capsule review

Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 All-Purpose Laptop

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At a Glance
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Y650

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 is a laptop looking for a niche. At first glance it has all the features of a fairly sexy desktop replacement: The 16-inch LCD screen, JBL speakers, and huge hard drive practically scream "media center notebook." On top of all that, the fairly powerful processor and fast DDR3 memory can deal with just about any video content while handling other tasks, without a hitch. However, considering its low native display resolution and the fact that it has no graphics muscle to speak of, not to mention its price tag of $1299 (on our test unit, as of 4/13/09), we're left to wonder about what, exactly, Lenovo was thinking.

The Y650 has some reasonably powerful components: With a 2.4GHz P8600 Core 2 Duo, 3GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, and a 320GB hard drive, the Y650, running the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium, did really well in WorldBench 6. Notching a score of 98 in our tests, it ripped through tasks at a decent pace--well above the average, in fact. Unfortunately things fell apart in our graphics tests, as the integrated Intel X4500 graphics limped along in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Unreal Tournament III (producing slide-show-worthy scores of 5 and 8 frames per second, respectively).

The Y650 continues Lenovo's recent design direction, sporting a carbon-fiber body with a soft, rubberized shell on the lid. I really liked the soft surface and matte finish; it's a distinctive look that also makes the scratches that are inevitable with glossy finishes a nonissue. The black outer shell of the laptop gives way to a glossy white finish surrounding the keyboard, plus a "copper" trim (which is also reflected in the function keys). It's a clean, distinctive, yet stylish look that makes the machine stand out. If anything, the design suggests that Lenovo intends the Y650 to be a consumer-oriented machine--which makes our review unit's lack of a good GPU an even more glaring omission.

Speaking of glaring omissions, this is as good a time as any to talk about the LCD panel. The screen is large and its brightness is good, with solid color levels and a sharp enough picture. It's also comfortable to look at over long periods of time in various lighting conditions, up to and including moderate levels of sunlight in an office or bedroom, and that's despite a relatively high-gloss surface. However, the comparatively low resolution (1366 by 768 pixels) on such a large display is disappointing, and it makes managing multiple tasks at once more difficult. Even more surprising is the lack of any display-upgrade options for the Y650 whatsoever. This is a real shame, as the Y650 is one of the few laptops around with a big enough display to justify a 1920 by 1080 (or even 1680 by 1050) resolution. With smaller laptops, dealing with a lower-resolution screen as a trade-off is easy enough--but with the Y650, it feels like a missed opportunity.

The Y650's expansion slots are hidden behind a single plate. The problem is that a veritable army of screws stands between you and your DIMMs and hard drive, and you have to remove every one of them before you can upgrade anything. The arrangement does make for a clean bottom surface, but it's a frustrating design decision for the user who plans on upgrading down the line.

Despite possessing a pretty large amount of real estate, the Y650 surprisingly doesn't offer a more full-featured keyboard layout (the Acer Aspire 8930 and Fujitsu N7010 suffer similar fates). That said, the keyboard isn't missing any keys, and you won't find the miniature Ctrl or Alt keys that are becoming more common in the post-netbook era. It's comfortable and responsive to type on, too. The trackpad, on the other hand, is huge, taking up more than a third of the laptop body's space. Though the trackpad's size can make navigating the desktop a little easier, my palms often slid across it, interrupting typing. It does feature multitouch capabilities for applications that support them, but those are currently few and far between--and often more a pain than a benefit.

The touch-inductive desktop navigator strip is useful, allowing you to assign application shortcuts to its interface for quick launches (once you figure out how to add your own apps to it, that is). The included Webcam also works for face-recognition log-ins; this function works well, but it can take up to 45 seconds or so to recognize your features, depending on lighting conditions.

Inputwise, the Y650 is fairly thin and minimalist. You have a gigabit ethernet port, an ExpressCard slot, an eSATA connection, two USB ports, a six-in-one flash reader, microphone and headphone jacks, an HDMI output, and a VGA output. The optical-drive bay opens from the front.

The Y650 certainly impresses in one particular area: The speakers are some of the best laptop speakers I've ever had the pleasure to use. Running through several genres of music and movies, I was consistently impressed by how well the JBL speakers handled highs and mids without sounding underwater or tinny. Unless you absolutely require bass that thunders from your tailbone to the base of your skull, you'll like the sound the Y650 provides. Focusing on a good pair of stereo speakers, rather than jumping on the laptop surround-sound bandwagon, was a great move on Lenovo's part--and the fact that such loud, clean-sounding speakers are in a notebook less than an inch thick is even nicer.

The Lenovo Y650 is hard to recommend wholeheartedly. While the Y650 performs most day-to-day tasks extremely well and handles virtually any video you can throw at it, the low-display resolution makes this system hard to take seriously as a good media laptop. In the midst of a new crop of $1000-to-$1300, thin-body, large-screen laptops, including the Samsung R610, the Y650 offers some great general performance, and you won't need to schedule regular appointments with a chiropractor if you're going to be carrying it with you often. If you are hunting for a stylish, thin laptop with a powerful processor, and you can look past the low resolution, you could do a lot worse. And you'll be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding laptop in this class. Our advice: Cough up a little extra for the nVidia graphics option if you plan on using the Y650 as your primary system at home or in the office.

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At a Glance
  • Looking to watch some videos after meetings? Between the big screen and office performance, this might work for you.


    • Extremely light, thin 16 inch notebook
    • Some of the best laptop speakers around


    • Low resolution for such a large display
    • Poor graphics performance for gaming
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