The trend these days is for smaller and lighter laptops. Many of the analysts that follow PC sales are saying that they expect tablets to outsell laptops in 2012. Intel has jumped into the fray with the Ultrabook and its focus on thinner, lighter laptops with significantly more performance than a tablet like the iPad.
Lenovo, like most PC manufacturers, makes an Ultrabook, but the IdeaPad Y580 represents the latest update to the "traditional" 15-inch notebook PC. And that's good, because while Ultrabooks are pretty and light, some of us need the extra utility and power -- and lower price tag -- that comes from a standard 15-inch laptop.
Lenovo originally got its foot in the door of the U.S. laptop market by purchasing IBM's personal computer business and continuing to produce the popular ThinkPad line of business laptops. Lenovo wisely made sure to keep up the ThinkPad's reputation for quality, even when IBM's name (which was included with the purchase under temporary license) was removed. In fact, the ThinkPad is currently certified by NASA for use in space. There were ThinPads on many of the Shuttle missions, and there are several dozen currently still in use on the International Space Station.
These days, Lenovo has expanded to offer multiple lines of laptops. The ThinkPad line is still targets business users, while the IdeaPad is meant for more general purpose use such as gaming, multimedia, and student use.
The IdeaPad Y580 has a somewhat less macho image and approach compared to the ThinkPad. The overall choice of materials is softer looking and attractive and there is a lack of business-oriented features such as a docking station or wedge battery.
The Y580 is a "reasonably priced" laptop, not a budget model, and this is reflected in the price, feature set, and materials used. The case is a beautiful dark brushed aluminum with the Lenovo on the top of the case -- raised and in silver, which provides a nice contrast to the dark case.
At first glance, the Y580 looks disproportionately wide, with the footprint measuring about 15 inches wide and just under 10 inches deep. The proportions become more obvious when you start to watch a movie on the 15.6 inch display in full HD 16:9 1920 x 1080 mode. Getting this resolution is not common on standard movies, but the Y580's optical drive is a Blu-Ray model (which can also play standard DVDs and CDs).
As with a number of IdeaPad models, there is no latch that has to be moved to raise the top panel -- it just lifts up from the front edge. The first time that you open the laptop, you may fumble a bit. The location and orientation of the Lenovo logo is such that some people will assume that the top lifts up from what is actually the rear of the device. When you notice that the hinges are on the side that you're trying to open, a quick 180 degree rotation gets you going. There is a slight gap in the middle of the Y580 just below the touchpad (system displays such as power are located there, rather than at the top near the screen), so you have something to give you leverage to raise the screen.
One advantage that the traditional design of the Y580 offers is the ability to access the hard drive, RAM, and other key components simply by removing the access panel on the bottom of the notebook. You won't find Ultrabooks that are this easy to upgrade.
Ports and Features
Considering that the Y580 is a mid-priced laptop, you would expect a fair number of ports and decent upgradability. The Y580 provides both. The bottom of the laptop contains a single cover for the hard disk (or an SSD) and memory. The battery clips in and is easily swapped. A trio of grills on the back and one on the left side panel provide good ventilation.
The left panel side panel also contains VGA and HDMI ports as well as two of the three USB 3.0 ports. The third USB 3.0 port is located on the right side panel as is the Blu-Ray drive, a USB 2.0 port, and microphone and headphone ports. The front panel (not pictured) contains an unobtrusive Multicard slot beneath the right palm rest so you can transfer photos from SD and other flash memory cards.
Left: Kensington lock slot, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports
Right: Headphone/microphone jacks, USB 3.0, optical drive, USB 2.0, AC power jack
Screen and Speakers
The Y580's 1080p screen is one of the better ones I've seen lately despite the fact that it is a standard TN panel that suffers from color shift at extreme viewing angles. Colors are bright and nicely saturated and viewing angles are good until about 30-40 degrees forward and back and about 45 degrees on either side. The one thing that the Y580's screen suffers from is reflectivity. The glossy screen is very highly polished, and even in moderate light I could see my reflection in the glass.
This is quickly fixed with an aftermarket product like 3M's Anti-glare film, though at the cost of cutting screen brightness by a noticeable degree. A better solution would be for Lenovo to simply offer a matte screen option.
At the top of the screen is a 720P HD webcam, which can also be used with included software to provide facial recognition for logins rather than typed passwords. I haven't had much luck with this feature on other laptops in the past, and have had to resort to a standard password, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of facial recognition. But I've had problems in the past with voice and fingerprint recognition as well, so maybe there's some degree of unreliability in these biometric features.
When the screen lid is open, the inside of the laptop continues the dark brushed finish except for two attractive metallic speaker grills at the very top of the keyboard half. These cover the JBL speakers, 1.5 watt units which put out excellent sounding audio compliments of the Y580s Dolby Home Theater capability. There is even a hint of bass to be heard despite the relatively small size of the speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The layout of the laptop is fairly generic, though there are a few differences that may not be evident at a quick glance. The keyboard is one of these. It contains full-size keys with rounded edges and a good feel with a positive keypress. The keyboard also features a numeric keypad for rapid data entry. These keys are slightly smaller than the typing keys, but I had no trouble using the keypad in Excel. The keyboard is backlit, and this can be turned on and off using the Fn key and spacebar. It's a handy feature to have when you're taking a red-eye flight or working late in a dorm room.
The touchpad is shifted slightly left of center and has, what Lenovo claims is a smart sensor that prevents the cursor from moving around the screen as the user puts pressure on the palm rest while typing. I've experienced this fairly frequently in the past on a number of laptops, but did not encounter it on the Y580 during my testing.
The touchpad itself is actually a "clickpad" ... meaning the entire surface clicks down when you press it. Moving the cursor to a place on the screen and clicking the touchpad performs the same action as using the left mouse button. It takes a while to remember that the feature is there, but once you get used to having it, you'll probably get frustrated using a laptop where you need to double-tap to perform the same operation.
You can also use a rotate gesture in addition to the more common pinch, zoom, and scroll.
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