After over a decade of filling the same matte black boxes with fresh hardware, Lenovo has finally bowed to the design gods and attempted to put a little bit of an edge on the stiff reputation of the working-class ThinkPad. Like the SL series before it, the Edge blends familiar ThinkPad design elements with a more 21st century chassis. Although it offers a fairly well-rounded package, a steep price for the Intel-equipped model, no option for discrete graphics and missing essentials like an optical drive leave it feeling incomplete.
Weight and Dimensions
With 13.3-inches of screen on tap, the Edge fills a portable size niche just north of machines that might be considered netbooks – like the new X100e – but south in price of ultra-thin models – like the 13.3-inch X301. Measuring 1.4 inches thick, the Edge doesn’t come anywhere near that pricier cousin on dimensions, but it does come admirably close on weight. At 3.6 pounds, the Edge feels exceptionally light for its size and gives the 2.93-pound X301 a literal run for its money – considering the latter costs over twice as much. And don’t even begin to compare with heavyweights with the same screen size like Apple’s brickish 4.7-pound MacBook. If you’re not breaking out the calipers to fit another issue of National Geographic into your airline carryon, the Edge makes a very competent travel machine.
Hardware and Specs
Lenovo offers the Edge in two flavors: with AMD or Intel CPUs, starting at $579 and $799, respectively. AMD folks will get a 1.6GHz Turion X2 backed by integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics, while the Intel versions gets a Core 2 Duo clocked at a conservative 1.3GHz and backed by Intel’s integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD. Our review unit came stacked with a 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM, Intel’s GMA 4500MHD, a 320GB hard drive, built-in WiMax, and a six-cell battery.
To set the old SL series apart from its brothers, Lenovo basically chamfered down the edges and varnished up the lid. Modifications to the Edge have been much more drastic. It might even be the first ThinkPad to really throw loyal brand followers for a loop. A glossy black or red lid, rounded corners, silver plastic banding around the edges and even a totally reworked keyboard all contribute to a look strongly reminiscent, of a ThinkPad, but otherwise totally fresh. It’s like Lenovo mated one of its working-class ThinkPads with a Toshiba, and the Edge was born. ThinkPad signatures like a matte black interior and red “eraserhead” pointer embedded in the keyboard remain intact, but we can’t help but feel like disappointed by details like the silver banding – which is really just grey plastic with visible mold lines – and the gloss black lid, which had an orange-peel reflection that reminded us more of a 15-second Krylon spray job than the Lincoln Town Car finish Lenovo was likely shooting for.
The first thing you’ll notice after giving the Edge a walkaround: There’s no optical drive here. Like a netbook, the Edge eschews a DVD or Blu-ray drive in the name or portability, but given the system’s size, it seems to make far less sense here.
You will, however, find all the other essentials, including three USB ports (two on the right, one on the left), an SD card reader, Ethernet jack, and dual-purpose audio jack (like a MacBook, it serves as both a headphone and mic jack, meaning you’ll have to use one or the other unless they share a plug). HDMI video output was no surprise, but we were also glad to see a standard VGA output, giving this machine a little more business credibility with legacy support for the jack still found on many conference room projectors.
Transitioning the ThinkPad’s old-school keyboard over to the increasingly common Chiclet style found on Sony Vaios, Apple Macbooks, and even Asus netbooks put Lenovo at risk of ruining of the the series’ most universally respected features. Fortunately, engineers pulled it off. Lenovo prefers to call it a “raised-island” style, but the implication is the same: flat-topped keys cut straight down to a flat base, rather than tapering out to meet neighboring keys flush, as normal keyboards to. Typically, Chiclet keys have disappointed us with short, spongy keypresses and inadequate tactile feel, but Lenovo seems to have preserved the same clicky spring and feel of the old ThinkPad keyboard. New cap shape, same satisfying tap. We’re not quite as smitten with the Chiclet style as the rest of the world seems to be – we would just assume keep the old look – but considering it performs as well as the old model, we can’t complain about a slight sidestep in style.
We’ve seen Lenovo opt for some embarrassingly small trackpads before, like on the goliath W700ds, but the Edge actually makes fantastic use of available space with the best trackpad we’ve seen yet on a ThinkPad. It offers a stick-free matte surface, an extra-wide tracking area that fills all available space, and firm-but-clickable buttons. Above, you’ll also find a bright-red nub joystick in the center of the keyboard for navigating without swiping – a convenient option for certain situations.