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Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 review: AMD’s flagship laptop?

lenovo ideapad slim 7 review 01

Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 review: AMD’s flagship laptop?

“The Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 is a genre-bending, 'do everything' laptop that's hard to beat at its price.”
  • Incredible performance
  • Tiny footprint
  • Record-setting battery life
  • Can handle light gaming
  • Screen is a bit dim
  • Small palm rests

Disruption. It’s not a word I use idly, but what AMD’s Ryzen 4000 processors have done in the past eight months fits the definition. These chips offer the kind of performance that you previously had to pay dearly for, both in size and in price.

But so far, few laptops have been designed from the ground up to take advantage of these chips.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 was always supposed to be a showcase for just how disruptive Ryzen 4000 could be. After being delayed many months, it’s finally arrived to attempt a seemingly insurmountable task — to be a laptop that can be ultrasleek, ultrapowerful, and ultra-affordable, all at once.

Did AMD and Lenovo just pull off the impossible?

Design

The IdeaPad Slim 7’s revolution isn’t highly broadcast. It’s not ugly, but it’s not attention-seeking, either. It doesn’t stray far from Lenovo’s current crop of conservative, dark gray laptops with rounded edges and an all-metal chassis. From the design alone, you’d be hard-pressed to pick this out of Lenovo’s large lineup of similar-looking laptops. It supposedly comes in a potentially more flashy “Orchid” color option, but I’ve yet to lay eyes on it.

In some sense, that’s a shame. In many ways, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 throws out our traditional laptop categories. This is a tiny laptop. It’s just 0.58 inches thick, thinner and sleeker than the MacBook Air. It weighs just 3.1 pounds, matching the MacBook Pro 13-inch — and yet it has an eight-core processor like the behemoth MacBook Pro 16-inch. That’s the unique proposition of this fascinating laptop.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch might be the best size comparison to make. The IdeaPad Slim 7 is slightly smaller in almost every dimension, though not by much, and even has the larger 14-inch screen. More importantly, though, these two laptops share in common a 25-watt processor. That’s 10 more watts of performance than your standard 13-inch laptop, which contributes to the unique performance proposition of these laptops.

Around the sides of the laptop, you’ll find a healthy assortment of ports. On the left side, the IdeaPad Slim 7 has two USB-C ports, HDMI, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Meanwhile, on the right side, the IdeaPad Slim 7 offers two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, the power button, and a micro SD card slot.

Because this is an AMD laptop, you don’t get Thunderbolt 3, which is proprietary Intel technology. However, USB-C is still a versatile port. Either USB-C port can be used for charging, connecting to a monitor, transferring files, and plugging in peripherals. You can’t power an external graphics card, but for what this laptop was made for, these ports are plenty powerful.

My only real complaint is that because both USB-C ports are on the left side, you can’t charge the laptop from the right. It defeats the point of USB-C’s versatility.

Performance

A 25-watt, 8-core processor in a small laptop is an intriguing premise, but only if it can actually deliver significantly better performance. I started my testing with Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R20, two benchmarks that can provide a well-rounded picture of how powerful the CPU is. The IdeaPad Slim 7 impressed, especially in multi-core performance. Amazingly, in Geekbench 5 multi-core, it was only 9% behind the much larger Dell XPS 15 with its 45-watt eight-core processor. Meanwhile, it was a solid 23% ahead of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (with a 10th-gen Core i5), and 16% ahead of the Acer Swift 3 (with the Ryzen 7 4700U). No laptop in this size category has the cores and threads to match the IdeaPad Slim 7.

For a more real-life test, I encoded a 4K video in Handbrake with performance restricted to the CPU. Again, the IdeaPad Slim 7 and its eight-core Ryzen processor blew the competition out of the water. It even beat some six-core, 45-watt laptops like the HP Envy 15 or the Asus ROG Strix G15.

[pullqutoe]For a laptop of its size, the IdeaPad Slim 7 is in a performance category of its own.[/pullquote]

The one place the IdeaPad Slim 7 can’t really compete with those larger laptops is in video editing. I normally wouldn’t bother testing Premiere Pro on such a small laptop, but with the IdeaPad Slim 7, I had to try. It took an hour and 18 minutes to export a two-minute 4K project to ProRes 422. The higher clock speeds and discrete graphics of larger laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or MacBook Pro 16-inch help them finish that same test in well under 10 minutes.

That doesn’t mean the IdeaPad Slim 7 can’t be used for content creation workflows at all. If you’re working in lower resolutions, less demanding codecs, or lighter applications, the IdeaPad Slim 7 should do just fine. It’s just not a proper replacement for one of those larger laptops. If the portability isn’t important, even a cheap gaming laptop like the Dell G5 SE will handle video editing far better than the IdeaPad Slim 7 for around the same price. But for a laptop of its size, the IdeaPad Slim 7 really is in a performance category of its own.

Interestingly, Lenovo also sells an Intel version of the IdeaPad Slim 7. But get this: It’s $150 more expensive, has half the storage, and offers only a quad-core CPU. The only thing the Intel model has on its side is the Nvidia MX350 discrete graphics card, but AMD’s integrated Radeon graphics outperform them. There’s no reason to buy it over the AMD model.

Aside from the Intel variant, Lenovo doesn’t offer configurations. That could change in the future, but for now, this model with 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD is the only option. I really wish a 16GB model was offered to better pair with the high-core-count processor.

Game performance

You can play games on this laptop! Yep, it’s true, and it’s kind of a miracle. The Ryzen 7 4800U comes with eight Radeon graphics cores, making for what are easily the best discrete graphics I’ve ever seen on a laptop. It’s promising for the future of AMD’s Radeon graphics.

In the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark, it’s 29% faster than the Dell XPS 13, with its Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics. It competes with entry-level discrete graphics, like the Nvidia MX250 in the Asus ZenBook Duo. The result is decent performance in modern games.

Take Fortnite, for example. As long as you keep graphics settings at medium or below, the games plays quite fluid. You’ll have a hard time getting up to 60 frames per second (fps) without adjusting the 3D resolution slider a bit, but for the first time ever, Fortnite can be played smoothly on integrated graphics.

A less GPU-dependent game like Civilization VI performs even better. The IdeaPad Slim 7 struggled to keep up at ultra settings, but at medium, it averaged 45 fps. That’s still a far cry from what 15-inch laptops with discrete graphics can do, but again, you can play Civilization VI here without having to resort to low graphics settings. That’s seriously impressive for a non-gaming laptop.

The only real competition the IdeaPad Slim 7 has in this form factor is the GTX 1650 version of the Razer Blade Stealth. While you’ll eke out some better frame rates on that machine, it’s also far more expensive.

Keyboard and touchpad

This keyboard isn’t my favorite. The travel feels very short, and the keys have a squishy bottoming action to them. I much prefer the Dell XPS 13, MacBook Air, or HP Spectre x360. It didn’t take too long to familiarize myself with it, though, and I like the curved shape of the keycaps.

The keyboard backlighting isn’t given a dedicated key, but Fn + Space is a solid replacement. The backlighting is very bright — to the point that I wish a lower brightness setting was offered.

My main problem with the keyboard is its location. The keyboard is further from the screen than on most laptops, to make room for the both the speakers and the ports. The result is less space for the touchpad and palm rests below. If you have small hands, you’ll be okay, but these palm rests were too small for me, leaving me with the edges of the chassis digging into my palms. It’s not a pleasant position to be in for long bouts of typing. Laptops like the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex also suffer from this problem.

The touchpad fares better, providing a smooth tracking surface and enough space for two-finger swipes and gestures. The click feels solid, though it’s a bit louder than I’d like it to be.

Battery life

When comparing AMD versus Intel, there hasn’t been a clear winner in terms of battery life. Until now. I don’t know if it’s due to the large 60-watt battery or the efficient 7nm processor, but the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 is an absolute champion in terms of battery life. This can go away from the wall all day — and then some.

In our lightest test, which loops a local video file until it dies, the IdeaPad Slim 7 lasted over 18 and a half hours. That’s one of the best times I’ve seen on a laptop that isn’t a Chromebook or an ARM-based laptop.

The real record was set in our web-browsing test. Here, the IdeaPad Slim 7 lasted over 16 hours, which has only been beat by the Qualcomm-powered Lenovo Flex 5G. That’s an insane life span for one charge.

As my daily driver, I found the IdeaPad Slim 7 to easily last me through a full workday, even with my heavy multitasking, music streaming, and myriad of open apps.

Display and speakers

If the IdeaPad Slim 7 has one noteworthy flaw, it’s the screen. It uses a 14-inch 1080p panel that gets the job done, but not with much grace. It’s screen is a bit dim, maxing out at only 247 nits. That’s well both the 300-nit threshold I like to see in laptops, and it results in heavy glares. If you’re watching a movie with dark scenes, you’d better turn off every possible light in the room first. Contrast is the one bright spot, coming in at 1,370:1.

The display also has slightly green tint to it, though its sufficient in terms of color gamut and color accuracy. Unfortunately, a 4K 100% AdobeRGB model isn’t offered for professionals.

I was pleasantly surprised by the speakers. They’re located right on the keyboard deck, pointing up at your ears — which does wonders for clarity of audio. These still won’t replace a decent Bluetooth speaker, but for casual music listening or video watching, they get the job done.

Our take

The Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 might not be the true flagship laptop AMD wants it to be. Its screen is lackluster, and the design is far from remarkable. But thanks to its fantastic performance, long-lasting battery life, and impressive integrated graphics, the IdeaPad Slim 7 breaks boundaries on what small laptops can do.

Are there any alternatives?

There are lots of Ryzen 4000 laptops that aren’t as powerful as the IdeaPad Slim 7, but come in at a cheaper price. The most obvious option is the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14, which isn’t as powerful but is much cheaper. The HP Envy x360 13 is another good example of a cheaper AMD laptop with a bit less horsepower.

If you’re willing to pay a couple hundred more dollars, the Dell XPS 13 is a better-designed laptop. Performance and battery life can’t quite match the IdeaPad Slim 7, but the small form factor and better display make it worth the extra cost.

How long will it last?

The IdeaPad Slim 7 should last you at least three or four years, which is normal for laptops. The limited configuration options may leave you wanting to upgrade the memory or storage yourself in the future, but everything is soldered down.

Lenovo offers a standard one-year limited warranty. You’re on your own past that.

Should you buy it?

Yes. It’s the best laptop you can buy under $1,000.

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