Pros: Price, Battery Life, Minimal Bloatware, Decent Build Quality
Cons: Screen Colors. Rubberized top seems to attract dirt and scratches easily
Since I am not a heavy laptop user, my initial idea was to go cheap. Really CHEAP. I therefore bought a little brand new Dell Inspiron 14 for $350 Canadian from a retailer. After using it for several days I realized it just wasn't gonna work for me at any cost. It lacked a track stick which I became accustomed to, and had an extremly glossy led screen which was unreadable in most lighting unless the brightness was at max or close to it. That and its 1.3Ghz mobile Core2duo was barely faster than the 1.8Ghz Pentium M it replaced. Battery life was not good considering it included a low voltage cpu.
My Revised Wishlist was this:
14" Widescreen with Anti-Glare
4hrs+ battery life.
USB 3.0 (Not available in E420)
$600 price ceiling
Enter Lenovo E420. Though some would argue it does not deserve the Thinkpad name, it has many qualities of its more expensive brothers.This review is for the Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E420, not to be confused with the E420S. These units start at 599.99 MSRP. but can be found for $530.
They are available in 15" as well as the E520 model, but I found 14" was the perfect balance of size and portability given my needs. It weighs around 5lbs, Ac adapter is tiny, and the units overall footprint is just about the size of an 8.5x14 sheet of paper, (it is actually shorter and a touch wider). The unit is somewhat thick at 1.2 inches, but you get what you pay for. The E420S for 2-300$ more is a tad slimmer and lighter. They do not creek like a consumer grade notebook from best buy, but they definetly don't have the Build Quality of more expensive Thinkpads or other business class machines. Time will only tell how well it holds up, but given that I am gentle with my devices, I don't think it will fall apart on me before it becomes obsolete. The LCD lid has a rubberized coating, which seems to pick up dirt dust and scratch easily. But again I am careful with my things, I don't see it as too much of issue.
The Screen: I specifically chose the Anti-Glare Coating after reading horror stories of the Vibrant View, and am pleased with my decision. The Screen is not very vibrant, which I would have to say is the notebooks largest fault. Colors are poor compared to my budget Acer built e-machine LCD monitor which is a couple of years old. Blacks and dark colors are washed out. I would imagine that having a glossy screen coating would only compound these problems as it is the same LED screen in behind. Viewing the monitor is however, fine in many light conditions, and given that the reflection is minimal you can use the laptop in bright light situations without having to crank up the brightness to the max.
Battery life is very good. With the screen brightness somewhere in the middle, I have managed to get at least 5hrs out wifi surfing on the thing. It charges quick and I am pleased with the Lenovo Power Manager software which keeps track of Battery health among other power options. Since I am talking about Lenovo software, I might as well mention that the computer really does not come with too much Bloatware. If it weren't for the fact that I can not shrink my OS partition down to as small as I would like, I wouldn't even bother formatting the drive. I only had to remove 2 programs which I found to be unneeded. ( I like a bare-bones start up menu)
The keyboard is not a typical thinkpad Keyboard. Seldom used keys were left out and it is a Chic-let style keyboard. All buttons except for the Arrow keys and page up and down (now featured above the arrow keys) feel very solid. I don't know why these arrow keys feel cheap and loose, when the rest of the keyboard is solid. These keys are also smaller than standard, which is a disappointment since I use them very often. The layout could be a little more traditional. If you look at this keyboard you will notice that the windows key, alt keys and space bar line up exactly with the Z X C, Comma and Period keys. I made a few typing errors, and though I have improved over the course of a few days I still wish the layout was more like a standard keyboard. I have never owned a Lenovo so I found the Fn Key to be in an odd location compared to my old Dell and standard keyboards. Thankfully a bios option allowed me to switch FN and CTRL. Out of the box, the F1-F12 Keys require the FN key to be pressed in conjunction, but there is also a bios setting to revert to legacy, making the volume brightness and laptop functions require the FN key. The Trackstick is typical Lenovo/IBM and you wont find any faults here. The Trackpad is better than many out there and a generous size, I do find myself using it when I need to only need to move the cursor when I am not typing anything.
I did not get the USB 3.0 ports I wanted, as a sub $600 machine with USB 3.0 and a trackstick simply does not exist at this time. I am sure that in a years time they will be on every new model, but for now you've gotta buy a W Series Thinkpad or a DELL latitude to get these two features, or in otherwords spend about $1000 on a notebook.
I did not comment on the power of the machine (which is a Sandy Bridge i3 in my case) simply because I find it very hard to detect a difference in and around the Windows environment. I can only hope that Win 7 does not become as bloated as XP did and that this current machine will run Win 7 as fast in the future as it does it does today.
All in all if you are not a heavy user, and prefer function over fashion, and have a strict budget this notebook is a great choice. Stay away if it is going to be a desktop replacement, or if you do a lot of work with graphics.