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Pro’s: Thin & light, decent battery life, good build, solid keyboard
Con’s: Only sufficient performance, slightly odd key layout, mediocre screen
|Specs||Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13|
Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 (1.3GHz)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Intel GMA 4500MHD
320GB 7200rpm SATA
13.3-inch glossy HD (1366×768) LED backlit, 200 nits
|Ports||5-in-1 card reader|
3 USB 2.0 (one powered)
HDMI & VGA output
12.7 x 9.0 x 1.0 inches
4-cell: 3.59 lb, 6-cell: 3.8lb
$799 as tested
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It says ThinkPad on it, it comes in black and it even has a red dot in the middle of the keyboard, but this is not your classic ThinkPad. Our model had the glossy black paint job, which is rather reminiscent of the paint job on a car. It’s not just black plastic, but rather actually painted. I was tempted to get my buffer out and get a nice reflection going.
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The silver trim surrounding the machine is actually a nice touch, it gives it some contrast without looking tacky or showy. As long as you aren’t comparing this to a “classic” ThinkPad, I think most will find the aesthetics rather pleasing. The observant will note there is no LCD latch on these models, but I wasn’t missing it. The hinges keep the LCD nice and taut, whether open or closed. There are also no traditional LED indicators on the Edge 13. Rather, there is a small LED next to the power plug that indicates charging state and the controversial red LED in the ThinkPad logo has carried over from the SL series.
If someone had conceptualized the design of the ThinkPad Edge back in the early 1990′s, arguably the heydey of the ThinkPad, it would best be described as a futuristic ThinkPad. The island keyboard, the glossy black paint and the glowing logo show the age of the “classic” ThinkPad design, but that doesn’t mean classic design is a bad thing.
This is my first time with Lenovo’s new isolation / island style keyboard design, introduced on the Edge and X100e ThinkPads. We all trusted Lenovo to not mess with the feel of the keyboards and it is safe to say they didn’t. The tactile feedback and key travel on the Edge 13′s keyboard is as good as the ThinkPad T410 and previous models. The only hiccup with typing on the Edge comes from its key layout.
Like the ThinkPad X100e and SL models, the Edge 13 has a more compact 6 row design. As is also common with island keyboard designs these days, the F1-F12 keys have their default function over-ridden by more common system functions like screen brightness, speaker volume and more. Luckily these can be swapped back to their default F1-F12 functions via a BIOS switch, as can the functions of the Fn & Ctrl keys.
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Beyond the very consumer-ish F1-F12 key changes, the Insert/Del/Home/End keys are in the fairly common upper-right corner. The Page Up & Down keys are in a convenient, if non-standard, location on either side of the arrow keys. PgUp/PgDn are also a click-type key, with the key travel is even shallower than most mice buttons.
Perhaps the weirdest key location is PrtSc, replacing the Windows key to the right of the space bar. At least 8/10 people I talk to don’t even know what the PrtSc key does, but we’ll put it front & center while gimping the F1-F12 keys? Questionable logic aside, I am glad they kept it handy, but again the overall layout is far from standard.
Touchpad & TrackPoint
For those who were wishing Lenovo would put the TrackPoint (red pointy thingy, for you non-ThinkPadders) on more machines than classic ThinkPads, this is it. This is the closest thing we’re going to see to a consumer laptop with a TrackPoint. The design is a little different from the revamped TrackPoint on the T400s and newer models, but works just as well as it does on any other ThinkPad.
The touchpad is very slick and smooth, so much so that it’s a bit difficult to tell if you’re on the palm rest or touchpad without looking. The response is also a bit iffy, sometimes I have to re-do my motion to get it registered. I don’t know if that is just me missing the touchpad, but it was just a bit less accurate and responsive than other ThinkPad touchpads. There is enough area for most to mouse around okay, but the width of the touchpad interfered with my large hands and I found myself resting on it regularly.
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Modern ThinkPads haven’t been very strong in the display department, especially the low to mid range ones, and the Edge 13 is no different. The 13.3-inch 16:9 ratio display has a glossy finish with a respectable 1366×768 pixels. Unfortunately it suffers from poor viewing angles that left me regularly adjusting the screen to find that perfect angle. The brightness got to respectable, if not impressive levels and the color saturation was about average.
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Most displays in this price range aren’t terribly impressive, but rather sufficient for the average users. On this level, the Edge 13 is competent. Also of note is that unlike most consumer oriented machines, the ThinkPad Edge 13 keeps its namesake feature of allowing the display to fold completely flat. While this isn’t much of a functional feature, it’s more of a safety margin so if the machine is dropped or sat on, at least the hinges aren’t the first breaking point.
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While technically built for small business on a budget, the Edge models manage to keep a respectable multimedia reputation and even have a step ahead of other ThinkPads with HDMI output. You still get VGA output too, so this machine will work with your five year old LCD monitor or your brand new HDTV. The speakers get decently loud, actually comparable with the new ThinkPad T410, but of course the sound quality is as mediocre as most other laptops.
A 5-in-1 card reader is included on all models, but conspicuously absent is an ExpressCard slot of any type. There is also no optical drive at all, but that is to be expected at this price and size. The mic and headphone jacks are combined into one jack as with all other recent ThinkPads, but I have yet to come across an adapter to allow use of split headphone/mic jacks. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
While the Edge 13 should do for most people’s multimedia uses, truly the only way it stands out from the low end business crowd is the HDMI output. However the lack of HDMI on other ThinkPads isn’t as much of an issue, now that the DisplayPort output carries audio and can be adapted to HDMI without issue.
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Features & Technology
If you looked quickly, you might swear the Edge 13 was a plain jane consumer box. Glossy 16:9 display? HDMI output? Island keyboard? Exterior color choices? No LCD latch? And don’t let the Core 2 Duo processor fool you, it is a just-slightly-better-than-Atom CULV chip that may have dual cores, but at only 1.3GHz you will be puttering along at speeds just fast enough to handle web browsing & word processing without seeming slow.
But then you look closer and notice a few things that aren’t found on consumer models: power-on, hard drive & supervisor BIOS passwords, dual video output, Active Protection System, spill-resistant sealed keyboard, 7200rpm drives on most models, a TrackPoint and a warranty & support infrastructure that makes anything from HP or Acer’s consumer lines look like a joke.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge 13 is about average with most consumer and low end business laptops, when it comes to spec sheet features. But when you take in some of the finer details, the Edge 13 stands out for the more discerning user and has a rather competitive price to boot.
Connectivity & Ports
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Left side (front to rear): USB 2.0 port, Ethernet, HDMI output, VGA output, fan vent, Kensington lock slot
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Right side (front to rear): 5-in-1 card reader, combo mic/headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports, AC adapter plug with indicator LED
The other good news with this being a ThinkPad model is the relative lack of junk software. You get the standard plethora of Lenovo’s in-house Thinkvantage software, MS Office and Norton anti-virus trials and some actually useful DVD playback and authoring software. While you may remove a few utilities you don’t want, there is no relentless crap-cleaning necessary when you rip into a brand new Edge 13.
ThinkPad Edge 13 models are offered with two battery choices: a 42Whr 4-cell and a 64Whr 6-cell. Our review model had the 6-cell and was powered by Intel’s Core 2 Duo chip, which should offer better runtime (and performance) than the cheaper AMD version.
To test the Edge 13′s battery life, I used it just as I normally use my main PC. I watched Netflix streaming video for an hour, then spent the rest of the time browsing the web while playing Pandora music from a browser. This is actually a rather strenuous and realistic workout for the laptop, as the Silverlight-powered video on Netflix uses a good bit of processing power and taxes the wireless card. Browsing Flash heavy websites uses a lot of CPU and leaving Pandora playing in the background ensures constant wireless usage and has its own sizable imprint on system resources.
Using the laptop as described above, I ended up with an even 5 hours of runtime on the 6-cell battery. If you wanted to run with the lighter 4-cell battery, you’ll see runtime in this scenario around 3 hours 15 minutes.
This isn’t necessarily exceptional battery life, but it is very respectful on a sub-4 lbs machine that has suitable performance. The only downside is that to get the extra performance and battery life of the Core 2 Duo processor you’re looking at a starting price of $799, which opens up a lot more purchasing choices than the $579 AMD-powered model.
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Real World Usage
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge 13 just plain works, getting you going out of the box with little hassle and handling basic PC tasks without complaint. It won’t win any speed records with the Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor, but it will load up several browser windows, some office productivity applications and play your multimedia of choice without much difficulty. While I was wishing for a bit more horsepower with a couple dozen windows open in Google Chrome, Pandora playing and watching a YouTube video in my main window, it still handled things decently. If you spend a lot of time in heavy apps like Photoshop or video editing & encoding, you will need a higher end processor and should look for something with a normal voltage chip, as in the larger Edge 14 and 15.
Boot time is even decently fast, thanks to Lenovo’s Win7 Enhanced Experience preload and the 7200rpm drive included on most models. Noise and heat were well controlled, which is at least partly due to the low power Intel chip. With extended usage, the Edge 13 got a bit warm on the left side near the fan vent, but it was nothing close to uncomfortable. When the heat did rise a bit, you could hear the fan kick on with only a small amount of additional noise. Overall, the Edge 13 runs very cool and quiet for a machine that weighs less than 4 lbs and less than an inch thick.
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Let’s get this out of the way first: the Edge 13 and its neuvo-ThinkPad friends are not like their other “old school” ThinkPads, such as the T and X Series. They do not have magnesium roll cages, exotic chassis materials, or TPM chips for hardware-level security. If you are a “diehard” ThinkPad user, you are probably better off spending a couple hundred more bucks and getting a T Series.
That said, the Edge series are very respectable laptops. The fit and finish is nice, the keyboard as good as any other ThinkPad, and quite a good value to boot. The color options and contemporary design will actually open the ThinkPads to a whole new market: those who don’t appreciate the aesthetics of a black rectangle.
Unfortunately, the Edge 13 may compromise a bit much with its Core 2 Duo CULV processor, and even more with the AMD processor. Performance and battery life are both sufficient, but I experienced the best of both with this review model and was still left wanting even just a little more. At $800 for an Intel-powered Edge 13, most users will likely be better off with a $649 Core i3 equipped ThinkPad Edge 14.
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Where the ThinkPad Edge 13 does excel is its starting price tag of only $579, when equipped with the somewhat slower, more power hungry AMD processor. The build quality and options in the Edge 13 are a step above most laptops you’ll find at that price and make it a serious contender for anyone shopping in the sub-$600 price range.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge 13, and the Edge series in general, would be ideal for someone who wants a better quality machine than the average consumer box, but isn’t interested in a full-blown T or X Series. Lenovo’s laptops are a favorite of mine (obviously) for their quality and range of features, and now I can finally recommend a model to friends and family that combines award winning ThinkPad support with a more consumer-friendly package. As I said previously, would you be more excited about a ThinkPad R60e or a ThinkPad Edge?
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