The Apple announcements from last week might have you thinking that the computer is dead (if you're one of those people who believe that a tablet can replace your computer). At least one company, Lenovo, keeps producing a variety of computer models and styles for those of us who still prefer to compute with a more solid system.
To that end, over the past few months I’ve been “collecting” an array of notebooks and one desktop system from the folks at Lenovo – they keep letting me know that new units are available for review, even before I’ve finished playing with (oops, I mean testing) the previous one.
Navigating through the minefield of Lenovo notebooks available to customers is pretty daunting – the company has eight different series of ThinkPad notebooks (classified as professional), eight series of “home notebooks,” including the IdeaPad, Yoga and Chromebook series. Chances are that Lenovo will have an option for you depending on how you want to use the system (business vs. home office worker vs. road warrior vs. active gamer vs. someone who just wants to use email).
So, in one fell swoop I’m going to give you an overview of the four systems that I was able to enjoy recently.
First up, the ThinkPad T460s (between $980 and $1,817, depending on options)– it’s a business notebook that you’ll end up getting if you have a corporate IT department that likes giving out non-flashy, but durable and professional style systems. Lenovo describes the computer this way: “Designed for the business professional who likes to travel light but needs a durable notebook.”
But that doesn’t mean the system isn’t powerful – it includes Intel’s 6th-generation of processors (aka Skylake), which promises longer battery life and the ability to play 4K video with its built-in hardware video decoding. You can also upgrade the system to up to 24GB of memory, double the amount from the previous model in this series, the T450s.
Another way they’ve lightened the system is by removing the touch panel layer and glass for its touch-enabled display. By using its “In-Cell Touch Technology), Lenovo has combined the LCD to create a single layer, lightening the system (Lenovo says it’s 10% thinner and lighter).
The VGA display-out port is also gone, replaced with an HDMI port – this means that you better have an adapter if your company hasn’t yet upgraded its projector systems /monitors with HDMI. The notebook also passes eight of the MIL-STD 810G military certifications, including humidity, low temperature, high temperature, sand resistance, high vibration, mechanical shock, high altitude and temperature shocks. So you won’t feel bad if it gets a little banged up during your business adventures.
Other ports include two USB 3.0 ports, a 4-in-1 card reader, mini DisplayPort and a Gigabit Ethernet port, a rare sight these days. It also has the headphone/microphone combination that always annoys me because I can never find a headset/microphone that works with only one cable instead of two. The system has a 14-inch display that felt a lot smaller, but that’s probably because I’m accustomed to my 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Overall it’s a solid business notebook aimed at serious business users who don’t want anything flashy. You know who you are.
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of five)
My next system from Lenovo was the Yoga 700 (between $750 and $900, depending on options). Moving from business user to consumer, the Yoga name means you can swivel the display in multiple positions – regular notebook (the L shape); reverse the screen around for presentation mode (think the < symbol); the inverted symbol for watching movies and such (think upside down V or ^, but larger), and then flat for tablet mode.
Like the T460s, the Yoga 700 has a 14-inch display, but it feels larger (perhaps an optical illusion from its bezel or shiny glass surface compared with the T460’s more durable display). Performance-wise, the system comes with the 6th-generation Intel Core processors (our unit had an i5), Windows 10 Home OS, a 3.6-lb. starting weight and up to 7 hours of battery life on the standard setting.
The unit also includes solid-state drive (SSD) storage, a backlit keyboard and other features you’d expect on a consumer notebook, like Dolby Home Theater stereo speakers and built-in software (Lenovo touts its Photo Master 2.0 software, for example). It also has that dual microphone/headphone jack that irritates me more than it probably should.
While I appreciate the Yoga design and support for the different positions, for the most part people will likely end up using the notebook position, and maybe flip it around as a tablet or do the presentation mode if they happen to be doing work on this machine (or if they work for a company that lets employees expand their notebook choices from the ThinkPad line). A downside of the different positions is an oddly placed power button on the side – you need it there if you’re going to be using the tablet mode, but it feels out of place when you’re looking to use it in notebook mode and you’re yelling out, “Where the heck is that power button again?”
I certainly didn’t have any major complaints about the system, it’s a good solid choice for someone looking for a mid-tier consumer notebook (the really inexpensive systems scare me with their specs) that they want to use for a number of years.
Grade: 4 stars
OK, so the next two are aimed at more power-users or the gamers amongst you. The third system I was playing with for a long time was the Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 (not to be confused with the Yoga 700), a 17-inch gaming notebook (the series also features 14-inch and 15-inch versions). Systems start at $959 (with instant savings via the website, and going up depending on options/upgrades).
The systems come with the latest Intel Core processors (ours came with an i7), but also includes up to 16GB of DDR4 memory, up to a 1TB hard drive (with integrated 128GB solid-state drive), and NVIDIA GTX 960M graphics card. If you’re not into gaming, the system still works quite nicely as a multimedia machine (photos, video editing, or watching movies), as the 17.3-inch screen (1920 by 1080p) gives you a lot of real estate to work with, and the integrated Dolby Home Theater speakers are quite nice. The system also features “thermal fans” to keep the system cooler, especially important for gamers that don’t want to see their session end because of an overheating system.
Like the T460s, the VGA output port is gone in favor of an HDMI output port, so you’ll need to either upgrade to a monitor that accepts HDMI input, or switch to an adapter if you want to add multiple screens to your system (same goes for projectors). But for the most part, the 17-inch display should be just fine for most activities.
The larger display does make this for a heavier system than other notebooks – you probably won’t be trucking this around too much unless you’re really dedicated to whatever game or multimedia project you’re working on.
Grade: 5 stars
If that system doesn’t float your boat and you really want to ramp up your gaming system, we come to the final Lenovo system currently in the Cool Tools Testing Zone – the IdeaCentre Y900. Systems start at $899.99 and go up to $2,399.99, depending on options chosen and whether instant rebates apply.
The top-end system includes the 6th-generation Intel Core i7 processors, 32 GB of DDR memory, a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 graphics card, 2TB and 8GB solid-state hard drive with an additional 256GB integrated SSD, DVD-recordable drive, gaming mechanical keyboard and the Premium Lenovo Gaming Mouse. What it doesn’t come with is a monitor, so you’ll need to invest in one of those – if you’re going to buy this system, you’ll probably go high end on the monitor anyway.
The design of the desktop base is quite nice – lots of cool colors and sides that show you the insides of the machine like all good modern gaming systems now do. The company’s marketing copy is a bit over the top in its appeal towards PC gamers – witness this gem: “As the action intensifies on screen, the IdeaCentre Y900’s internal and external LED lights emit a soft burning glow – just like the ashes of all your rivals.” Yeaaaaaaaaaah! I amusingly suspect that if Lenovo discovers that you’re using this to complete Level 10 of Candy Crush Soda Saga, some 23-year-old guy carrying a can of Red Bull and wearing his baseball cap backwards will show up at your house, screaming, “You’re not worthy of this system!”
Lenovo also sent along one of their Gaming Surround Sound Headset & Microphone units ($49.99), a USB-model that also includes a separate audio cable that can plug into a smartphone or tablet (because we all want to listen to our own music while gaming, right?). The headset had a good feel to it, but I’m not sure that hardcore gamers likely have their favorite headset/microphone setup as well. Same goes for the keyboard and mouse – it’s nice, but not necessarily needed. In fact, I hated the mouse, it was way too large for my tastes – it felt uncomfortable in my hands, I switched back to my Logitech mouse.
Grade: 4 stars (unless you're a MAD GAMER BRO!)
If I had to pick one system out of these four to keep or buy, I’d lean towards the 17-inch gaming notebook (the IdeaPad Y700) – I like the power it offers and the larger display than the other systems. I’d feel guilty about using the Y900 gaming system to check Facebook and Gmail.
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