by Kevin O'Brien
The new Lenovo G550 is an update to the Value Line G530 with the primary difference being the shift from a 16:10 to a 16:9 screen. This is becoming a common trend for most manufacturers, as they shift to the now more standardized 16:9 screens. The biggest question on our minds is how well this updated budget notebook performs; considering the previous revision earned our Editor's Choice award.
Lenovo Value line G550 Specifications:
Build and Design
The design of the G550 has changed slightly from the G530, switching from a smooth matte exterior finish, to a black weave pattern. The new cover is every bit as strong as the last one, preventing any screen distortion even if you hit or flex the back of the screen. The interior of the notebook shares the same color as the lid, but is textured with a rougher matte finish similar to what you would find on unpainted sections of a ThinkPad. Lenovo took the back-to-basics route with the color scheme on this notebook, making it entirely black inside and out.
The chassis is constructed entirely of plastic, but where most budget notebooks might feel flexible or flimsy, the G550 feels like a solid block of sturdy material. When talking about the palm rest on most notebooks, including ThinkPads, notebooks with good support still show some flex under a very strong grip. Somehow squeezing the palm rests on the G550 feels like you are trying to squeeze a rock. Other areas of the notebook share the same toughness, including the keyboard and surrounding trim.
To upgrade components the G550 has easy access panels to the memory and CPU, wireless card, and hard drive on the bottom of the notebook. No components, including the processor, had "warranty void if removed" stickers, making it very easy to handle upgrades or repairs in the future.
Screen and Speakers
The 15.6" LCD is average compared to most 15-16" notebooks, with bright and vibrant colors and decent viewing angles. The G550's big change is the transition away from the 16:10 screen size to the wider (but shorter) 16:9 panels. The screen offers a glossy surface, which helps improve colors and contrast at the cost of added reflections and glare. Compared to "frameless" displays the reflections were tolerable as long as you were not outside under direct sunlight. Screen brightness was adequate for viewing in bright office conditions, but might not cut it outside unless it is an overcast day. Vertical viewing angles were adequate with a broad viewing sweet spot measuring 30 degrees forward or back before colors started to wash out or invert. Horizontal view angles were much better, showing minimal color distortion at steep angles.
The speakers are located on the front edge of the palmrest and sound more than adequate for playing music or watching streaming video. Sound quality isn't the best compared to other notebooks of this size with a tinny sound that lacks bass. Headphones would be a good accessory for this notebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is easy to type on, sharing the same comfortable and durable feel as my ThinkPad T60 keyboard and only differing in layout. Individual key action is smooth with no audible click when pressed. The keys are textured with a smooth matte finish, giving decent traction for typing ... unlike the glossy keyboards we are seeing on a greater number of notebooks these days. Keyboard support is excellent, barely a hint of flex on the main section of the keyboard. The newer 16:9 chassis on the G550 allowed Lenovo to add a numberpad to the keyboard, but they didn't change the support under that side of the keyboard frame. It doesn't appear to have much flex, but it has just enough to make a squeaking sound against the optical drive when press down. Media-related keys are limited to touch-sensitive mute and volume up/down buttons located above the keyboard.
Lenovo transitioned to a new touchpad on the G550, switching from the Synaptics model on the G530 to an ALPS pad. The ALPS pad doesn't have as quick of a refresh rate, so at times it feels like the pointer is lagging behind your finger. Another problem is the surface isn't as sensitive for users who like to use tap to click and tap to drag frequently. On the Synaptics pad it is easy to drag and lift off, while the ALPS models seem to need a strong tap at the end, otherwise it won't let go of the selected item and you keep dragging it around the screen. The touchpad buttons are similar to the old ones, with shallow feedback and giving off a positive "click" when pressed.
Ports and Features
Although the G550 is now larger than the G530, Lenovo still managed to decrease the amount of ports available. The ExpressCard slot is missing, USB ports are down from four to three, and the modem jack is gone. I can see no other reason besides cutting costs for such a loss of features.
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