If you want the power and durability of a ThinkPad with a bit more style and sophistication, look no further than the Lenovo 3000 V200. This 4.4lb ultra-portable notebook sports everything a power user could want, including a luscious 12.1″ widescreen display, Intel’s newest chipset, and a top-shelf dual-core CPU. Throw in biometric security, Wireless N and Bluetooth, and one of the best keyboards we’ve ever touched, and it’s easy to see why it has earned an Editor’s Choice. It’s ultra-portable, ultra-powerful, and downright sexy.
Features and Design
Lenovo is known for its ThinkPad line of notebooks, which are fantastic, but let’s be honest, a bit plain. To remedy this, Lenovo has crafted a new lineup of notebooks that do not share the ThinkPad brand, but include everything we love about them with added color, elegance, and style. Dubbed the 3000 series, they are silver, bare no ThinkPad logos whatsoever, and offer every next-gen component available.
Under the hood
The V200 is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, which is a Core 2 Duo CPU running at 2.2GHz. This model is using the new Intel “Santa Rosa” chipset, which is the fastest mobile chipset available and ups the front side bus speed from previous Intel chipsets from 667MHz to 800MHz.
This model was outfitted with 2GB of PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM, which is the maximum capacity. It’d be nice to have a 4GB max capacity, but in the real world 2GB should be more than enough for quite some time, especially on a machine that is not destined for LAN parties. It should be noted that unlike XP, Vista’s Super Fetch feature will gobble up 1GB of RAM in order to launch applications faster, but that still leaves you with a 1GB for applications, which is more than sufficient.
Ports and connectors
The right-side of the V200 sports an integrated SD card reader, 8X DVD+R/RW/CD-R/RW optical drive, dial-up and Ethernet ports, a USB port, and the power connector.
The right side of the V200
The left side of the notebook features headphone and microphone jacks, a mini-1394 connector, VGA-out, another USB port, and the CPU cooling exhaust. We like the fact that there are USB ports on both the right and left side of the notebook, instead of in the back where they are harder to access.
The left side of the V200
You can order the V200 with either a six-cell or three-cell battery, and since the battery takes up most of the space on the rear of the unit there are no ports. This is fine for an “ultra portable,” since you most likely won’t be attaching it to LAN cables and such as your desk. It’s also nice to have all the ports on the sides since it makes connecting devices much easier. Our test unit came with the upgraded six-cell battery, which can be seen poking out the back of the unit, whereas the three-cell battery is flush with the rear of the notebook.
The left side and back of the V200 (notice the large six-cell battery sticking out)
The Big Screen
A lot of notebook users consider screen size, and quality, to be the most important spec to consider when purchasing a notebook, and we heartily agree. For any laptop to even be considered “portable,” it has to be either 12” or 13,” and then desktop replacements are 15” or larger. In our opinion, we love a high-res 12” display, as it strikes the perfect balance in terms of portability, and visibility. That said, we really like the V200’s 1200×800 widescreen 12.1” display, and think it’s one of the finest notebook displays we’ve ever sampled, in every way. First, since it’s widescreen and has a 16:10 aspect ratio, so it’s not as tall as a 4:3 screen but you get more real estate. Second, it has a glossy sheen, which makes everything look better. We think it’s the perfect blend of size, resolution, and picture quality. To put is simply, the display on the V200 is one of the best, if not the best, we’ve ever seen.
Since this system ships with the fancy new Santa Rosa chipset, aka Intel 965M, it features Intel’s newest onboard graphics, dubbed the GMA X3100. The big deal about this is that Vista requires a semi-beefy videocard to handle its Aero Glass animations and translucent windows, and the X1300 handles it with aplomb. It does not have a dedicated amount of memory, however, and shares system memory depending on what you are running. We found that when we were just running the Aero interface, it would gobble up 150MB or so, with a maximum limit of 358MB.
Prior to purchase, you can select one of two configurations of the V200. One includes a three-cell battery, the other includes a six-cell battery. Sadly, there is no information on Lenovo’s site regarding the actual battery life of either unit, so it’s a guessing game. However, Lenovo sent us some marketing materials with the unit and it says “estimated 4.4 hours.”
We tested battery life by running it at the default half-brightness level, playing music and surfing the web. We performed two runs, netting a time of 4.5 hours on the first run, and 3.5 hours on the second run, for an average of about 4 hours, which is superb. In fact, it even outpaces the battery life of the much more portable X61s we evaluated recently, which has an 8-cell battery!
Given this notebook’s size, weight and battery size, we think the average 4-hour battery life is great, but remember this is with the six-cell battery. Also, the V200 does not sport any battery-saving software like the ThinkPad line of notebooks.
The V200 is offered with Vista Ultimate, end of discussion. Whether it’s worth it or not is hard to say, because for some reason Lenovo shipped us the system with Vista Business installed.
Unlike a ThinkPad, the V200 does not include the little red TrackPoint controller, which is fine by us. We prefer a touchpad, and the V200’s is very good, if a bit small. We found it to be very accurate, and the soft-touch left-and-right click buttons never gave us any hassles either. The touchpad also features the ability to scroll up and down on a page. You just click anywhere on the page, then drag your finger up and down the right-side of the touchpad to move the page. This feature can get in the way sometimes, when you are trying to move the cursor and the whole page moves instead, but we never experienced this issue and think the touchpad works very well in all situations.
The V200 keyboard
Like its ThinkPad brethren, the V200 includes a biometric fingerprint scanner that can be used in a number of ways. You can use it to log into Windows, to resume your session after going into hibernation, or to link it to passwords on sites that require a log-in. However, we found the password manager to be unpredictable. At times it would require us to swipe our finger prior to logging into a site, which is great. If you have a password stored on your Gmail account, for example, and someone steals your computer, they would not be able to log-in using your saved password. However, on other sites it would either not save the password, or not do anything at all when we logged in and logged out. Of course, the fact that you have to use a fingerprint swipe to log-in to Windows sort of negates these issues, but in general we found the password manager to be a bit too unpredictable for our tastes.
Fingerprint manager screenshot
The unit we received for review includes a 120GB 5400rpm hard drive, which is a decent amount of space. It seems fast enough to our hands and eyes, as most applications opened within a second or two. Most of this “speed” is due to Vista’s Ready Boost feature, which tracks which applications you use most frequently and loads their boot files into system memory. And according to the Lenovo website, this system is now shipping with a 160GB drive, which is awesome.
Unlike the ThinkPad line of notebooks, however, the V200 does not ship with hard drive shock protection.
Remember how we said the V200 has the new Intel chipset? One of the other benefits of said chipset is the Intel wireless chip supports A, B, G and the new and yet-to-be-ratified N standard, which offers up to six times more bandwidth than 80211.G. We set up a wireless N network care of a D-Link 660 Limited Edition router, and set it to broadcast at N speeds only. The V200 connected to it and reported the connection speed as 144mbps, as opposed to the 54mbps you get with 80211.G. We decided to perform a basic file transfer speed test to see if N is all that, and it definitely is all that and a bag of chips. Transferring a 253MB file at G speeds took 1:54 seconds. The same transfer at N speeds took just 41 seconds.
Suffice to say, the V200 has the latest and greatest in wireless, including support for Bluetooth. Even if the N spec won’t be ratified for awhile, it’s useful today.
Just like with its Thinkpad notebooks, Lenovo offers the ThinkVantage software suite as a sort of central hub for PC maintenance. You access by either clicking a desktop shortcut, or pressing a key at the top of the keyboard that has a tool chest icon.
You can access these tools via a physical button on the notebook labeled ThinkVantage, or via a desktop shortcut. When you do a menu pops-up on the left-side of the screen and present myriad options, including backup your data, defrag your hard drive, download system updates, find wireless networks, get help, and so forth. Most of the utilities are very helpful, with a few exceptions.
Lenovo Care Screenshot
We found it mostly useful for powering on the wireless radio, which would turn itself off to save battery life from time to time. It’s also useful for downloaded updates to any installed software, including hardware drivers.
Lenovo Updates Screenshot
We also like the wireless network finder, which shows you how far away you are from the access point, how strong the signal is, and whether they are protected or not.
The included backup utility has the same issues we’ve complained about before, and it’s a pattern with Lenovo. All of the software is designed by engineers, for engineers to use, and is not user friendly. For example, if you need to recover individual files from a previous backup, you have to know the exact file location, or if you know the type and know to type *.mp3 if you want mp3 files. Just typing “mp3” is not good enough. In truth, most of the backup routines seemingly hook into the Windows System Restore, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Overall the ThinkVantage software suite is more useful than annoying, though it could certainly use a fine-tuning to make the applications more user friendly.
Backup Software Screenshot
Any time you purchase a pre-built PC, you’re bound to be bombarded with bloatware, or free software trials for apps you don’t want, or need. One Microsoft exec was quoted awhile back calling these programs “craplets,” and saying how he was afraid their presence would hurt Vista’s launch. Lenovo must have not gotten the memo, because the V200 has a bunch of them.
It comes with a 90-day trial version of Norton Internet Security, and registration is required just for the trial (we should note that Norton is a terrible PC security system). A trial version of Corel SnapFire is also included. Never heard of this program? Neither had we, but it was pre-set to open all image files. Picasa2 is there too, which is okay. Then you have a trial version of Office 2007, what seems like a regular version of Diskeeper, a trial version of QuickBooks, a trial of Network Magic, and a Corel business suite trial. We didn’t use, or want, any of these programs, and it would be nice if Lenovo followed Dell’s lead here and gave people the option of “no pre-installed software” when ordering a new PC.
Use and Testing
Once we had removed the V200 from the box, we were immediately impressed at how small it is. According to the spec chart it weighs about 4.4 pounds, which disqualifies it from “thin and light” status (that’s reserved for notebooks that weigh less than 4lbs.), but it’s still very portable, especially compared to any notebook with a 14” display. Even though the difference is just a few pounds between the V200 and a “standard” notebook, you feel if you tote the V200 around like we did to work every day. However, it may be too big for some peoples’ tastes. We let a female co-worker pick it up and she said, “I’d never be able to carry this around all the time.” To us, however, it seems very light and portable given its size.
We booted it up and marveled at the gorgeous display. Lenovo calls the LCD coating VibrantView, and it’s the real deal. We’ve seen our share of glossy displays over the past year or two and this is one of the richest displays we’ve seen.
Once we were up and running in Vista, everything ran like butter. With its 2.2GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 800MHz FSB, the V200 runs as fast or even faster than a notebook should. Programs open in a second or two, and there seems to be no hesitation at any time within Windows. In fact, the only weak spot in this notebook, according to Vista’s performance index, is the onboard Intel graphics.
Vista index score screenshot
The system took just 1:08 seconds to boot, which is darn fast. The keyboard is also fantastic, which is not surprising given Lenovo’s reputation for having “perfect keyboards.” Take it from us, this is not an undeserved title. The keyboard is tight and precise, with very little action required to press a key and a firm, positive response to each keystroke. We’ve sampled many, many notebook keyboards, and can say definitively this is the best notebook keyboard we’ve ever used.
The included multi-burner burns both DVDs and CDs, which is useful. There is no pre-installed burning software, however, so you have to use the built-in engine in Vista, which gets the job done.
The integrated 1.3MP webcam that is built into the top of the LCD chassis is functional and easy to use. You can set it to capture for a certain amount of time, or just up to a certain file size. Like any captured video, the files get large quickly. A 0:35 second clip was 113MB in size. And there’s a built-in microphone so you can record audio as well as video.
The onboard Conexant audio is decent, and at full blast is actually quite loud for a notebook. Our only complaint is that there are buttons on the keyboard to adjust volume, but the sliders move painfully slow. You can also press Fn and F1 or F2, but we’d prefer a little dial.
The CPU fan isn’t very loud, and only spins up to the point where you can hear it intermittently, which is appreciated. Overall we’d say it was audible maybe 10 percent of the time we were using the notebook, which is very good. Nobody likes a noisy notebook.
Despite a few small flaws, the V200 is a fantastic notebook that is as powerful as it is portable. Most importantly, both the 12.1” widescreen display and the keyboard are love at first sight/touch, and make using this notebook on a daily basis a pleasure.
We’d certainly like for Lenovo to offer more pre-sale configuration options, and fine-tune the ThinkVantage software, but quibbles aside the V200 is an excellent, and affordable, ultra-portable notebook.
• Perfect weight-to-size ratio
• Fast performance
• Gorgeous display
• Very few pre-sale customization options
• Confusing backup software
• RAM maxes out at 2GB