Some Chromebooks released this year will be able to run Android apps from the Google Play Store. Lenovo has tuned its new N23 Yoga Chromebook 2-in-1 to effectively run Android mobile apps.
PC makers are taking a page from smartphones and tablets and adding touchscreens to Chromebooks. Many new models can be interchangeably used as laptops or tablets.
More Chromebooks are also getting ARM processors -- which dominate in smartphones and tablets -- to effectively run Android apps. Most Chromebooks today have Intel x86 chips, which dominate in PCs, but Android apps best run on ARM processors.
Lenovo, for the first time, is using an ARM chip in the N23 Yoga Chromebook 2-in-1, breaking its long-time reliance on x86 chips. The device has an 11.6-inch touchscreen, and it can be used as a tablet or laptop thanks to a hybrid design.
The N23 Yoga is "optimized to run the Google Play Store apps," Lenovo said in a blog entry.
The device will start shipping in April, with the price starting at US$279. It will first ship in the U.S. and then worldwide.
In addition to Lenovo, Samsung and Acer have also plugged ARM chips into 2-in-1 Chromebooks designed to support Android apps. Samsung at CES announced new Chromebook Plus, which uses an ARM-based homegrown six-core Exynos chip, and Acer last year announced its Chromebook R13, which uses another ARM chip, the MediaTek's MT8173c chip.
Chromebooks can deliver a better mobile experience with Android application compatibility, so using ARM processors makes sense, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
Chromebooks with Intel chips will be able to run Android apps, but they come from a PC background. ARM chips have a mobile heritage, and that is why Lenovo may have put the MediaTek chip in the N23 Yoga, McGregor said.
The N23 Yoga has serious horsepower with the MediaTek chip, which is based on ARM's latest Cortex-A72 core. The MT8173c chip was originally designed for smartphones and tablets, and it has an integrated PowerVR graphics core, which can handle 3D gaming and high-definition video.
The device offers 10 hours of battery life, weighs 1.35 kilograms and has up to 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The screen displays images at a 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. It also has HDMI, USB Type-C, and USB 3.0 ports.
But Lenovo hasn't entirely ignored Intel. It separately announced an N23 Chromebook with Intel's "next-generation" Celeron chip, which may be the processor code-named Apollo Lake. It's a standard laptop with an 11.6-inch 720p screen. It also has two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a 2-in-1 card reader. It will be available next month starting at $199.
The PC maker also announced the rugged ThinkPad Chromebook 11e family of rugged laptops with Intel's latest quad-core Celeron chip. The Chromebook Yoga 11e has a 2-in-1 hybrid design, while the ThinkPad Chromebook 11e has a standard laptop design. The devices have up to 32GB of storage and up to 8GB of RAM. The devices have USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 slot, and offer 10 hours of battery life.
The ThinkPad 11e Chromebook will start at $369, while the ThinkPad 11e Yoga Chromebook will start at $449, and both will ship in May.