When most people hear the name Lenovo they automatically picture a ThinkPad notebook. This business-centric line of laptops has been around for years and road warriors cling to them the way they cling to their BlackBerrys. ThinkPads represent only part of the Lenovo notebook universe — the consumer side features aesthetically pleasing IdeaPad notebooks and netbooks. In our continuing You Grade the Brands series, we’re taking a look back at a year’s worth of Lenovo notebook reviews to identify which strengths and weaknesses we’ve observed overall to give consumers some guidance on where to begin their search for the perfect laptop. We’ve also factored in the data we collected in our 2009 Tech Support Showdown and third-party data on notebook reliability.
So how does Lenovo stack up? Read on to see our take on the vendor’s strengths and weaknesses and the 2009 review scorecard below. Then sound off in the comments and tell us what you think of the brand and about your own experience with your Lenovo ThinkPad or IdeaPad notebook or netbook. Without your input, our report card will be incomplete.
- Keyboards: One of the most important elements of any notebook, Lenovo’s keyboards have long been recognized as amongst the best. This is particularly true of the ThinkPad line of business machines. You get good travel, springy and responsive keys, and sturdy, durable design. Some of the full-size IdeaPad notebooks also follow in the footsteps of their suit and tie siblings. The latest ThinkPad Edge 13, for SMB customers, includes a less traditional chiclet-style layout, but the typing experience is still stellar.
- Design: The company’s consumer line is filled with good-looking notebooks and netbooks, but when we look at overall design it’s not aesthetics that play the most important role. ThinkPads may not be runway-worthy, but they’re durable, comfortable, and for the most part fairly sleek systems. Here both the consumer and business side get high marks, though not always for the same elements.
- Performance: On the business side, ThinkPads consistently impress us with their performance scores, and in 2009 the T400s upped the ante with a blazing fast solid state drive to compliment the Core 2 Duo processor inside. Ideapads also fared well in this category, including netbooks like the speedy S10-2, S10e, and the Ion-powered S12.
- Software: Lenovo does an excellent job of bundling useful utilities. ThinkVantage offers business users key tools for keeping their laptops safe and secure while keeping productive and connected. Touch-enabled ThinkPads now have the SimpleTap interface for easier access to ThinkVantage utilities. The focus on the consumer side is the Instant-on interface for getting users on the Web fast.
- Price: As good look at Lenovo’s lineup reveals that some models are priced considerably higher than comparably configured machines from competitors. The Ion-powered Ideapad S12‘s initial retail price of $649 is $50 to $250 above other Ion netbooks with similar secs. The ThinkPad Edge 13 costs the same as the slightly older HP ProBook 5310m ($899) but comes with a slower hard drive and CPU, making it less of a comparative value. The silver lining is that it’s easy for consumers to find discounts on Lenovo through the vendor’s website and other online retailers. Always check Lenovo.com and your favorite bargain websites before making your purchase.
- Consumer Notebooks Lacking: The ThinkPad line is Lenovo’s crown jewel, so it’s not a surprise that more effort has gone in the business side of the company. Still, the consumer/mainstream IdeaPad notebooks and netbooks tend to be less compelling than their corporate cousins. For example, the consumer notebooks don’t always have the same outstanding keyboards or long battery life and feel less solid. If you look at upcoming designs like the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid and IdeaPad S10-3, however, we can definitely see that Lenovo is looking to add excitement for consumers.
Review Report Card
In 2009 we reviewed 12 Lenovo notebooks and netbooks. Of those, 25% earned 3 stars, 33% earned 3.5 stars, and 42% earned 4 stars. Dividing the notebooks into Consumer and Business, the 3 of the 5 ThinkPads we reviewed last year earned 4 star ratings whereas only 2 of the 7 IdeaPads received 4 stars. None of Lenovo’s notebooks were able to claim the coveted 4.5 star rating, but neither did any dip down to 2.5 or 2 stars. Two ThinkPads, the T400s (non-touch) and the X200 Tablet with multitouch, were awarded LAPTOP’s Editor’s Choice along with one netbook: the original Ideapad S12.
Best Rated Notebooks
Worst Rated Notebooks
Tech Support and Reliability
Lenovo received a good score of B+ in our Tech Support Showdown. According to a study by Square Trade, Lenovo has a surprisingly high malfunction rate over 3 years: 21.5%. However, this study more than likely only applies to the IdeaPad line since it’s based on data from a third-party consumer warranty company.
Lenovo is on solid footing when it comes to the business notebook market and the ThinkPad line. And from what we’ve seen of upcoming systems, users can look forward to updates in style without the sacrifice of substance. And though the consumer side didn’t wow us as much in 2009, the new offerings we saw at CES show that Lenovo is looking to impress buyers of all types in the coming year.
Now It’s Your Turn
Do you own a Lenovo laptop? Owned one in the recent past? What does Lenovo get right and where does the company need improvement? Tell us how you’d grade Lenovo and explain why in the comments.