Review: New Lenovo ThinkPad offers a colorful Edge

The latest ThinkPad adds style to speed for a reasonable price.

Bored with the fact that Lenovo ThinkPads come only in basic black? Not any more. The ThinkPad Edge is not only available in fire-engine red (as well as matte or glossy black), but it combines high performance with a simplified keyboard in an elegant design. Aimed at small and medium businesses, the Edge lacks the highest-level security that big companies demand, but it's a reliable system at an excellent price.

The Edge is available in three different display sizes: 13.3-in., 14.0-in. or 15.6-in. I looked at the 14-in. version. At 1.3 x 13.5 x 9.3 inches and with a 6-cell battery, the Edge 14 weighs 4.9 pounds. Add in the small AC adapter and the system has a travel weight of 5.7 pounds.

The notebook has a sophisticated design with rounded corners; around its edge is a strip of plastic that looks like brushed aluminum. For an extra bit of style, the dot over the "i" in the ThinkPad logo on the cover lights up with a red LED when it's on.

ThinkPad Edge
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge combines high performance with a simplified keyboard in an elegant design.

Open the lid and the first thing you notice is the Edge's 84-key keyboard, which has five fewer keys than the traditional ThinkPad keyboard. Gone are the less-than-useful Scroll Lock, Num Lock, Pause/Break, SysReq and Windows context menu keys.

Other than the on/off switch, the system has no dedicated buttons or LED indicators. It also does without ThinkPad's keyboard light, which I missed. Overall, the keyboard is simpler and less fussy. I like the flatter keys, which offer a bigger target than the traditional raised and scalloped keys; it is also quieter than the traditional ThinkPad keyboard. The spacing between the keys is the same 19.5mm as previous ThinkPads, making for comfortable and accurate typing.

One thing that hasn't changed (thankfully) is the inclusion of both a pointing stick and a large touchpad. The pad accepts multi-finger gestures, like spreading your thumb and forefinger apart to enlarge an image.

The Edge has a good assortment of ports, with four USB 2.0 connectors; one doubles as an eSATA connector for an external hard drive. There's also an HDMI and a VGA port for an external monitor, as well as a single audio jack for headphone and microphone, an ExpressCard slot and a flash card reader.

The system has communications covered, with Gigabit Ethernet networking and Intel's Link 1000 Wi-Fi system for getting online with 802.11b/g/n networks. The Edge was able to stay connected 135 feet from my router, 20 feet longer than last year's Lenovo IdeaPad Y450.

Well-equipped but not expensive

The $649 Edge 14-in. is the least expensive Edge available that comes with an Intel processor (a 13-in. model with an AMD Athlon Neo X2 Dual-Core L325 processor starts at $579). However, it comes well equipped with a 2.13GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, a dual-layer DVD burner and Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium.

If you want Bluetooth in your 14-in. notebook, you have to pay $729 (for a model that includes 3GB RAM and a 320GB hard drive) or $879 (for one that includes 4GB RAM and Windows 7 Professional, which may suit an SMB more than Windows 7 Home Premium). None of the Edge systems includes a fingerprint scanner.

(Interestingly, the 13-in. Edge starts at $799, higher than its larger compatriots. This is because it offers an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor, Windows 7 Professional, an integrated camera, a 320GB hard drive and Bluetooth. However, one thing the smaller Edge does not include is any kind of optical drive, so while it might seem snazzier than its slightly larger cousins, it might not be as useful for business purposes.)

The Edge's 14-in. display can show 1,366 x 768 resolution. It uses Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator HD with 64MB of dedicated video memory; it can grab up to 762MB from the system's RAM. This is fine for 720p high-definition programming but can't show full 1080 HD resolution.

It all adds up to a fast notebook. I tested it against the Lenovo IdeaPad, which had a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB RAM, and the Edge scored a PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0 score of 704.8, some 38% better than the IdeaPad's 509.2 rating. However, the Edge's 2 hours and 55 minutes of battery life was a disappointment; it was more than an hour short of the 4 hours and 5 minutes runtime that the IdeaPad Y450 got. (This can be attributed to the fact that the older IdeaPad's battery is rated at 5,045mAh as opposed to the Edge's 4,760mAh, giving the IdeaPad 6% more capacity.)

As far as security goes, the Edge can encrypt a hard drive with the included software but doesn't include a trusted platform module -- a piece of hardware that identifies the system and helps with encryption for logging onto corporate networks.

The system does include a 60-day subscription to Norton Internet Security, a slew of Lenovo utilities and a one-year warranty.

At $649, the Edge puts together a good mix of performance, design and features at an enviable price. It's like a breath of fresh air for business users who want a ThinkPad with a bit of style.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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