- Good performance
- Appealing design
- Impressive audio from JBL speakers
- Weak keyboard surround
- Unimpressive display
- Average battery life
Students looking for a 14-inch laptop with plenty of performance for school work and games should seriously consider the Lenovo IdeaPad Y480.
Lenovo’s all new IdeaPad Y480 is a 14-inch multimedia notebook designed to give you a perfect balance between serious performance for work and multimedia power for play. Whether you’re editing HD video for a school project or playing the latest video games, this laptop has you covered. Keep reading to find out if it’s worth the price.
Build & Design
One of the first things you’ll notice about the design of the IdeaPad Y480 is its simple, almost “old fashioned” lines and durable brushed aluminum lid with gunmetal black finish. The display lid and palmrest area sports the same brushed metal construction and black (dark gray) finish but the lower half of the chassis is made of thick, matte black plastic. The Y480 isn’t the thinnest or lightest kid on the block with a thickness of 1.3 inches and a weight of almost five pounds. Still, what this notebook lacks in slimness it more than makes up for in terms of overall performance, durable design, and upgradeability.
Build quality is good but not up to the standards of Lenovo’s ThinkPad business notebooks. The metal lid will protect the screen from the average bump or drop but the metal isn’t very thick and you can create distortions on the screen if you press on the lid while the laptop is turned on. The metal palmrest and plastic lower half of the notebook feels reasonably solid with no squeaks or creaks when you pinch the palmrest or try to twist the notebook in your hands.
Bottom line, this laptop should survive typical student usage as long as the student in question isn’t too abusive to electronics.
Lenovo was kind enough to stick to the tried and true solution of including an access panel on the bottom of the notebook so you can easily swap out the hard drive, RAM, or wireless cards if needed. In this day and age when most consumer notebooks are racing to get thinner and lighter it would have been easy for Lenovo to make the Y480 a millimeter to two thinner by using a sealed chassis. By building the notebook this way you don’t have to completely disassemble the laptop if something goes wrong.
Ports and Features
The IdeaPad Y480 has a reasonably impressive selection of ports for a 14-inch laptop. Included is a 6-in-1 memory card reader, two USB 3.0 “SuperSpeed” ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI and VGA ports for hooking it up to an HDTV or external monitor, and dedicated microphone and headphone jacks. Lenovo was also kind enough to include an 8X DVD SuperMulti optical drive for those who still insist on living in the previous decade.
To be honest, the only complaint we have about the ports on this notebook is a complaint we have about all current-generation notebooks: Why continue to include USB 2.0 ports? The new USB 3.0 standard is compatible with USB 2.0 (in other words, the faster USB 3.0 ports also work with older, slower USB devices) so there should be four USB 3.0 ports on this notebook instead of two of each kind.
Front: Activity lights and 6-in-1 memory card reader
Back: Hinges and battery
Left: Lock slot, exhaust vent, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0
Right: Headphone out/mic in, USB 2.0, 8X DVD SuperMulti optical drive, USB 2.0, A/C power
Screen and Speakers
Our review unit features the same 14.0-inch “HD Glare” display with LED backlighting that is used on all configurations of the Y480. The display resolution is a rather unimpressive 1366 x 768 (720p) and the screen is essentially unremarkable in terms of color, contrast and viewing angles. This isn’t to say that the screen on the Y480 is bad … it just lacks any type of “wow” factor. The glossy surface means you’ll see reflections and glare on the screen when you use the laptop under bright indoor lights or direct sunlight. The lack of a 1080p display option means you won’t get the full Blu-ray experience if you pay extra to get the Blu-ray drive option on the Y480. The fact that this is a TN panel instead of an IPS display means that the colors look washed out or inverted if you tilt the screen slightly forward or back.
All of these complaints could just as easily be leveraged against 90 percent of the 14-inch laptops on the market, but it’s reasonable to expect more from a notebook with a sticker price that goes as high as $1,699.00 for a system with a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive and 32GB SSD.
One place where the Y480 exceeds expectations is the built-in speakers. Lenovo uses a pair of JBL-branded stereo speakers enhanced with Dolby Home Theater v4 software to deliver surprisingly impressive sound for a notebook that only has two small speakers. Each JBL speaker is rated at 1.5W but they produce greater than expected audio performance both in terms of maximum volume and clarity. Thankfully, Lenovo engineers placed the speakers above the keyboard so sound is directed up and toward the user unlike many budget laptops that have speakers located on the bottom of the notebook pushing sound into your lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Y480 has a full-sized Chiclet-style keyboard with LED backlighting to help you type in dark environments. Lenovo has earned a reputation for making some of the best laptop keyboards and at first glance the Y480 is pretty good. Unlike most Chiclet-style keyboards from other companies, the keys aren’t perfectly flat but have a slightly concave surface that “hugs” your fingertip. The LED backlighting is nice and bright but there is quite a bit of backlight bleed around the keys.
Our only complaint about the keyboard on the Y480 is actually related to the keyboard surround … the plastic trim piece that sits around and behind the keys. The keyboard surround doesn’t snap firmly into place and actually “bounces” as you type with moderate or heavy pressure. This gives the false impression that the keyboard tray is flexing under pressure when in fact the keyboard support frame is very solid; it’s just the plastic trim piece behind the keys that moves around and makes a less-than-perfect typing experience.
The Synaptics touchpad is pretty standard. This is technically a “clickpad” since the entire surface functions as a massive touchpad button and you can click anywhere to trigger a left click. As with all the Synaptics clickpads we’ve tested, this only presents a problem with the default settings because it’s very difficult to trigger a right click. Lenovo placed a white line on the bottom edge of the clickpad to indicate where the traditional left and right clicks can be used but if your fingertip isn’t perfectly positioned then you’ll just make a left click when you are trying to make a right click. Thankfully, you can adjust the touchpad settings using the included Synaptics software.