If you tend to be rough on your gear, Lenovo’s IdeaPad Z400 is among your best choices in laptops priced $650 or less.
This solidly built notebook features a great touchscreen display, an even better keyboard, and a huge and fast hard drive. But Lenovo’s networking component choices are a bit disappointing.
Lenovo laptops are the models of choice for many corporate IT departments, and the company manufactures some very good consumer-oriented machines, too. The IdeaPad Z400 Touch is a case in point. You wouldn’t mistake it for a sleek Ultrabook—it’s thick and heavy, and its battery life is wretched—but the Z400 did finish second on Notebook WorldBench 8.1 in our five-laptop competition. And despite Lenovo’s copious use of plastic, the Z400 is built like a brick outhouse.
Lenovo stuck with Intel’s third-generation Core processor for this budget-priced machine, pairing a 1.6GHz Core i5-3230M with 6GB of DDR/1600 memory. At 14.0 inches, its 1366-by-768-pixel display is much smaller than the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870’s 15.6-inch display; but the IdeaPad Z400 boasts a ten-point touchscreen, whereas the Acer does not.
The Z400 is an attractive PC, with charcoal-colored soft-touch paint on the outside and a pretty carbon-fiber look on the inside. Lenovo’s computer feels as rugged as Acer’s feels fragile. Though the display exhibits a little flex, the lower chassis is as rigid as some all-metal bodies I’ve tried to bend. The downside to the solid construction is weight gain: Despite its smaller display, the Z400 outweighs the Acer by 0.7 pound. Still, it comes by most of that weight honestly. Lenovo provides 6GB of memory (as against Acer’s 4GB); packs a 1TB, 7200-rpm hard drive (versus the Aspire’s 500GB drive); and includes a DVD burner (Acer provides no optical drive at all).
The IdeaPad Z400 comes with the type of top-notch keyboard that Lenovo is famous for building. The island-style keyboard is fully backlit and feels great under the fingers. It lacks a dedicated numeric keypad, and there’s no provision for temporarily assigning letter keys on the right side an alternative function to serve as one, but I was happy to see the full-size arrow keys in the familiar inverted-T formation at the far edge.
Augmenting the touchscreen is a responsive trackpad that supports most Windows 8 gestures, including two-finger scrolling, swipe, zoom, and rotate. The trackpad doesn’t have distinct right and left mouse buttons, but clicking in the lower right and left areas of the pad perform the same function. Unlike Lenovo’s higher-end notebooks, the Z400 does not embed a trackpoint in its keyboard; however, I found that the trackpad and the touchscreen were all I really needed.
The IdeaPad Z400 took a solid second place in our Notebook WorldBench 8.1 benchmark competition (behind the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870), with a score of 132, marking it as 1.3 times faster than our reference Asus VivoBook S550CA, which comes outfitted with a 24GB SSD cache for its hard drive.
The Lenovo placed third in the PCMark 7 Productivity, despite having a 7200-rpm hard drive (both the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870 and the Toshiba Satellite L55Dt-A5253 were much faster). But the IdeaPad captured first place on our media editing and encoding tests. It finished in the middle of the pack on our gaming tests, delivering a leisurely frame rate on BioShock Infinite of 18.4 frames per second, even with resolution set to just 1024 by 768 and visual quality set to Low.
Connectivity and conclusion
The IdeaPad Z400’s networking capabilities are a bit disappointing. Though Lenovo selected a high-quality Wi-Fi adapter—Intel’s Centrino Wireless-N 2230—it’s a single-band adapter that doesn’t give you any choice but to connect to crowded 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks. On the bright side, it’s a 2×2 adapter, meaning that it supports a maximum physical link rate of 300 mbps. It also provides Bluetooth 4.0 support, and is compatible with Intel’s WiDi video-streaming technology. The wired ethernet adapter, meanwhile, is limited to 100 mbps—I thought those adapters had gone the way of the PS/2 port.
In addition to WiDi, you have your choice of HDMI or VGA video outputs for connecting to external displays. And like the Acer Aspire, the IdeaPad has three USB ports, but only one of them is the speedy USB 3.0. Lenovo does provide a memory card reader that supports both SD and MMC media, and the company includes Dolby Home Theater technology and a set of decent speakers, so you won’t have to rely on headphones for an enjoyable audio experience.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is a heavy computer for its size, its network connectivity is weak, and its battery life is very poor. But this laptop is a very good performer, with a great keyboard, an optical drive, and the largest, fastest hard drive in this group. It’s also the machine I’d recommend if you need a computer in this price range that’s rugged enough to tolerate a little rough handling. Overall it finishes a solid second in our roundup.
Editor’s note: This notebook was reviewed as part of a roundup for back-to-school season. You can read that story, along with reviews of the five notebooks we compared it to, here.
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Michael is TechHive's lead editor. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab when reviewing new products. Following a relocation, he is in the process of converting his new home, an 1890 bungalow, into a modern smart home.