When most people think of the Lenovo ThinkPad brand, they think of the T-series notebook with the alloy unibody chassis, rubberized black paint, and boxy looks. What most people don't realize is Lenovo offers a small business line, called the SL-series, which offers most of the same features at a much lower price. In this review we take a look at the 15.6" Lenovo ThinkPad SL510, and find out if it is a worthy alternative for users who don't want to shell out for the higher-end ThinkPad models.
Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 Specifications:
The SL-series ThinkPad is the toned-down version of the more rugged T-series. The exterior shell is entirely plastic, but with a softer finish with rounded edges and a smooth texture, instead of the rubberized paint on the more expensive models. The shape is also different, with sloped sides, instead of the flat sides seen on the higher models. Overall it has a more consumer appearance that might be more inviting to some users. Compared to the SL500, the SL510 has a few aesthetic changes, including a redesigned screen hinge assembly, and a few minor body tweaks. Side by side though, they still look almost identical.
Build quality is nice compared to consumer-targeted notebooks, but a step under the T400 and T500, which offer alloy unibody frames and stronger body panels. The notebook still has a very solid feel to it, with very little chassis flex.
Upgrades and expansion are easily handled through panels on the bottom of the chassis. The primary panel gives you access to the processor, system memory, and hard drive. No "warranty void if removed" stickers were found anywhere. The two smaller access panels uncover an open mini-PCIe slot for a WWAN card and a sim-card slot when the system is equipped with 3G.
Screen and Speakers
Lenovo offers both matte and glossy screen options on the SL-series, both WXGA resolution. Our review model included the standard matte-panel, but if you enjoy the vibrant colors and increased contrast of a glossy screen, that option is available. The matte WXGA panel was average compared to consumer notebooks, and could have really benefited from a higher resolution. Color and contrast were weaker than normal, but this is common for basic non-glossy displays. Viewing angles were fine for an office setting where the notebook wouldn't be moved around a lot, but on your lap it was easy to see colors starting to shift. In testing we saw colors starting to shift when tilted 10 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were better, staying true past 70 degrees from each side. Viewing brightness was perfect for bright office conditions, and with the matte finish partially visible outdoors.
Speaker performance was average for a basic mid-size desktop replacement notebook. Bass and midrange were lacking but for listening to streaming radio or YouTube videos it was fine. The SL510's peak volume level was fine for a small room, but felt lacking compared to other consumer notebooks. For a better experience, using the analog audio out to a pair of external speakers would be a better option. The best alternative would be using the HDMI out to pass a digital audio stream to an outside stereo system.
The keyboard was very comfortable to type on and felt very similar to the keyboards on the T-series ThinkPads. The layout is different, missing the extra row of function keys at the top, but the main area has been left intact. Key action was great, with a soft spring movement, giving off a mild click when pressed. Key spacing is nearly identical to regular ThinkPads, with barely any difference noted switching between my T60 and the SL510. The biggest difference is the newer keyboards are slightly quieter. On the left side of the keyboard are some quick-access buttons, used for muting system volume or the microphone, as well as adjusting volume levels.
Ports and Features
Port selection was surprisingly good, including three USB ports, an eSATA/USB combo port, HDMI, VGA, and audio jacks. Lenovo also included an SDHC-card slot and ExpressCard/34 slot for expansion. The HDMI-out and eSATA were greatly appreciated, and I almost wish they offered those on more ThinkPad models.
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