Lenovo's Yoga A12 Android 2-in-1 has futuristic touch panel keyboard

The Yoga A12 replaces the hard keyboard with a touch panel one

Lenovo is ditching the hard keyboard for a cool new touch one on its new Yoga A12 2-in-1, which can be an Android tablet or a laptop.

But for those seeking the latest and greatest hardware, there's a disappointment. It runs on an old chip from Intel, which has rolled back its development of Android, raising questions on the frequency of OS updates.

The highlight of Yoga A12 is the versatile touch panel that can be a smartphone-like virtual keyboard. It's a feature adapted from the Yoga Book, which was introduced last year.

The Yoga A12 has a 12.2-inch touchscreen, and a back-lit input touch panel replaces the hard keyboard. Lenovo said the virtual keyboard provides a user experience similar to on-screen ones on smartphones and tablets.

Lenovo is betting that those comfortable with mobile typing will adapt quickly to this touch keyboard. The Android OS also provides a familiar mobile interface.

The Yoga A12 has Android 6.0.1, and will ship in many countries this month starting at US$299.99.

But there are some disappointments. The screen has a resolution of 1200 x 800 pixels, and its components are aging.

It has Intel's Atom X5 tablet processor, code-named Cherry Trail, which the chip maker is now phasing out.

Intel is replacing Atom X5 chips with newer Celeron and Pentium chips code-named Apollo Lake, which are mainly going into Windows tablets and 2-in-1s. Intel in May last year discontinued Atom smartphone chips.

Lenovo had an explanation on why it used Atom X5 in Yoga A12.

"When Intel made its announcements about Atom, the Yoga A12 was already well in development. Intel has nevertheless committed to keeping the Atom X5 in the market to support the Yoga A12 and other products," a spokesperson said in an email.

Lenovo said there's a clear upgrade path from Atom to Apollo Lake processors. That's an indication that Lenovo may use Apollo Lake chips in the successor to Yoga A12.

Most Android devices today are based on ARM chips. Only a handful of Android tablets have Cherry Trail chips, including Lenovo's Yoga Book and Panasonic's ToughPad FZ-A2.

PC makers are also quickly cutting Atom chips from tablets. Dell isn't selling Android tablets with Atom chips, and Microsoft has discontinued Surface 3, which had a Cherry Trail chip.

Lenovo said it plans to upgrade Android 6.0.1 to Android 7.0 in the next couple of months. Yet, there are questions on the frequency of OS upgrades.

Intel -- which was responsible for developing Android updates -- has scaled back development of the OS for mobile devices, and is focusing more on Windows and Chromebooks.

Lenovo may have to take on the development of a custom Android 7.0 for Yoga A12, which could be a challenging task. It could get some help from Intel and the open-source community. Current Atom-based Android mobile devices are mostly stuck at Android 5 or 6, and won't get Android 7.0.

With 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, the Yoga A12 has features similar to that of a Chromebook -- except it is for Android users. But Chromebooks are now getting the ability to run Android applications. In the future, Lenovo plans to bring its virtual keyboard to Chromebooks as well.

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