Lenovo's ThinkPad lineup has been one of the best and best-known series of Windows computers over the last two decades, but it looks like Lenovo's expanding the brand: the company has just released the ThinkPad X131e Chromebook, its first computer powered by Google's web-based Chrome OS. There's already a Windows-powered X131e, and it looks like Lenovo hasn't changed much besides the operating system. The Chromebook is primarily designed for students, and Lenovo's touting its rugged design (there's a bumper around the edge in case it's dropped, and even the hinges are extra sturdy) as much as its specs. The four-pound, 11.6-inch laptop comes with an Intel processor — Lenovo doesn't specify which, but it's a safe guess to say it won't be a high-powered Core i5 or i7 — plus a 1366 x 768 display, HDMI and VGA ports, a webcam, and a battery that Lenovo says will last "the entire school day," while Google says it's 6.5 hours.
For a while, "the Chromebook" was a single device, from one company that worked with Google to show off what its cloud-based OS could do. Now Lenovo marks the third manufacturer, after Acer and Samsung, to make inexpensive laptops running Google's software. Lenovo's announcement of the laptop cites data about how much easier Chromebooks are to deploy and maintain than Windows machines, and how much more practical the OS is becoming as Google Apps become more prevalent in schools — if that's all true, it could be a significant shot across Microsoft's bow in a key market. The X131e will be available February 26th for $429, plus a $30 one-time support cost, but there's no telling if or when it will be available to non-education customers. Guess it's time to go back to middle school.