Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 Review

The Lenovo Y480 comes equipped with powerful hardware at a reasonable price, it offers decent audio quality and is equipped with a great keyboard. This is an all-rounder that does almost everything well.
The Lenovo Y480 comes equipped with powerful hardware at a reasonable price, it offers decent audio quality and is equipped with a great keyboard. This is an all-rounder that does almost everything well.
The Lenovo Y480 comes equipped with powerful hardware at a reasonable price, it offers decent audio quality and is equipped with a great keyboard. This is an all-rounder that does almost everything well.

Highs

  • Well-rounded and powerful
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Great audio
  • Reasonably priced

Lows

  • Sub-par display 
  • Vague touchpad
  • Spotty build quality
  • Small battery

Forget thin. That’s not what the Lenovo Y480 is about. This laptop has a 14-inch display and compact dimensions, making it reasonably portable, but it’s not just about the grab-and-go. It’s about power.

As laptops become thinner the average consumer seems to remain apathetic. You’ll have to wander 18 spots down Amazon.com’s bestseller’s list before you come across a single Ultrabook and another 16 beyond that before seeing the next. In between them is a horde of larger, thicker laptops that are other cheaper, more powerful, or both. Like the Y480.

This 14-inch laptop arrived at our office with an impressive list of specifications. The third-generation Core i7-3610QM processor is paired with an Nvidia GT 640M LE graphics solution and a whopping 8GB of RAM. Pricing starts at $849.

Is that a worthwhile exchange? The hardware specifications seem promising, but there’s obviously more to a laptop than what’s printed by Lenovo’s marketing department. Let’s take a closer look.

Video review

Old-fashioned isn’t an insult

At first glance, it appears that the Y480 could have been built several years ago and then forgotten in some warehouse until an accountant at Lenovo wondered why they were paying so much for storage. Nothing about this laptop screams, or even whispers, “modern.”

Is that a bad thing? Depends on your point of view. Sure, the Y480 may not look as hip as some other laptops, but it is attractive. Most of the laptop is matte, a fact that will excite foes of glossy plastic. There are also a few subtle touches that class up the laptop, such as a bit of chrome trim around the speakers and a subtle brushed-aluminum grain to the display lid.

Build quality doesn’t live up to the laptop’s thick exterior. Picking up the laptop by the side by the optical drive reveals chassis flex, and some squeaks escape from its guts if you handle the laptop roughly. There is some good news, however. The keyboard has virtually no flex, the display rarely wobbles and most panel gaps are tight.

Connectivity is decent for a small consumer laptop. There are two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, separate headphone and microphone jacks, VGA and HDMI. Not a bad showing, though some new third-gen Intel Core laptops with similar pricing can offer more USB 3.0 ports.

Great keyboard

Lenovo is known for its keyboards because of its ThinkPad line of business laptops, but this expertise often seems to bleed over to the company’s consumer products as well. The Y480 is no exception. Individual keys have excellent travel and the layout is easy to become acquainted with. The only issue is size — some of the keys are rather small, making it easy to hit the “=” key when Backspace was the intended target. Most users will adjust for this after a few hours with the laptop.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 windows laptop keyboardBacklighting is offered and can be controlled via hotkey, but there is only one brightness setting. The backlight also fails to light many of the keys evenly. Though this does not impact functionality it does cheapen the appearance of the laptop.

The user interface magic does not extend to the touchpad. We found its glossy surface too slick, which makes minor cursor adjustments more difficult. It’s also not a large touchpad, and it lacks physically separate left and right mouse buttons. Users have to depress the bottom section of the touchpad instead.

Displaying the elephant in the room

The Y480 is not cheap. It’s not meant to be. The hardware and the elegant exterior makes it clear that Lenovo wants this to be considered a premium laptop. Unfortunately, it’s saddled with a dollar-store display.

Let’s get the positives out of the way first. Although this is a glossy panel, it’s not so glossy as to be usable in bright light. This is no doubt partially due to the backlight, which is quite sunny when turned up to max. Perceived sharpness is acceptable despite a resolution of 1366 x 768.

This is marred by poor black-level performance. In dark scenes of movies and games, it’s clear that blacks are a ghostly gray at best and, to make matters worse, the brightness of the pixels at the edges of the display are slightly higher than those further in. Some combination of minor backlight bleed and poor viewing angles seems to be the culprit.

Such problems might be tolerable if colors were vibrant, but they’re not. We played Diablo 3, a game known for its exciting art design, and found that much of the game’s beauty is sapped away by this laptop’s sub-par display panel.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 windows laptop built in JBL speakersAt least audio quality is solid. The twin speakers are placed above the keyboard, which eliminates the possibility of obstruction and delivers sound directly to the user’s ears. There’s little distortion to be heard even during tracks with significant bass, and the speakers are loud at maximum volume. The Y480 is one of the few laptops that can offer sound on par with a $25 pair of desktop speakers, though anything with a subwoofer will defeat it.

Loud and cool

The Lenovo Y480 is a thick laptop, and usually such laptops stay cool and quiet. This model is packing a GT 640M LE graphics solution, however, which is a reasonably capable part. It also had a quad-core processor. Both have an impact on cooling.

At idle they’re not noticed, but once you start gaming or running a processor-intensive application you’re going to notice the extra watts being consumed. Heat pours out of the left side of the laptop and is easy to notice if you lay a hand in that area. A few spots on that side of the laptop can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit at maximum temp.

Thankfully, the hot air pouring out of the laptop means that the interior stays cool. The Y480’s keyboard never went north of 88 degrees Fahrenheit even after an hour of gaming.

So-so endurance

Though it has a 14-inch display and is rather small in width and depth, this isn’t an ultraportable by any measure. It’s a hybrid between an ultraportable and a mainstream multimedia laptop.

Still, the laptop seems to be set up for respectable endurance. The third-generation Intel quad is efficient and the Nvidia graphics solution includes Optimus, which means it can switch off when not needed. The results? A mundane Battery Eater score of 1 hour and 33 minutes and a so-so reader’s test score of 4 hours and 17 minutes.

The battery is the reason for the lackluster life. It’s a 48Wh unit, which is small for a laptop with a quad-core processor and discrete graphics. Even the most efficient hardware can only squeeze so much out of a limited battery.

Bloatware issues

Most companies, including Lenovo, seem to be favoring a reduction in bloatware over time. This made the numerous pre-installed apps on the Y480 a bit of a surprise.

The worst is no doubt McAfee antivirus. It constantly asks the user if they’d like to install the software and even includes an annoying site advisor that claims certain sites are dangerous. Some of them might be, but it triggered on some sites that we know are legitimate and consumed a portion of the browser window. Our patience ran out quickly and the software was promptly un-installed.

There’s also an array of Lenovo apps included, some of which are okay, some aren’t. We do wonder why manufacturers still insist on labeling things as simple as a webcam app with their own brand name. What’s the point? Does anyone open it and silently thank Lenovo for its efforts? We doubt it.

Faster than you think

Lenovo is pulling no punches where performance is concerned. Our review unit comes with a Core i7-3610QM processor and Nvidia GT 640M LE graphics solution as well as 8GB of RAM. As it turns out, this is a typical configuration instead of some high-end version most people won’t order.

These impressive specifications yield impressive benchmark scores. SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic reached a combined score of 91.22, while 7-Zip reached a result of 18,572. Both of these scores are excellent for a laptop and in fact on par with or in excess of what has been achieved by some desktops we’ve previously reviewed.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 windows laptop right side lid open

PCMark 7 was less optimistic with its overall score of 2,592, which is average. The hard drive, which is a 5400 RPM mechanical unit built for high capacity rather than performance, was a serious drag on the laptop’s score.

This was quickly made up for with excellent gaming benchmark results – 10,646 in 3DMark 06 and P1,253 in 3DMark 11. Both of these are excellent for a multimedia laptop and indicate that gaming isn’t out of the question. We verified this by playing Diablo 3 for several hours. Most settings had to be throttled back to low or medium, but the game was smooth and enjoyable.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Y480 comes equipped with powerful hardware at a reasonable price, it offers decent audio quality and is equipped with a great keyboard. This is an all-rounder that does almost everything well.

But two issues that hold it back. One is the terrible display. Though adequately bright, it otherwise fails in all areas  — view angles are poor, colors are dull and blacks are merely gray. Second is the touchpad, which is small, vague and generally a pain to use.

It’s unfortunate that these flaws mar an otherwise great laptop. If these issues were rectified, the Y480 would be easy to recommend, but as it stands the laptop is only suitable for people who aren’t looking to make the most of its gaming and multimedia capabilities.

Highs

  • Well-rounded and powerful
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Great audio
  • Reasonably priced

Lows

  • Sub-par display 
  • Vague touchpad
  • Spotty build quality
  • Small battery
Product Review

Don't bother with any other 2-in-1. The Surface Pro 6 is still the best

The Surface Pro been updated to its sixth generation, now coming dressed in black and packing a quad-core processor. Outside of that, you’ll have to dig a little deeper to see where Microsoft has made some truly noteworthy improvements.
Product Review

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a love letter to PC geeks

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line-up is targeted at business use, but it’s long appealed to hardcore PC geeks as well. The new X1 Extreme, which combines a powerful processor and high-resolution screen with Nvidia graphics, seems built for them…
Deals

The Acer Predator 17 gaming laptop can replace your desktop PC for $999

Gaming laptops have come a long way, and the Acer Predator series is a shining example. The Acer Predator 17 can be yours for just $999 for a short time. With its beefy hardware and 17-inch display, it rivals many custom-build desktop PCs.
Product Review

Samsung’s quick and versatile Chromebook Pro is the future of Chrome OS

Before the Pixelbook hit the market, the Samsung Chromebook Pro was the first premium 2-in-1 Chromebook of its kind. It's portable, stylus and touchscreen-enabled, and came with the Google Play Store installed right out of the box.
Computing

Which is best: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme or the 15-inch MacBook Pro?

To try and help nail down the best 15-inch laptops in the world, we compared the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. MacBook Pro 15 in a head to head that looked at their power, design, and portability.
Computing

Microsoft co-founder, Seahawks owner Paul Allen dies at 65

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died on October 15 of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The cancer survivor was best known for his entrepreneurial spirit and his frequent contributions to charities.
Computing

Leaked benchmarks suggest rumored AMD GPU could be king of midrange graphics

AMD's next GPU may not be Navi-based after all. Rumors continue to build about an RX 590 which has now shown up on 3DMark's benchmark database, delivering results that easily outstrip stock clocked GTX 1060s.
Computing

How does Microsoft’s newest Surface stack up against the Apple iPad Pro?

In an era where everyone is taking a bite at Apple’s products, we’ve stacked up the 12.9-inch iPad Pro against the latest Surface Pro 6. Check out this comparison guide to see which one gives you more bang for your buck.
Emerging Tech

Curious how A.I. 'brains' work? Here's a super-simple breakdown of deep learning

What is deep learning? A branch of machine learning, this field deals with the creation of neural networks that are modeled after the brain and adept at dealing with large amounts of human-oriented data, like writing and voice commands.
Computing

Qualcomm’s ‘Snapdragon 1000’ could bring octa-cores to Windows laptops

The rumored Qualcomm Snapdragon 1000 CPU may bring the octa-core design of mobiles and tablets to Windows laptops, offering four powerful cores for high performance, and four low-power cores for efficiency.
Computing

Is the new Surface Pro 6 worth the extra money or is the Surface Go good enough?

Each of Microsoft’s Surface devices are great, but with the recent addition of the Surface Pro 6, you might be wondering how it stacks up against the Surface Go. In this comparison piece, we’ve put the two devices up against each other…
Computing

Is the Surface Pro 6 a sidestep, or does it blow away its predecessor?

How good is the new Surface Pro, and is it worth an upgrade? The best way to find out is to pit the Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Pro 5 in a head to head that tests them both on performance, design, and portability.
Computing

These gloves will make virtual reality feel even more immersive

Scientists from EPFL and ETH Zurich have come up with a thin and light VR glove which makes it so that a touch of an object in the virtual world equates to the physical touch you would expect in real life.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.