick, it looks like Lenovo in banking on the N20p's touch control and stand mode grabbing your attention. Granted, it's interesting to see folks trying new things with Chrome OS already – this is as good a time for experimentation as any.
But the prospect of touch control on Chrome OS is already dubious. Being a largely browser-based operating system, Chrome isn't exactly tailored to touch. And while the Flex-inspired stand mode will make for some nice bedside Netflix viewing, I really doubt that it will make for much use beyond that.
And the same goes for the improvised tent mode. If there isn't much utility for these use modes on Windows 8, which was developed with touch control and unique form factors in mind, then what good will they do for Chromebooks? Perhaps it's a good thing that the N20p has a touch-less cousin, known simply as the N20.
While I wasn't able to turn the device on at a preview event I attended, the N20p keyboard appeared snappy enough with little flex. The clickpad audibly clicked with a decent amount of force, a key sign of quality in my book.
Don't get me wrong, the Lenovo N20p Chromebook is one of the most gorgeous Google-stamped laptops I've seen yet. Like the Dell Chromebook 11 before it and the Samsung Chromebook 2 to come, Lenovo has clearly applied its eye for style to the Chrome OS notebook.
Plus, with two USB ports (one 3.0), an HDMI port and an SD card reader, this Chromebook is packing quite a lot for $329 (about £195, AU$354). On its face, Lenovo just showed off the first multi-mode, touchscreen Chromebook with 802.11ac networking and USB 3.0 – that alone is impressive.
Here's to seeing whether it all holds up, and lives up to Lenovo's claim of 8 hours of battery life, in a full review.