Lenovo N20p Chromebook review
It was only a matter of time before a manufacturer did something different with the Chromebook formula. Following in the footsteps of its Flex and Yoga Windows laptops, the Lenovo N20p Chromebook tweaks the recipe by throwing in an 11.6in touchscreen and a hinge that allows the display to fold through 300 degrees.
Lenovo N20p Chromebook: bending backwards
The N20p isn’t quite as flexible as Lenovo’s Yoga range, so sadly there’s no tablet mode, but similar to Lenovo’s Flex family, the N20p’s design enables the laptop to be used in what Lenovo calls “stand mode”. This sees the display swivel backwards through 300 degrees with the keyboard planted face down on the desk.
It might not sound especially useful, but there are plenty of occasions where it’s handy. For instance, it’s great for watching movies in cramped conditions, such as on a train or aeroplane table, where a normal laptop design would make it difficult to the get the display at a comfortable angle.
It’s a good-looking device by Chromebook standards. The flexible hinge adds a little bulk to the rear, but Lenovo has still managed to put together a slim, portable package – at 1.4kg and 18.5mm thick, the N20p isn’t especially chunky. The build quality could be better, however, since there’s noticeable flex in the N20p’s body when you pick it up – but for a £199 Chromebook, it looks impressive. The silvery-grey plastics curl neatly around the laptop’s edges, lending the laptop a look reminiscent of Lenovo’s pricier Yoga models, and the wedge-shaped design is striking.
Lenovo N20p Chromebook: specifications and performance
Lenovo has packed the N20p with a superb array of features and core hardware – you couldn’t ask for more. Wireless connectivity includes both superfast 802.11ac and energy-efficient Bluetooth 4, while physical connections include one USB 2 and one USB 3 port, an SD card reader, and a micro-HDMI output. Only the webcam is a little disappointing: the over-eager noise reduction leaves images starved of detail and looking like the lens has been smeared with Vaseline.
Meanwhile, the 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2830, 16GB of storage and generous 4GB of RAM are a solid combination and provide enough power for the lightweight demands of Chrome OS. It’s no speed demon, mind. Since the Celeron processor uses a dual-core Bay Trail-M architecture, it’s a little slower than rival Chromebooks that use the Haswell-based Celeron 2955U chip, such as the Toshiba Chromebook 13.3in or the Acer Aspire C720. Battery life is good, however, and with the screen calibrated to a brightness of 120cd/m2 and with Wi-Fi turned off, the N20p lasted 7hrs 8mins in our 720p movie-playback test.
In general use we didn’t notice too much in the way of juddering or slowdown. There’s a little keyboard lag now and again, but it wasn’t until we started thrashing the Lenovo’s GPU with the WebGL Cubes by AlteredQualia test (http://alteredqualia.com/three/examples/webgl_cubes.html) that it really started to struggle. In this demanding test, the Lenovo chugged to an average frame rate of 9fps, and the strain left the system struggling to respond to keyboard input.
Still, performance in other benchmarks is respectable: the N20p completed the SunSpider test in 674ms and achieved a score of 1,593 in Peacekeeper.
Lenovo N20p Chromebook: keyboard and display
Sadly, the Lenovo’s middling build quality does impact upon usability. The keyboard looks identical to every other Chromebook, but there’s some flex in the keyboard panel, and the short-travel keys lack feel and responsiveness. The spacious layout minimises serious issues, but we’ve certainly typed on better. The buttonless touchpad works just fine, however, depressing with a solid, muffled click and responding reliably to two-fingered scrolling gestures.
Flip the N20p around into stand mode and you’ll need to rely on Chrome OS’s onscreen keyboard. This takes a few seconds to fire up the first time you use it, but it works well enough to make light work of typing in web searches and the like – thankfully, Lenovo has dotted rubber feet around the N20p’s keyboard to stop it sliding around while you’re prodding the touchscreen. The Lenovo’s 11.6in touchscreen functions work without fuss, and there are no issues with responsiveness or lag. Sadly, though, the TN panel serves up distinctly mediocre image quality.
The narrow vertical viewing angles are the most obvious flaw, requiring the display to be positioned just so to stop images darkening or washing out completely. Brightness hits a usable 210cd/m2, but contrast peaks at an unimpressive 298:1; colour accuracy is poor, too, with images lacking in vibrancy and tainted with a bluish cast. Even by the low standards of rival Chromebooks, it’s nothing to get excited about.
Lenovo N20p Chromebook: verdict
In all fairness to the N20p, there aren’t many Chromebooks with genuinely good displays – the only model we’ve tested with a quality IPS display is the HP Chromebook 11, and that isn’t as fast as this machine.
With that in mind, there are reasons to warm to the Lenovo. The design is attractive, the flexible hinge and responsive touchscreen are a great pairing, and the array of features and connectivity is excellent. Sadly, though, the middling keyboard and iffy display mean that we’d have to think long and hard about choosing it over the HP Chromebook 11; with a few tweaks, though, it could have been a real contender.