Lenovo is not only refreshing their current notebook lineup this year, but they have just announced an all-new Thinkpad; the Edge 13. This notebook is designed to be a cross between a small-business and consumer notebook, adding a spark of color and style not really seen in current ThinkPads. The biggest change that people will notice besides the glossy top is the completely redesigned Chiclet-style keyboard. In this review we look at the new 13-inch ThinkPad Edge and see how well it stacks up to previous ThinkPad models.
Our Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 Specifications:
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 has a consumer-driven design that goes a few steps beyond the SL-series ThinkPads. While the SL-series looks like a ThinkPad with the rubbery paint replaced with glossy paint, the Edge has a completely new shape and contrasting paint scheme. The borders of the screen cover and keyboard are trimmed with silver plastic, with an inlay of glossy paint or black plastic making up the main sections. The top cover on our review unit is glossy black, similar to the SL-series, but in addition Lenovo will offer other colors for customers to pick from. Another subtle change is the standard indicator lights have been replaced with a single red LED which also happens to be the dot above the ThinkPad "I". The design is so vastly different from other ThinkPad models that if you were to cover the logo with another sticker nobody would recognize this as being a ThinkPad(in fact, most people wouldn't believe you right now even if you said it was a ThinkPad).
Build quality is above average compared to consumer notebooks but a step below business-grade ThinkPads. Some of this could be related to our pre-production model, but I feel that even final-stage models will show some of the same weaknesses. Out of the box the first things that stood out at me were the rather small screen hinges and the imperfect glossy paint. ThinkPads have been known for strong screen hinges that last the life of the notebook without wearing out. Some smaller models like the X200 have used smaller hinges to complement the smaller design, but the hinges on the ThinkPad Edge seem to feel weak in comparison. The paint quality is another issue I noticed out of the box. The finish seems to be lower quality than most painted notebooks we see. The glossy finish has imperfections that break up the reflection and give it a hybrid-glossy/matte look. This may be intentional or just a quirk caused by early manufacturing processes.
Users looking to upgrade components will find it easy by removing a single panel that gives you access to the hard drive, wireless cards, and system memory. The panel itself is thin metal and pulls double duty to cover upgradeable parts and give strength to the notebook when fully screwed in place. No "warranty void if removed" stickers were found anywhere.
Screen and Speakers
Our Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 includes a 13.3" WXGA-resolution glossy display with 16:9 screen ratio. Compared to other similarly-sized consumer notebooks the screen is average in terms of color and contrast. It was good for viewing images or watching movies, but some colors looked slightly washed out even at near perpendicular viewing angles. Turning down the backlight brightness level helped improved black levels. At peak brightness the screen was easily readable in bright viewing conditions. If the screen surface was matte instead of glossy it may have been usable outdoors. Vertical viewing angles were average with colors starting to wash out or distort in as little as 15 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles didn't seem to be affected by rotating the notebook until reflections overpowered the image being displayed.
The ThinkPad Edge has lap-firing speakers located right below the front edge of the palmrest. If the notebook wasn't sitting on a flat desk surface it is easy to cover the speaker grills and have any sound muffled. The speakers are average compared to other CULV notebooks, lacking bass and most mid-range. For listening to streaming music or video they should suffice. If you want to enjoy a movie, using headphones or a stereo connected through the Edge's HDMI port would be the best option.
When I first saw the leaked images of the new ThinkPad keyboard I have to admit that I was less than pleased. The keyboard is one of the few remaining original and unchanged parts of all ThinkPad notebooks. The layout had been updated over the years but it could always be identified as the ThinkPad keyboard. With the new design Lenovo took a hint from many of the new keyboard designs hitting the market and brought in a combination of form and function.
The keyboard takes the Chiclet/Island-style we have all seen on notebooks ranging from the latest netbooks to the newest Apple MacBook and merges it with the normal ThinkPad design. The part that makes this keyboard special is it is the first type of Chiclet keyboard I have found to be very comfortable and easy to type on. Most Chiclet-style keyboards have flat top keys, different spacing, and a shallower throw than a normal keyboard. The ThinkPad Edge doesn't have any of these problems, creating the perfect hybrid keyboard which I can easily say is one of the best implementations I have used to date.
Typing pressure and feedback is similar to the normal ThinkPad keyboard ... so close that if you type with your eyes closed you might not even realize the key shape changed. The throw distance seems to be identical to my T60 with the same type of click sound made when fully pressed. Removing the key-tops reveals a very similar scissor-action found in normal ThinkPad keyboards. My best guess would be Lenovo stuck with the original frame and action assembly, only updating the key-tops and adding the internal bezel structure. It makes no compromises in terms of strength; showing no flex under strong typing pressure.
Ports and Features
The ThinkPad Edge includes three USB ports, VGA and HDMI-out, a combined headphone and microphone jack, and a SDHC-card reader. I felt that there was enough space to easily add another USB port or eSATA connection which would have helped if you like to connect multiple devices to your laptop. The SDHC-card reader is a non-spring loaded style which leaves the card sticking out slightly when fully inserted.
One aspect of the clean design I didn't like on the Edge-series notebook is the lack of proper indicator lights. The system lacks both hard drive indicator and wireless activity lights. Compared to other notebooks this setup prevents you from seeing if wireless cards are currently powered on --handy if you have multiple wireless devices like Bluetooth and WWAN-- or if some activity is really tasking your hard drive.
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