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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Touch shoehorned into an everyday laptop

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The future of Windows 8 laptops is clear: they'll all have touch screens. Touch technology is becoming increasingly affordable, and it's a helpful, some would say necessary, way to experience Windows 8. In the present, that still means manufacturers going through their back catalogs and popping touch into old designs. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it just feels like what it is: shoehorning.
Lenovo makes some excellently designed laptops. The IdeaPad Z400 Touch doesn't feel like one of them. A thick body, a less-than-impressive-feeling keyboard and touch pad, and basic mainstream specs add up to a laptop that feels generic. It does have a 14-inch touch screen, but so what? So do many new laptops.
The Z400 Touch has a DVD drive, and a large 1TB hard drive. It doesn't have bumped-up graphics, though, or a more workhorse-level processor. For its price -- about $700 depending on where you buy it -- it's a fine deal but no bargain. Plus, it's much heavier than other mainstream 14-inch laptops we've tested this year.
With newer laptops on the horizon and this being a buyer's market for PCs, you're better off waiting, or spending up for a thinner, frankly better laptop. This is a functional but skippable product, and a perfect example of why PC sales are probably in decline.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Price as reviewed$699
Processor2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3230M
Memory6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive1TB 5,400rpm
GraphicsIntel HD 4000
Operating systemWindows 8
Dimensions (WD)13.6x9.6 inches
Height1.15 inch
Screen size (diagonal)14 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter5.3 pounds / 6 pounds
CategoryMidsize
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Design
In one sense, the IdeaPad Z400 has a clean, not unattractive design. A matte chocolate-brown lid and two-tone silver and black plastic inside give the impression of something higher-end. But it's the fit and finish here that runs cheap. Everything's plastic, not metal. Also, this laptop is seriously thick and heavy: over 1 inch thick and 5.3 pounds. The 15.6-inch-screen Asus VivoBook S500CA, recently reviewed, weighed only 4.8 pounds. The top lid alone feels thicker than many tablets.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Looking at one side, with its giant vent grille next to a VGA port, this laptop feels way too much like a spare hand-me-down from two years ago.
The keyboard, too, usually a strong point of Lenovo laptops, looks the part but has a lot of flex and a hollow feel. It comes off like a cheap lookalike knockoff of the far better ThinkPad keyboards. Don't be fooled. At least the volume and brightness keys are function-reversed for single-press use, and there's backlighting. A smaller-than-normal clickable touch pad beneath sometimes didn't register two-finger scrolling smoothly, either.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The 14-inch display's touch response, as with many touch screens, works excellently. The 1,366x768-pixel resolution, however, combined with a washed-out and not very bright picture, adds up to a passable computing experience. It's an average laptop display for a few years ago, and now that screens are increasing in quality and resolution with regularity, it feels a step behind. The 720p Webcam, at least, looks crisp. The Z400's stereo speakers are adequate.
Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 TouchAverage for category [midsize]
VideoHDMI, VGAVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jackStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, BluetoothEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical driveDVD burnerDVD burner
Ports, configurations, performance
The good news is that at least it has Bluetooth, HDMI, USB 3.0, Ethernet, an SD card slot, and DVD burner. Is that good news? It's perfectly ordinary news. This isn't an ultrabook, and in a "mainstream" laptop, that's what you'd expect.
There are several configurations of the Z400 Touch, and many more, it seems, in little retail-specific tweaks. Lenovo's Web site currently has the Z400 Touch starting at $599 with a third-gen 2.5GHz Intel Core i3-3120M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Configurations top out at $999 for one with a 2.9GHz Core i7-3520M CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive, and a higher-res 1,600x900-pixel display. All configurations have DVD drives, Bluetooth, and touch screens. None have AMD or Nvidia graphics or solid-state drive (SSD) storage options.
The closest configuration on Lenovo's site to the one we reviewed costs $679, and has a set of features preferable to ours: a 2.6GHz Core i5-3230M processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a 1,600x900-pixel display. Our review unit, which costs more on other sites, has 6GB of RAM and a 1,366x768-pixel display. Confusing? Yes. But not atypical for laptop vendors with numbing sets of coexisting retail configurations.

Keep in mind that this is a faster, full-voltage Core i5 laptop processor, and performs better than the average ultrabook equivalent. But the advantage keeps narrowing every year: this is faster, but yet it's not as fast as a quad-core powerhouse Core i7. Integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics are suitable enough for everyday use, but many laptops of this size tend to have some form of more robust Nvidia/AMD graphics.
You'd think a 5-pound laptop would have good battery life. The Z400 Touch's is fair: it ran for 5 hours and 3 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's certainly good enough for a solid day's work, but I have to admit that I'd think a heavy laptop with unimpressive specs could do an hour better.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
As a commodity package of specs, the price-to-value ratio of the Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch could be attractive. But I think laptop buyers should think beyond that. As a portable product in the current landscape, it's downright old-fashioned, with the exception of its touch screen. For its price, you could get something far thinner and lighter, or, alternatively, more powerful. Better yet, I'd just suggest you wait a few months or consider another alternative. This is not a laptop we can think of recommending for any specific shopper as our first, second, or maybe even third choice.
Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Load test (average watts)(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.
System configurations:
Lenovo IdeaPad Z400
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3230M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 1TB Seagate 5,400rpm
Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD
Asus VivoBook S500C
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HD + 24GB SSD
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15 Sleekbook
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/sp 1; 1.8GHz AMD A8-455M APU; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 512MB (Shared) AMD Radeon HD 7600G; 750GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Dell Inspiron 15z
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HD + 32GB SSD
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