Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 First Look

by Reads (33,911)

by Kevin O’Brien

The ThinkPad SL300 is Lenovo’s new 13.3" budget business notebook which offers many of the same features you would find on the T/X/R-series notebooks, but at a much lower price. The SL-series is Lenovo’s answer to the Vostro line-up from Dell. This line of ThinkPad also offers some features not commonly found on the regular ThinkPads, such as a glossy LCD, HDMI output, and a stylish glossy plastic exterior. The key question most people are wondering though, is this notebook worthy of the ThinkPad logo? Read our first look to find out what we think about this new Thinkpad and if it should earn a spot in your small business.

 

Our review unit specifications:

  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS 128MB
  • Screen: 13.3" WXGA LED-Backlit Glossy VibrantView (1280×800, 300 nit)
  • Memory: 2GB(up to 4GB configurable)
  • Storage: 250GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: Dual layer CD/DVD recordable drive
  • Wireless and Communications: Intel 5100 (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion
  • Dimensions: 12.5 x 9.4 x 1.3-1.5"
  • Weight: 4lbs 14oz with battery
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
  • Warranty: 1-year


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Build and Design

The design of the new SL-series is not unlike the older generation R-series notebooks during the IBM era of ThinkPads. The entire chassis is made up of a durable plastic, which helps cut down on weight as well as cost. The normally exposed screen hinges are covered with plastic and the ThinkPad logo even sports a red LED for the dot above the "i". A glossy surface replaces the rubbery black paint commonly found on the more expensive ThinkPads, which some might say gives it a cleaner or more stylish appearance. This budget ThinkPad also shows its true "ThinkPad" roots with the red-striped and blue-dotted TouchPoint buttons.


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Build quality is just above average, with a durable feel, but not as strong as what you might find in the R or T series models. Some mild flex is found in the palmrest, and the bottom of the notebook has more give under stress, such as gripping the edge while carrying the notebook around. Fit and finish could be improved in a few areas, such as the TouchPoint buttons which are too close to the top edge of the palmrest, and squeak when pressed. While this is a fairly minor assembly defect, the level of annoyance is like walking around with a shoe soaked with water, squeaking everywhere you step.


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Screen

The LED-backlit VibrantView display found on the SL300 rates above average and was very easy on the eyes. Color and contrast with the glossy finish were excellent, making images and video "pop" out at you. Vertical viewing angles were decent, with a good-sized sweet spot before colors started to invert as you tilt the screen forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were excellent, not really showing any distortion even at very steep angles. The LED-backlit was very bright, enough to easily overcome intense office lighting. Outdoor visibility would have been better if the screen didn’t have so much reflection from the glossy surface, but it was still manageable. My preferred brightness setting inside was 80% in the office and about 50-60% at my home.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the SL300 is very firm around the perimeter, and even above the optical drive cavity, shows little to no flex under firm pressure. Key action is very smooth and gives just the right about of feedback for each click, exactly what you would want out of a ThinkPad keyboard. Some of the layout has been tweaked, such as the page up and page down buttons located near the direction pad, instead of at the upper corner of the keyboard.


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The touchpad was a mild disappointment, with quite a bit of lag and inconsistent sensitivity. While on the surface the touchpad looks just like what you would find on any other ThinkPad, it is actually a completely different panel. Lenovo opted for a non-Synaptics touchpad which I found to be so distracting in use that I turned to the TouchPoint during my review. The touchpad surface is very nice, with a semi-rough texture that is easily to glide your finger across. The touchpad buttons are also excellent, with a deep throw and great feedback. The TouchPoint functionality was great, and my only gripe were the buttons that rubbed up against the palmrest and squeaked.

Performance

System performance was excellent with the 2.4GHz Intel P8600 Core 2 Duo processor and NVIDIA 9300M graphics. The notebook was very snappy with a fast boot-time, and applications opened without any lag. Synthetic benchmarks also backed up many of our subjective system performance findings, with PCMark05 reaching above 5,500, 3DMark06 above 1,500, and wPrime around 30 seconds. While it might not be in the same territory as gaming rigs, it is more than capable for its intended audience of small businesses.

Ports and Features

Port selection on the SL300 is very nice, offering a wide range of ports that don’t always crop up on 13.3" notebooks. This ThinkPad offers three USB ports, FireWire, HDMI and VGA, LAN, modem, and even a multi-card reader. For many users this is more than enough to handle day to day tasks.


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Battery

The SL300 handled itself quite well in our off-the-grid testing, reaching almost four hours of battery life on the 6-cell battery. This is with the screen backlight at 60%, wireless enabled, and very light web browsing activity. With wireless disabled, the estimated time remaining jumped roughly 30 minutes. While this is no 10 hours from our T400, it is still very good for a 13.3" notebook.

 

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