Lenovo has been going through a rough patch. The brand’s consumer laptops were preloaded with adware that left users open to security attacks, although the company has since apologized and removed the offending software. But that’s not the only issue. In our undercover testing, Lenovo’s tech support was subpar. Plus, the review ratings haven’t been as strong as in years past, and the quality of the company’s keyboards and touchpads has been mixed. All that added up to Lenovo falling from an excellent second place last year to sixth in this year’s Best and Worst Brands survey. Lenovo’s lineup offers a good mix of value and selection, and it generally offers high-quality business notebooks, but that wasn’t enough to avoid a middling overall score.
Slipping a bit this year, Lenovo had only one four-star notebook, the ThinkPad W540, which also earned an Editors’ Choice award. All of the other systems we reviewed received either 3.5 or 3 stars — not bad, but not what we’ve come to expect from one of the leading notebook makers. The new X1 Carbon and other ThinkPads for 2015 look strong, though.
Despite some cosmetic changes to its customer support site, Lenovo’s tech assistance has not improved appreciably in the last couple of years. We found it far too difficult to find answers to basic questions about Lenovo notebooks online. The company’s phone support agents are prepared to help you if you have a broken laptop, but don’t hold your breath if your questions have to do with operating systems or settings. We were happy to discover the helpfulness of @LenovoSupport on Twitter, despite radio silence from @Lenovo and the company’s Facebook page.
Lenovo continues to flip the script on its competitors, churning out a Yoga laptop for every use case. The Yoga 3 Pro swaps the 360-degree hinges for a classy-looking watchband design that allows the notebook to fold completely flat. Lenovo also applied the Yoga’s flexibility to the ThinkPad Yoga 11e, creating one of the first hybrid Chromebooks.
MORE: Best Lenovo Laptops
The company added an innovative Lift ‘n’ Lock keyboard design to the business-centric ThinkPad Yoga 14. As visually stimulating as the Yoga series is, the company’s ThinkPads (ThinkPad W540 and ThinkPad X1 Carbon) and Y series (Y40, Y50, Y70 Touch and Y50-70 Touch), haven’t updated their aesthetics in a long time.
Lenovo has a long-standing reputation as a leader in keyboards, but a number of its consumer models don’t live up to this high standard. The Y40, Y50, Yoga 2 13-inch and Y50-70 touch keyboards all suffer from a mushy, shallow feel. The company’s ThinkPad T and W series laptops have the best keyboards of any notebooks in the world, with deep travel and the crispest feedback anywhere. However, some thinner ThinkPads, such as the X240 and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, have slightly shallower travel.
Lenovo’s consumer notebooks generally have accurate touchpads, though we did notice some stickiness on the Yoga 3 Pro and inconsistent palm rejection on the Y50. All of the ThinkPads, except the education-centric Yoga 11e, have the famous red TrackPoint pointing stick, which provides an accurate, efficient way to navigate. In 2015, the TrackPoints will once again have their own mouse buttons after having them built into the top of the touchpad in 2013 and 2014. For those who don’t like the red nubs, the ThinkPad touchpads also have a slick and accurate feel.
Although its mean brightness of 244 nits falls below average, Lenovo makes a lot of notebooks with sharp, colorful displays for both the business and consumer space. Most of the ThinkPads have screens that are available in 1080p or higher resolution, with the X1 Carbon (2560 x 1440 pixels) and W540 (2880 x 1600p) providing bright, vibrant images. The entertainment-focused Y70 Touch delivers a vivid screen (275 nits), full 1080p resolution and stunning color (100 percent of the sRGB gamut), while the flexible Yoga 3 Pro has an eye-popping 3200 x 1800p screen that can display 99.3 percent of the sRGB gamut. As with most brands, Lenovo’s lower-cost systems had dimmer, less colorful displays.
Even as sleek, slim and bendable laptops become ubiquitous, Lenovo still finds ways to stand out among its competitors. The company’s new LaVie Z is the world’s lightest laptop at just 1.72 pounds, and comes as either a standard clamshell or a Yoga-style convertible design. The new Yoga 3 improves on the notebook’s ultraflexible hinge while adding a taste of luxury watch-inspired style. The company brought a touch-enabled, rotating display to the Chromebook with the N20p, though the notebook suffers from poor viewing angles.
MORE: Best Laptops
Not all of Lenovo’s innovations were hits — the company added context-sensitive keys to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon via an ambitious Adaptive Function Row, but the feature proved to be more inconvenient than standard F keys. The altered Function row won’t be returning on future models.
Audio quality is a toss-up when it comes to Lenovo; high-end laptops offered impressive sound, while budget devices were lacking. The $299 Lenovo N20p Chromebook notched 86 decibels, and sounded distorted and tinny overall, but the $1,550 Lenovo Y50-70 Touch measured 88 dB with its JBL speakers and blasted rich, vibrant audio. On average, Lenovo notebooks measured 85 dB, which is slightly softer than the category average.
Lenovo continues its tradition of supplying a solid selection of home and business notebooks, along with the widest range of 2-in-1s and hybrids. Lenovo’s gaming PCs do a decent job of competing on price, offering a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD/8GB SSD hybrid drive, all for $1,230. Even better are the frequent discounts; while we were working on this year’s report, Lenovo was bumping storage up to a 512GB SSD for just an extra $170, which is a steal.
Comparing Ultrabooks, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t pack quite as much value as Dell’s XPS 13 when equipped with a 5th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, for a total price of $1,079. An XPS 13 with similar specs costs just $900, although the X1 Carbon does come with a slightly larger 14-inch display and more durability features.
Lenovo has apologized for preloading dangerous adware called Superfish onto its laptops, and the company has issued a removal tool for that program. However, that doesn’t instantly repair the loss of trust in the brand’s software. In the past, we’ve liked Lenovo’s software offerings, such as One Key Recovery for instant backup, QuickConnect for controlling your business laptop with your Android phone and QuickCast for sharing data across devices.
We appreciate the company’s helpful DOit suite of apps, which is new this year. You’ll get SHAREit for speedy file transfer over Wi-Fi Direct, and SYNCit to back up contacts, SMS messages and call logs in the cloud. As a result of the Superfish fiasco, Lenovo says it will stop preloading third-party bloatware on its systems once Windows 10 arrives. Smart move.