Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Review

lenovo thinkpad edge review

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge

“Lenovo’s attempt to class up the ThinkPad line leaves it shinier, but not ready to compete for any style awards just yet.”
  • Large, responsive touchpad
  • Our favorite Chiclet-style keyboard
  • Strong Wi-Fi reception
  • Reasonably bright LED-backlit display
  • Light weight
  • Handles basic computing tasks well
  • Clean initial software load
  • Expensive relative to specs
  • Insufficient for gaming and HD video
  • Krylon-looking paint job on lid
  • No discrete graphics cards available
  • No optical drive
  • Cumbersome ThinkVantage suite
Lenovo-ThinkPad-Edge-e1

Introduction

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.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-Edge-e5Aesthetics and Design

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.

Ports

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.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-Edge-e7Keyboard & Touchpad

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.

Software

As usual, Lenovo keeps the Windows 7 install exceptionally clean, appeasing even the most obsessive-compulsive neat freaks with a nearly perfect desktop right out of the box (we only had to trash a 60-day Microsoft Office Trial to get it spotless). Although it’s beyond a minor complaint, we can’t help pointing out that Lenovo’s 1999-style blue-to-black gradient as a background doesn’t do much to flatter the screen for new users. Even the default Windows 7 backgrounds make a machine look a little hipper than this dud, which we immediately canned.

Lenovo’s comprehensive ThinkVantage suite of utilities has always struck us as a little overbearing, and it has gotten no more transparent in Windows 7, where an enormous battery meter, ThinkVantage toolbox icon and Wi-Fi signal meter consume a gigantic and unnecessary chunk of bottom toolbar real estate. It feels like someone switched this thing into “Elderly Mode” at the factory and forgot to turn it off.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-Edge-e2Display

Lenovo’s 13.3-inch display comes in standard 1366 x 768 resolution. In our opinion, that gives users just enough room to stretch their legs for comfortable browsing, typing, and some limited multi-tasking, such as opening an AIM buddy list beside a browser. Like all ThinkPads, it also leans backwards over 180 degrees, a gymnastic move that can sometimes prove useful in cramped places like cars and planes. (Unfortunately, a glossy coating can prove equally troublesome in the scenarios when you end up under florescent overhead lights or bright windows.)

The screen looks above-average from a dead-on viewing angle, but moving off-axis by tilting the screen up or down even a few degrees begins to distort it quite quickly.

Performance

Lenovo’s Edge hits the desktop in a little over 50 seconds, and fires up a Chrome window in at about the minute and five second mark. That’s about average for a machine with these specs, and totally usable.

As we would expect from any Core 2 Duo machine, the Edge steps quite briskly around normal Windows tasks including browsing, navigation, and instant messaging. Streaming movies from SouthParkStudios.com, YouTube and Hulu all played fluidly – including the high-quality and high-definition (720p) versions. However, step up to high-quality video, like Apple’s 720p or 1080p movie trailers, and you’ll reach the limits of what it will do, encountering choppy (but not totally unwatchable) video.

In Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage suite, the Lenovo Edge turned up a score of 2823, an acceptable but not particularly exciting number to be expected from a machine with a relatively tame CPU and no dedicated graphics.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-Edge-e6Without a discrete graphics card, we didn’t even both to testing gaming performance. Expect only much older games to be passable on this system, and even then only at reduced settings.

Although Lenovo predicts up to eight hours of battery life with the Intel configuration we used, we found a little more than six hours to be a far more accurate estimate with Wi-Fi engaged and screen brightness to maximum.

It’s worth noting that Lenovo’s Edge displayed superb Wi-Fi reception in our time with it, posting full signal strength in areas where smaller laptops have been struggled to connect in the past (and where Eye-Fi’s Share Video card, humbled by a stamp-sized antenna, couldn’t connect at all).

Conclusion

Lenovo’s Edge is a notebook caught between extremes. It’s still too conservative to truly be edgy, but too dressed-up to feel like a real ThinkPad. It’s too expensive to seem like a bargain, but too cheap to boast powerful hardware like a discrete graphics card. It’s too big to compete with netbooks, but too small to get an optical drive.

This middle ground isn’t hell. In fact, in many ways it’s very practical. But it makes for a somewhat wishy-washy, bland notebook that doesn’t particularly excel at anything. For the $800 buyers would spend on an Intel-equipped version, Sony’s superb CW series offers a newer Intel Core i3 CPU, discrete graphics from Nvidia, and a sleeker design, in a 14.1-inch chassis that’s just a tad more cumbersome.

Pros

  • Large, responsive touchpad
  • Our favorite Chiclet-style keyboard
  • Strong Wi-Fi reception
  • Reasonably bright LED-backlit display
  • Light weight
  • Handles basic computing tasks well
  • Clean initial software load

Cons

  • Expensive relative to specs
  • Insufficient for gaming and HD video
  • Krylon-looking paint job on lid
  • No discrete graphics cards available
  • No optical drive
  • Cumbersome ThinkVantage suite

Editors' Recommendations