- Sleek design
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Internal DVD drive and user-replaceable battery
- Subpar screen
- Anemic speakers
- Fan turns on frequently
This sub-$600 multimedia notebook has a 14" display, Nvidia graphics and an internal optical drive; read on to see what else it has to earn our recommendation.
The IdeaPad Z series is Lenovo’s second-tier notebook line designed for home and multimedia use; it’s more fully featured than the entry-level IdeaPad G series. The 14″ IdeaPad Z40 we’re reviewing has a sleek design, good overall performance for most tasks and several unique specifications like an inbuilt optical drive and user-replaceable battery, both of which have become relatively uncommon in consumer thin-and-light notebooks. Aside from its subpar display, we ultimately found the IdeaPad Z40 to offer solid value and give it our recommendation.
Build and Design
The IdeaPad Z40’s aesthetics are one of its primary selling points. Its all-black exterior has a sleek appearance measuring a hair under one inch thin and a tenth over 4.5 pounds. The brushed aluminum coverings around the palm rest look smart and make it feel like a more expensive notebook. The only downside to the aluminum is that it shows a fair amount of smudges and fingerprints. The glossy plastic border around the display is worse in this regard; keep a microfiber cleaning cloth handy.
Some flex is evident in the chassis; pressing down on any given area of the palm rest will result in some give but overall it’s quite passable for a consumer notebook, especially considering the IdeaPad Z40’s thinness. The lid is stronger than expected; even above average pressure was not enough to get ripples to appear in the display when pressing in from behind. Flex in the display itself is minimal as well. These attributes are important in a notebook that will see travel, especially if it’ll be sandwiched between books and other items.
The fit and finish is average; the back corners of the chassis and the bottom corners of the display lid are a bit sharp. The IdeaPad Z40 is otherwise well put together. We noticed no creaks, groans or other indications of poor part fitment during our usage.
Upgrading the IdeaPad Z40 is simple; the access panel on the bottom of the chassis, held in with two screws, includes both memory slots, the 2.5-inch storage drive and the wireless card. It’s also notable that the battery is user-removable; slide the switches on the bottom of the chassis to remove it. This is no longer the norm; an increasing number of thin-and-light notebooks, especially Ultrabooks, have sealed-in batteries.
Input and Output Ports
The IdeaPad Z40 includes the expected array of ports: three USB (only one of which is a SuperSpeed USB 3.0, however), HDMI, Ethernet, a media card reader and an inbuilt optical drive; the latter wouldn’t have been notable a few years ago but has become commonplace for notebook makers to leave out. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Left: AC power jack, cooling exhaust vent, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 2.0, USB 3.0
Right: microphone/headphone combination jack, 2-in-1 media card reader (SD/MMC), USB 2.0, tray-load optical drive, Kensington lock slot
Screen and Speakers
The IdeaPad Z40 is available with one display choice: it measures 14 inches diagonally, has a 1366×768 resolution and a reflective surface coating. The display is the IdeaPad Z40’s biggest weakness; it’s underwhelming in every aspect. The low resolution is detrimental when working with lots of text, multiple windows or detailed images; you’ll be doing a lot of zooming and scrolling. Preferably we’d see a resolution no lower than 1600×900 on a 14″ display. The reflective display surface acts as a mirror and produces distracting reflections in well-lit areas, especially office environments with overhead lighting. Brightness is unimpressive; it’s just enough at maximum brightness. We found ourselves using at least 8/10 or 9/10 to maintain usability. Furthermore the picture quality is subpar; colors look less lifelike than they should and the contrast isn’t deep enough. The viewing angles are narrow; there’s about a 30-degree window where the picture looks correct without inverting or washing out. Overall the display has almost no redeeming qualities.
The IdeaPad Z40’s two stereo speakers sound muffled because they’re located inside the chassis. The Dolby badge on the display hinge made us a bit hopeful but any optimism we had faded after playing music. The speakers sound relatively tinny and have almost no bass per notebook speaker tradition. The sound level is also anemic; users in areas with a lot of background noise will struggle to hear anything. Needless to say the best ways to get audio out of this notebook are via its static-free headphone jack and the HDMI port.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Our impressions of Lenovo IdeaPad keyboards have been quite positive over the years, and the IdeaPad Z40’s is no exception. We’re fans of its good tactile feedback, nearly flex-free keyboard tray, quiet clicks and excellent layout (dedicated home, end, pgup and pgdn keys and left/right ctrl and alt keys as would be found on a desktop keyboard). The keys have a slightly textured surface which helps grip but will likely wear shiny over time. The only real con we can point out is a lack of backlighting which is offered on similarly-priced competing notebooks like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 series.
The touchpad has a been a weak point for some IdeaPads we’ve reviewed; the IdeaPad Z40 redeems the brand by including a traditional touchpad setup with two physical buttons as opposed to a single surface ‘clickpad’. The IdeaPad Z40’s setup by comparison is both more intuitive and more accurate. The touchpad’s anti-glare surface is easy to accurately track fingers across. The two buttons click louder than we prefer but have good feedback. This is the kind of touchpad we’d like to see on more notebooks.