The N20p, Lenovo's least expensive foray into the Chromebook category, features a component not often seen on notebooks in this price range: a touch screen. Plus, the 11-inch display on this Intel Celeron-powered ultraportable can rotate a Yoga-like 300 degrees, making it easier to watch movies in cramped spaces. But at $330 -- $30 more than most other Chromebooks -- are these features worth the price?
The Lenovo N20p is a sleek, 11.6-inch notebook finished with gunmetal gray paint on top of a plastic chassis. The lid features a silver Lenovo logo on the left complemented by the rainbow Chromebook logo on the right. Opening the lid reveals a 1366 x 768 glossy touch screen surrounded by a 3/4-inch glossy black plastic bezel. The palmrest and keyboard are also black, but matte instead of glossy.
Click to EnlargeThe big hinges at the bottom of the display hint at the N20p's party trick, the ability to rotate its screen 300 degrees into a tentlike presentation mode. This makes the N20p good for watching movies in bed, although the screen suffers from some usability issues due to less than stellar viewing angles.
At 11.6 x 8.34 x 0.70 inches and weighing 2.8 pounds, the Lenovo N20p fits in between the svelte, $279 Dell Chromebook 11 (11.6 x 7.9 x 0.91 inches and 2.6 pounds) and the larger, $300 Acer Chromebook 13 (12.87 x 8.96 x 0.71 and 3.1 pounds).
Click to EnlargeThe 1366 x 768, 11.6-inch screen on the N20p is one of the weaker components on the laptop, as the display suffers from poor accuracy, color reproduction and viewing angles. Tilting the screen forward or backward just 20 degrees can cause images on the screen to wash out or become unusually dark.
Brightness on the Lenovo N20p is a touch on the low side, measuring 194 nits on our lightmeter. This was below the Acer Chromebook 13's showing of 222 nits and the category average of 252 nits, but higher than the Dell Chromebook 11's mark of 180 nits.
In terms of color reproduction, the N20p is able to recreate 59.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum, barely better than the Acer Chromebook 13's result of 58.1 percent, but slightly worse than the Dell Chromebook 11's score of 60.5 percent and below the ultraportable average of 65 percent.
Color accuracy was also a problem, with the N20p registering a Delta-E of 10.1 (closer to zero is better). This is better than the Acer Chromebook 13's score of 11.4 and the Dell Chromebook 11's mark of 11.7, but worse than the ultraportable average of 7.9. When I watched the trailer for Fury, the already drab colors of WWII Europe looked even more muted than I expected.
The display is touch enabled, which while interesting on paper, also seems like an extraneous feature. While response from the touch screen is crisp, Chrome OS is not designed properly for a touch-based experience, and is even worse than Windows 8.1 for finger-based control. The Chrome browser is especially difficult to navigate, with its small dialog boxes and menus, and closing a tab by hitting the tiny X can be an exercise in futility, especially if you have a lot of tabs open.
Another issue with the Lenovo N20p is its poor audio. The N20p produced 86 decibels of volume when measured from 13 inches away. This is better than the ultraportable average of 83, but less than the Acer Chromebook 13's showing of 91 dB and the Dell Chromebook 11's mark of 94 dB.
The bigger issue is with the distorted audio that crackles when playing highs and lows. I also noticed, when I listened to Kiesza's "Hideaway," that the music sounded tinny and bass was weak and undefined.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe N20p comes equipped with Lenovo's familiar scallop-shaped Accutype keys. Actuation force is fairly standard, at 55 grams, while key travel is on the short side, at just 1.2mm (1.5 to 2mm is typical). Even for someone like me, who prefers a good chiclet-style keyboard, typing feels a little unresponsive due to the short throw and dead feeling at the bottom of the keystroke. The numbness didn't stop me from hitting my average of 75 words per minute using 10fastfingers.com, although it did take noticeably longer than normal before I felt fully comfortable with the keyboard.
While the 4 x 2.17-inch touchpad can sometimes feel crowded due to the cramped nature of an 11-inch notebook, mouse movements and gestures such as two-finger scrolling were crisp and responsive.
MORE: Best Chromebooks 2014
Ports and Webcam
Click to EnlargeThe left side of the N20p features a power jack, USB 3.0 port, mini HDMI and headphone jack. On the right is a lone USB 2.0 port, small power button and SD Card slot.
Using the built-in Camera app, 1280 x 720 photos came out blurry and smudged, and even in our moderately lit office, pictures were darker than what I would have preferred. Video chats using Google Hangouts looked a little better, and users on the other end had no problem making out my face.
Click to EnlargeThe user interface of Chrome OS is not far off from Windows. The Rubik's Cube-like button in the lower left opens a pseudo Start menu, calling up a list of all currently installed apps, while settings can be accessed from the system tray in the bottom right. Commonly used apps such as Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube are pinned to the taskbar along the bottom, and users can add and remove apps as they please.
Logging in to your Google account will automatically sync settings from previous Chrome sessions and will provide notifications for the myriad of Google services, like Hangouts and weather. A nice bonus is that every new Chromebook comes with 100 GB of Google Drive storage and two months of Google Play Music.
Click to EnlargeChromeOSApps.org claims there are over 30,000 different apps available for the browser-based platform, but unfortunately not all of them are fully supported. The front page of the Chrome Webstore feels dated, littered with helpful tools such as Dropbox and Evernote, but not much else. Even the games are old, listing Bejeweled and the original Plants vs. Zombies as the most popular games.
When you're using the N20p without an Internet connection, you really feel the limitations of the Chrome OS. You can still create and edit documents with Google Docs, play music and watch movies, but file management is more difficult than on Windows or OS X.
On the Chrome Webstore, there are over 500 offline apps, but fewer than 50 apps are made specifically for offline use with Chrome OS. Just don't forget to enable offline mode ahead of time; otherwise, you will be stranded without the additional features needed to make some apps work without a connection.
Click to EnlargeLenovo equips the N20p Chromebook with a 2.16 GHz Intel Celeron N2830 CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 16 GB solid-state drive. With Chrome OS' lightweight nature, this makes the N20p feel spritely during everyday tasks like checking email and browsing the Web. Even with upwards of 10 tabs open in Chrome, including two 720p YouTube videos, there was only the slightest hint of slowdown. I especially loved the 10-second startup time, which makes the N20p a cinch to use on the go.
The only time I noticed poor performance was when playing the Chrome version of Bastion, which suffered from frequent frames-per-second (fps) lag.
On the Peacekeeper browser performance test, the N20p scored 1,521, better than the Acer Chromebook 13's mark of 1,244 (Nvidia Tegra K1 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16 GB SSD) but worse than the Dell Chromebook 11's score of 2,969 (1.4 GHz Intel Celeron 2955U CPU, 4GB of RAM and 16 GB SSD).
To test graphics performance, we loaded WebGL cubes, which renders 150,000 rotating cubes lit from three different sources. The Lenovo N20p only managed 12 fps (more fps is better), which was behind the Tegra K1-powered Acer Chromebook 13 (20 fps) and way behind the Intel Core-i3 Acer C720 Chromebook (40 fps).
One of the main draws of the Chromebook platform is the promise of longer battery life. With the notebook's 34.8-Wh battery, the Lenovo N20p lasted 8 hours and 50 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits). This is better than the category average of 8:15, and longer than competitors such as the Acer Chromebook 13 (8:08), but shorter than the power-frugal Dell Chromebook 11 (14:37)
Our review N20p costs $330, and comes with a 2.16-GHz Intel N2830 Celeron CPU, an 11.6-inch and 1366 x 768 display, 2GB of DDR3 memory, and a 16 GB SSD. A $350 model has a faster, 1.83-GHz Intel N2930 CPU.
Click to EnlargeThe N20p delivers on its mission to provide speedy everyday computing at an affordable price. However, its touch screen seems like an unnecessary expense for an operating system that is even less adept at finger-based navigation than is Windows. For $30 less, the Dell Chromebook 11 offers better performance and battery life, while the Acer Chromebook 13 gets you a larger, 1080p display. Overall, the N20p isn't a bad Chromebook, but it isn't the best deal among these budget systems.