capsule review

Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 All-Purpose Laptop

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 Notebook

Though Lenovo's ThinkPad business laptops have a reputation for no-nonsense design, the company also produces low-priced, consumer all-purpose laptops that look as good as they feel. Just take a look at the IdeaPad Y450, a 14-inch multimedia laptop that's visually striking yet carries a price tag of just $800 (price as of 7/13/09). In some respects the Y450 is a leaner, meaner version of the IdeaPad Y530, which we reviewed a few months back.

Powering the Y450 are an Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU (2GHz, 800MHz frontside bus, 2MB Level 2 cache), 3GB of RAM, and Intel's GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics chip (a discrete nVidia GeForce 105M GPU is available as an option--which we recommend if you want even a glimmer of hope for playing games on the Y450). Earning a respectable WorldBench 6 score of 86, the Y450 has more than enough juice for handling everyday tasks and playing high-def video content. The score puts it in the middle of the pack. Its battery life is also quite good, as it lasted a comfortable 4 hours, 28 minutes in our stress tests.

Though the Y450 is only a 14-inch laptop, its port and communications selection is comparable to that of larger machines. Included are two USB ports, one eSATA/USB combo port, a four-pin FireWire port, an ExpressCard/34 slot, a five-in-one flash reader, headphone and microphone jacks, HDMI- and VGA-out, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, ethernet, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, a DVD burner, and an infrared port compatible with Lenovo remote controls.

But even with that dizzying assortment of jacks, ports, and drives, the Y450 doesn't look or feel cramped at all, thanks to clever design and color choices. The overall build quality is excellent, as well, with the only weak area being the flimsy plastic lid, which flexes quite a bit under light pressure. Considering the sturdiness of the rest of the body, it's a shame that Lenovo chose not to use a harder, thicker plastic to protect the back side of the screen. A couple other minor quibbles: The right side of the palm rest can get really warm even when the machine has a light workload, and the power brick's L-shaped connector can block the DVD drive from opening if it's facing the wrong way.

Since Lenovo is marketing the Y450 as a multimedia machine, I was glad to see a crisp and colorful, 720p-friendly screen with a native resolution of 1366 by 768. While I would've preferred a slightly higher resolution, given the screen's 14-inch size and the low cost of the laptop itself, I can't complain too much. Though the screen features a glossy coating, surprisingly the reflections on the plastic cover are fairly subdued. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, but the shallow vertical viewing angles make it difficult to have color and contrast look even across the screen; that isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but worth mentioning.

Also worth noting is the keyboard. Though the full-size keys here feel a little cheaper than those of the gold-standard ThinkPad keyboard, they have just the right amount of travel and their placement is standard. There's very little flex when you're typing, too. Above the keyboard is a touch-sensitive area with volume buttons, a unique strip for switching applications, a button that activates a "movie" mode (warming the screen colors), and a button that opens the included Dolby Control Center application (more on that in a minute). The touch response is great, though Lenovo made a quirky design decision: A Wi-Fi status LED that looks exactly like a button--but isn't one--sits in the same row as the touch controls. Yes, it's very confusing.

The textured touchpad works reasonably well; because it feels slick to the touch, however, it sometimes seems less responsive than it is. The pad also supports multitouch gestures for actions such as zooming in on pictures and changing text size, but since that works only in some applications it feels more like a novelty than a real feature. The plastic buttons are definitely the weakest link--I'm a little concerned about their long-term durability.

Given that the Y450 has a Dolby-specific shortcut button above the keyboard, a Dolby Home Theater badge recessed into the case, and speakers made by JBL, I had some pretty high expectations for its sound. While the speakers definitely get loud enough, they lack even a modicum of low end. Activating the Dolby bass boost via software helps considerably, but at the expense of a little distortion, even at lower volumes. To get the most out of the laptop, a good set of headphones is the way to go, allowing you to enjoy the substantial benefit of Dolby's software, sans distortion. Overall, though, the system has more than enough power and volume for daily use.

Unfortunately, the Windows Home Premium-powered Y450 also has more than enough bloatware to drive you up a wall. Some of the software seems useful at first, but the implementation is poor. The unintuitive but good-looking MediaShow media organizer, for instance, bogs down system performance and defeats its own purpose. And don't get me started on the VeriFace facial-recognition system--its inability to recognize my face in anything but the most ideal situations renders it as irritating as the antivirus, Microsoft Office, and online-backup trials. Regrettably, the worst software comes from Lenovo itself, the prime example being Idea Central, a confusing application that attempts to meld RSS feeds, online videos, an online store, and paid-for links into one unified interface. The results are not pretty.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 is a well-built all-purpose laptop whose only serious drawback lies in the graphics department. With a price that starts below $600 and tops out at about $900, this is a great-looking and full-featured laptop for everyday home, school, and work use. Just don't expect much more.

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At a Glance
  • The IdeaPad Y450 offers good looks and a surprising number of features at an attractive price.


    • Solid keyboard and good looks
    • Great value for included features


    • Way too much bloatware
    • Vertical viewing angle a bit uneven
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