Lenovo is nipping at HP’s heels when it comes to being the No. 1 notebook seller worldwide, and it’s easy to see why. Between venerable business Ultrabooks like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and innovative convertibles like the IdeaPad Yoga show that Lenovo is ahead of the curve. Add in low-cost ultraportables like the S400 series and it’s easy to see why other brands are looking over their shoulders.
Coming in second, Lenovo received an astounding six Editors’ Choice awards this year. That’s nearly a third of all the notebooks we tested from the company. Not surprisingly, its highest-rated systems were in the ThinkPad line — such as the T430s and X1 Carbon. But while 13 of its notebooks received a rating of 4 stars, one system, the ThinkPad Twist, received 2.5 stars for low battery life.
With such lookers as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook, Lenovo once again proves that business can beautiful — especially when you combine carbon fiber with sleek lines. Lenovo also gussied up the IdeaPad line with vivid, eye-catching color, as seen on the IdeaPad U410 and IdeaPad U310. The IdeaPad Yoga, a Windows 8 convertible with three user modes, proves Lenovo isn’t afraid to think outside the box.
MORE: 10 Best Lenovo Laptops
The ThinkPad line is virtually synonymous with high-quality keyboards. Time and again, the brand has impressed with its spacious, spill-resistant keyboards, and this year is no different. In particular, we found the layouts of the T430, T430s and W530 to be the best representation of the brand. The company’s one stumbling block is its IdeaPad line, which features units that suffer from occasional keyboard flex and undersized keys. The ThinkPad line’s comfortable and accurate Pointing Stick is one of the brand’s hallmarks.
Lenovo has only made minor tweaks to its tech support since last year, so its score did not improve. Lenovo’s Assisted Search provided confusing or unrelated answers. Getting an indirect response via Twitter took three days, and a Facebook rep gave us an incorrect response (luckily, a forum user jumped in to help). Fortunately, phone support reps were very helpful, and call times were no longer than 13 minutes.
Lenovo kept on a par with last year, offering consistently good viewing angles and display quality, such as that found in the IdeaPad Yoga and X1 Carbon. Unfortunately, as we saw with the ThinkPad T530, some displays were relatively dim. Audio was hit or miss. The X1 Carbon pumped out clear and loud audio, but other notebooks had a tinny sound, which was improved only slightly with the Dolby Advanced Audio software.
Lenovo’s vast notebook selection consists of three lines: the G Essential series, IdeaPad (Ultrabooks and multimedia) and ThinkPad (business). In each of these series, you’ll find great deals, such as the $610 ThinkPad Edge E430 with Core i5 power. The IdeaPad line gets confusing with several sub-brands, from S (thin and light) and U (Ultrabooks) to Y and Z (multimedia). Then there’s the Yoga line of convertibles. The ThinkPad line houses several options as well, many of which undercut business systems from HP and Dell. Lenovo.com offers deep customization options, as well as prices that often beat other online retailers. However, the brand’s selection in some box stores is smaller than that offered by Dell and HP.
Lenovo continues to outshine most of the Windows competition in this category. The company is simply willing to take more risks, including the recently expanded Yoga line, whose screen can flip around 360 degrees. An 11-inch version will join the 13-inch model, which will also feature motion gesture support, in time for the back-to-school season. The ThinkPad Helix proves that Lenovo isn’t afraid to experiment on the business side of the house. The Windows 8 hybrid sports a design that allows users to dock the display in presentation mode, use it as a slate only or use it as a traditional clamshell. A built-in digitizer pen further adds to the versatility.
Lenovo’s business-oriented ThinkPad line ships with several helpful utilities, including Power Manager and Airbag Protection, which stops the hard drive if you drop the machine, in an effort to protect the data. Lenovo Fingerprint makes it easy to enroll your prints for systems that ship with a reader. The company’s IdeaPad line typically comes with OneKey Recovery, which is a quick and easy to way back up and recover system files. Power Management allows you to switch your power settings and resembles a car’s odometer, which we liked. And the Thermal Management System, which regulates fan speed and noise, comes in handy.
Best and Worst Notebook Brands 2013