You Grade The Brands: Lenovo Notebooks

Rate The Brands LenovoWhen 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.

Strengths

  • 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.

Weaknesses

  • 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.

Lenovo Ratings

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.

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  1. tntmyth Says:

    I own a Thinkpad X60s for the last three and a half years. It is the best notebook I have owned. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good keyboard experience when typing. And once you get used to the Thinkpad Trackpoint (that little red pencil eraser looking thing in the middle of the keyboard on Thinkpads), it is far faster to use than a touchpad. You get very accurate to the point where you can put the cursor on any tiny spot on the screen at will. Even when I have a USB mouse plugged in, I find myself using the Trackpoint because I don’t need to take my hands off of the keyboard. The blue ThinkVantage software button is excellent and makes it easy to configure wireless settings. Overall, Lenovo has done a good job since taking over the Thinkpad line from IBM. They have tried to expand the line with some consumer centric models, the latest of which is the Edge 13. Can’t blame then for capitalizing on a well known brand. I think that is great as long as they always keep the classic line of Thinkpads around with the quality that their core ThinkPad customers are used to. With the lower prices people will try out the ThinkPad line and will get to use the Trackpoint and the great keyboard and will get hooked for life. I have to mention the excellent metal hinges on the screen of my X60s. Don’t you hate it when you look at a notebook on display in a store and the lid just wobbles back and forth when you open it or play with the lid to test the hinges? If the lid wobbles back and forth, especially after being on display at the store for a while, you just know the thing is cheap and will wear out. No way can a plastic hinge hold up year after year the way a metal hinge can. The hinges on my X60s are just flawless. I have opened and closed the notebook thousands of times. I use this notebook all day, every day for the last 3 years. The hinges are smooth, and the lid stays just where you open it to every time. No wobbling or anything, it just does what it is supposed to perfectly. It would be hard for me to buy another brand of notebook because I would so miss the Thinkpad Trackpoint, keyboard and overall quality and ruggedness. They are more expensive, but when you buy one of these, you just know it will last at least 3-5 years with no issues. It is a great machine for work that you can count on day in and day out. The ThinkPad line is truly a cut above.
    The Lenovo IdeaPad line is pretty decent. The quality feels good and the notebooks feel tight. But the competition is also good. Asus comes to mind with the nice looking UL30A. Some of the HPs are very nice too like the ProBook 5310m. As far as my next notebook, I will probably wait for Windows 7 to be out for a year or so to get any bugs out. Then I will upgrade to the Thinkpad X200 or it’s replacement to beat the end of support deadline for Windows XP. If I were in the market today and did not want to come up the premium for an X200 I would wait for a sale on the Thinkpad T400 series or might even take a closer look at the ThinkPad Edge 13 or the other two notebooks I mentioned.

  2. Fanfoot Says:

    I’ve had a number of Thinkpads in recent history, and have liked virtually all of them. Nevertheless, I may switch to an HP laptop for my next portable workstation purchase. I love the customizability (dual disk bays), high resolution (1920×1200 15″ displays), fabulous keyboards, trackpoint, etc. I don’t love the compatibility problems–the T61 for example won’t work with SATA 3Gbps drives unless you jumper them, is incompatible with the OCZ Vertex SSDs, etc. Slow disk access speeds too. I’m getting tired of this stuff. The new HP EliteBook may get my nod if they get them out the door with mobile i5/i7 processors (the new gen) before long, while Lenovo stews on their updates. We’ll see.

  3. Gary M. Says:

    I’ve got an Ideapad Y530, and my friend has one too. The high malfunction rate is pretty true from what I’ve seen. Within a month, my harddrive failed, but Lenovo fixed that pretty fast (shipped it to them in a prepaid box, and I got it back a week after I sent it). My friend also had some faulty RAM, but they sent him a replacement fast too. I do like the Lenovo line though. Shows a lot more style than HP, and Lenovo’s Ideapad (the Y series to be exact) are great for multimedia.

  4. PittPitt Says:

    I have to agree with the first poster about the Lenovo X60s. Rather than buy a new laptop, I upgraded to an OCZ Vertex (before the price went up) and Windows 7 from my workplace.

    This thing is incredibly fast now (even with the SATA I speed cap), and I am still pushing 7 hours of battery life — at far below the price point of a new laptop.

    For anyone wishing to get a new laptop, please consider Windows 7 (the full version, not the upgrade!) and a solid state disk for your current one, if you’re able to get those components for a lower price.

  5. Douglas Says:

    After buying my first laptop, and ThinkPad, last year, I am overall incredibly impressed with it. It works well, the ThinkVantage suite is one of the most useful utilities I have ever used.

    Also a plus is their use of Australian call centres (hooray!) as opposed to offshore ones.

    Needless to say, I will be buying another Lenovo.

  6. chester Says:

    I have onsite repair ie: 128 ssd failed I called them at 4:15 pm mon and they had a new 128ssd at my home at 1:30 pm the next day tues :they RR it in 30 min up and running. no cost to me but, more importantly they called me back and wanted to know if laptop was fixed. I live in brookings OR. a 2 hour drive from the nearest service center my warranty is a 4 year onsite replacement. and the call centres are in U.S.A for U. S. customers and they do answer the PHONE with a live person. and I do not work for Lenovo and/or IBM. and the new ThinkVantage Toolbox for windows 7/32-bit/ 64-bit really does work, a big help went updating your system. Chester

  7. Jackie Says:

    First, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll start by saying that I’m deeply loyal to the ThinkPad line. My father worked for IBM for over 25 years so I’ve grown with the PC from the ::cough::mobile::cough PC, the PS2 and the Aptiva. Hell, I learned to type on an IBM Selectric.

    I have had three ThinkPads (385CD and G40) with the latest being a IBM/Lenovo Z61t that I bought in 2006. When I bought it, I sat on the phone with the ThinkPad rep (who I knew from working with him to buy computers from my job) and we had a long talk about the Lenovo switchover. That sort of personal service made me stay with the company and to give them a chance.

    To date, I’ve only ever had one thing fail on a ThinkPad – the hard drive on the G40 when poof late one night and when I called the rep (yay for the reps in Atlanta, GA), I had a new hard drive within a matter of days. My Z61t has served me well. It’s still running Windows XP SP3. It could stand to use a little more memory. If I buy a new laptop within the near future, then I’ll be looking on the ThinkPad side of the block. Even though I’m a home consumer user, I’ve always liked the business configurations better because they’ve been more robust. I don’t have a great need for extra multimedia options, although the IdeaPads do look pretty.

  8. Dallas Moore Says:

    The IdeaPad U1 is a remarkable computer. We gave it our rundown here, http://www.ideapadtoday.com/the-lenovo-ideapad-u1-hybrid-full-review-on-lenovos-remarkable-netbook-tablet-two-in-one.htm, and I’m glad to say that it passed the test. The Y560, as well, which should be out within the next month, really reaches out to consumers, in that it has 3D Realtime Conversion built-in and conforms to the same quality design as previous IdeaPads.

    I am truly an IdeaPad fan, and I also gave the Lenovo brand a grade of A. Go Lenovo! I’m glad to see that every has had such great experiences with the Lenovo Support Team. Out of all the brands, Lenovo really does care about their consumers, and both their ThinkPad and IdeaPad lines really show that.

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