The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 15 is the biggest notebook in the Edge family that also includes 13 and 14-inch models. The Edge series is known for its stylish looks that set it apart from other models in the ThinkPad series as well as its chiclet style keyboard. In this review, we see if the ThinkPad Edge 15 holds up as well in our testing as the two previous models.
Readers who pay a close attention to detail will notice that the ThinkPad Edge 15 has a lot in common with both the Edge 13 and Edge 14. Some parts of this review are reused for areas with identical components.
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 15 Specifications:
Build and Design
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 15 is a lower-cost consumer and small-business oriented laptop. Unlike the SL-series ThinkPad the Edge models don't share the common look and feel of other ThinkPad models. The all-black exterior has been replaced with a silver-trimmed border with multiple glossy and matte screen cover options. Our Edge 15 review unit included the glossy Heatwave red screen cover. I think an overlooked design touch would have been changing the ThinkPad logo from silver to black on this model to better contrast against the red background. Lenovo matched the letter background to the lid cover, but it has the same effect as over saturating a picture and losing distinction between the silver logo and red background.
Another change is an LED-illuminated ThinkPad logo with the dot above the "i" glowing red when the notebook is turned on. This replaces all other activity indication lights, which might be problematic if you expect to see hard disk activity or visual indications of the wireless interface being active. Inside the Edge, there is a consumer-focused design with a flat palmrest and bezel set around a Chiclet-style keyboard. While the Edge series includes a touchpad and pointing stick interface, it doesn't have the same contoured ergonomic sections around those items that you might find on other ThinkPads.
The Edge 15's build quality seems to be a step down from the 13 and 14-inch versions. While the Edge series in general feels under built when compared to higher ThinkPad models, the Edge 15 fares much worse. The right side of the palmrest has a moderate amount of flex under strong pressure. The structural support needed for the span across the optical drive bay is inadequate, which shows when you grip the notebook by that area. Pressing the keyboard there - even with a light press - causes the keyboard tray to flex inward. This is unacceptable on any notebook, but on a ThinkPad model, it seems even worse. The smaller Edge 13 and 14 maintained their rigidity since the open spans were smaller than they are on the 15-inch model.
The ThinkPad Edge 15 has easy access to internal components through two access panels on the bottom of the notebook. One panel houses the SIM-card and WWAN PCIe slot while the other is to access the system memory, CPU and hard drive. Most ThinkPad models include a SIM-card slot and extra mini-PCIe slot even if the systems aren't configured with it from the factory. Like the Edge 14, the Edge 15 doesn't have those parts soldered to the board. The larger panel gives you full access to the processor, heatsink and fan, memory slots and hard drive bay. Our review unit was configured with 2 GB of memory using a single memory slot, which allowed one slot to remain open for cheaper future upgrades.
Screen and Speakers
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 15 has a matte-finish 15-inch WXGA panel. Compared to other 15-inch panels on the market, this one rates below average with very poor contrast. Black levels were closer to light grey, which caused a domino effect, muting most vivid colors like red, orange, green or blue. We also noticed a "screen door effect" where individual pixels appeared visible at normal viewing distances. At full screen brightness, the center of the screen measured 225 nit with corners measuring between 160-180 nit. Viewing angles were average with colors starting to invert or wash out after 15 degrees when tilted forward or back.
The Edge 15 has thin speakers incorporated into the screen bezel beneath the LCD. Compared to most speaker drivers, they are fairly small and don't produce the best audio. Compared to consumer notebooks, they would rate below average, but against other business notebooks - which Lenovo is positioning it against - they are average. Sound quality would be fine for video conferencing using the built-in webcam or listening to streaming music or video throughout the workday. The notebook also features HDMI out, which is beneficial for connecting the system to a home theater to watch movies or listen to music.
Keyboard and Touchpad
When I first saw the leaked images of the new ThinkPad keyboard, I have to admit I was unimpressed. The keyboard is among the few remaining original parts of ThinkPad notebooks. The layout has been updated over the years, but the keyboard could always be identified as "ThinkPad." With the new design, Lenovo took a hint from other new keyboard designs hitting the market and blended a combination of form and function.
The keyboard takes a Chiclet/island-style that's common on notebooks ranging from the latest netbooks to the newest Apple MacBook, and merges it with a traditional ThinkPad design. What makes the keyboard unique is that it's the first Chiclet keyboard I have found that's 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 15 doesn't have these problems, creating an ideal hybrid keyboard that I can easily say is among the best implementations I have used to date. The keys have a shallow concave shape that cups your fingers and quickly centers them. For touch-typing the keyboard layout is excellent and is easily adaptable.
Typing pressure and feedback is similar to a typical ThinkPad keyboard, so similar in fact that if you type with your eyes closed, you might not even realize the key shape changed. Throw distance seems to be identical to my T60 with the same type of click sound made when fully pressed. Removing the keytops reveal the familiar scissor-action found in traditional ThinkPad keyboards. My best guess would be Lenovo kept the original frame and action assembly, only updating the keytops and adding an internal bezel structure. The keyboard on the Edge 13 and Edge 14 has excellent support with little flex, but on the Edge 15, has considerable flex even under light to moderate pressure. It had the most flex on the right side of the keyboard above the optical drive.
The Edge 15 offers a generously-sized Synaptics touchpad, having nearly three times the surface area compared to my T60. If you regularly use smaller touchpads, you might have a bit of a learning curve before it becomes second nature. During the first couple of days, I would frequently touch the bottom of the touchpad surface instead of clicking the left or right buttons, which would move the cursor off target. It was annoying until I adapted to its size. Overall, the touchpad was pleasant to use, with a fast response time and no discernable lag. Sensitivity was excellent and no adjustment was needed out of the box. This particular touchpad has some multitouch capabilities, including pinch-to-zoom and pivot-rotation. After extended use, I didn't have any problems with the touchpad texture; its smooth matte finish was easy to glide across with dry or slightly damp fingers. The touchpad buttons seem to have a slightly shallower clicking motion compared to other ThinkPads, but still provided good feedback.
Ports and Features
Compared to the Edge 13, the Edge 15 has additional ports and a spring-loaded SDHC-card reader. The Edge 15 gains eSATA through a combo port that includes three USB ports and one eSATA/USB connection. The larger Edge models also offer an ExpressCard/34 slot for future expansion and an optical drive, making use of their larger chassis.
One aspect of the clean design I disliked on the Edge 15 is its lack of 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, which is handy if you have multiple wireless devices like Bluetooth and WWAN or if some activity is really tasking your hard drive.
Front: SDHC-card reader
Rear: One USB
Left: VGA, eSATA/USB combo port, LAN, HDMI, headphone/mic combo port
Right: Two USB ports, optical drive, AC-power, Kensington Lock slot
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