When most people think of Lenovo, monitors are far from the first devices that come to mind. In fact, even Lenovo doesn’t seem to promote the fact that it manufactures them – if you browse monitors on the company’s site, you’ll find as many Samsung and ViewSonic models as Lenovo’s own. But the company added a new low-key competitor to the heap recently with the L215P, a widescreen LCD monitor that combines a 21.5-inch 1080p screen with a built-in webcam, speakers, USB hub, and a swiveling stand for $254. That’s quite a bit more than barebones competitors offers, but the price reflects it, too. Do all the bells and whistles produce a screen worth shelling out extra for? We planted one on our desk to find out.
Features and Design
True to Lenovo’s business-oriented origins, the L215P comes dressed down in a tame-but-classy glossy black design. The corners have been cleanly rounded off, and only a chrome Lenovo badge and power button adorn the typically crowded bottom bezel – the menu buttons light up in blue from beneath the plastic and disappear when they aren’t in use.
Since speakers are technically an option on this model (the L215 comes without them), they come packaged as a separate soundbar that snaps onto the chin of the monitor. Attaching it is easy enough, but there’s no denying that it looks somewhat awkward and out of place hanging out at the bottom, since it’s basically a giant grille that doesn’t even match the length of the monitor.
The monitor stand consists of a silver pole connected to the back of the display, stuck into an oval base that matches the gloss black surrounding the screen. Though it doesn’t raise or lower, you can tilt the screen up and down, and easily swivel it around on its base like a Lazy Susan. This can come in handy for twisting your monitor to show cubemates ridiculous new YouTube videos, but otherwise doesn’t serve much function after you set it up.
The selection of inputs on this machine severely disappointed us: you get either HDMI or VGA, which basically means native support for really old computers and really new computers, with no support for the DVI connectors most people actually have these days. We had already seen this on the Acer P244W and were boggled to see yet another monitor that neglects such an obviously important port. Most users will have to purchase an HDMI to DVI cable or adapter to make it work with their setups.
To offset the lack of DVI, Lenovo does include a number of other convenient connectors on the monitor, such as mic input and headphone output on the side of the soundbar, for connecting audio gear without crawling under the desk, and three USB connections for other accessories.
Nestled within Lenovo’s Styrofoam packing, you’ll find both HDMI and VGA cables, along with a power cable, USB cable, safety manual, driver CD, and microfiber cloth for wiping the display down – a relatively rare add-on, and a genuinely useful one for a glossy black model that will pick up smudges now and then. You’ll notice no user guide there. Oddly enough, Lenovo will print a giant packet telling you not to use your monitor with an ungrounded outlet in half a dozen languages, but you’ll need to pop a CD to read how to put set it up. (Quite a potential catch 22 if you need the monitor to view the guide to tell you how to use monitor.)
All the monitor pieces click together quite seamlessly without much ambiguity about where they go, but if you need a hand, Lenovo’s cleanly illustrated instructions make a quick makeshift aid. The soundbar adds a little bit of complexity to the equation, since you’ll need to slot it in tightly then plug it into the main monitor for power.
Lenovo’s driver disc for the monitor looks like a bit of an afterthought. Rather than running a setup file that installs everything you need in one fell swoop, it opens a crude HTML page that instructs you how to install the monitor drivers in no less than 17 individual steps. This is not the kind of process we would expect the average consumer to navigate through with ease. Fortunately, the webcam drivers have been formatted into a much more easily setup.exe file that functioned flawlessly.
While most monitors come juiced up with high brightness and contrast from the factory to make images immediately “pop” (and usually look garish and cartoony), Lenovo actually adopted more conservative settings. In fact, it looks downright sad out of the box. We had to crank brightness all the way up to run the L215P against our comparison monitors, and even with it maxed out, we never quite reached the brightness we hoped for. On the good side, it doesn’t wash out under these extreme settings as some monitors tend to.
The default color balance on the L215P seemed to tip a bit toward green, making solid whites look somewhat cold and muted. Fortunately, you can adjust individual RGB channels quite easily, matching color preferences to your own eye.
Lenovo provides four different preset “Novo Vision” settings tailored to different uses: text, Internet, video, and split demo. While the first three are obvious, the fourth draws a line down the screen and uses different (but not adjustable) settings on each side, making it somewhat baffling. We tried to learn more about it from the PDF manual, to no avail. None of the other three seemed to suit our fancy, either, leaving us to twiddle with brightness, contrast and RGB color balance until things looked better.
Watching movie and playing games on the L215P posed no problems with blurriness or ghosting, which has pretty much been eliminated in most modern LCD monitors we see.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam built into the top center of the L215P makes a convenient addition, but unfortunately, it’s not much better than the ho-hum webcams you might find built into a netbook or cheap laptop. Beyond the usual digital noise and lag time in dim lighting, it also exhibited horizontal banding on walls. That said, most people will probably find it perfectly adequate for quick Skype teleconferences, and color reproduction struck us as generally good.
As the quarter-sized speakers hiding behind the L215P’s tiny grille would suggest, the speakers on this thing are basically glorified laptop speakers. They’ll hit much higher volumes, true, but since everything begins to sound horribly distorted at more than half volume, and they lack bass across all levels, that ability isn’t of much use. We would call them fine for Windows sound effects and the occasional YouTube outing, but don’t expect to listen to music on these and enjoy it. We far preferred them for the easily reachable headphone jack, and the excellent speakers on Asus’ VW266H put these speakers to shame.
A single tap to the left of the power buttons calls on the menu buttons to slowly fade in. You can switch between sources, auto adjust the screen, and summon the Novo Vision menu without diving into the more complex on-screen display. When we got there, our first order of business was finding mute, since the screen comes configured to emit a shrill blip every time you do so much as scroll past an option.
Though the L215P performs all the standard adjustments we’re used to, the OSD looks quite rudimentary, and isn’t organized as intuitively as we’ve seen on other monitors. We also have to admit to missing tactile buttons after pawing at hard plastic for a while in our testing, even though the buttons are actually reasonably responsive.
The 21.5-inch size class is loaded with 1080p competitors from Acer, Asus, LG, Viewsonic and even Samsung. And unfortunately for Lenovo, many of them come in around $80 cheaper than the L215P. A built-in webcam and speakers explain most of the price difference, but neither was impressive enough to make us want to spend the extra cash. Screen quality, while decent, wasn’t anything to swoon over, either. Throw in the annoying lack of DVI port, complex software setup, and an OSD that’s a little rough around the edges, and the L215P just doesn’t look that appealing. We might recommend it for users who would prefer not to clutter up their desks with third-party accessories, but anyone looking for serious sound or video quality would be better off buying a cheaper model (with fewer annoyances) and keeping the extra change for real accessories.
- Built-in speakers, webcam
- Plentiful USB ports
- Acceptable screen quality
- No motion blur
- No DVI port
- Stand doesn’t raise or lower
- Crude software setup
- Unimpressive webcam
- Awkward-looking and poor-sounding speakers
- No printed user guide