If you're a fan of Lenovo's ThinkPad line, you're used to a boring industrial design that looks like it's stuck in 2002, but are willing to put up with it because ThinkPads are so rugged and just plain usable. The new ThinkPad Edge marks the first really significant change to the look and feel of the line in years, but thankfully, it retains almost everything you love about ThinkPads.
The design of this ultraportable is still quite conservative; you won't be embarrassed to pull it out in a serious business meeting. It's simply more modern, with cleaner lines, a smooth, glossy lid, and silver accents along the edges. The lid's glossy finish looks great, but it's a magnet for fingerprints. You might opt for the matte finish if this is a concern (it costs the same). If we had to pick a nit about the design, it would be the location of the ethernet jack, which is quite far toward the front edge of the left side. Open the lid, and the system has the same basic, utilitarian look of other ThinkPads with a large keyboard and touchpad. But...
Still Great to Work On
Users considering the ThinkPad Edge may be shocked to see a chicklet-style keyboard inside. These are notoriously tough to type on, especially compared with the standard keys found on other ThinkPad models. Fear not, readers! This is easily the best chicklet keyboard we've ever used. The keys have a slightly scalloped curve to them, lots of travel, and a good "clicky" feel, rather than the mushy, rubbery one of most chicklet keyboards. The keys are still large, with nice, big Shift and Backspace keys, and the Ctrl key is placed inside the Fn button key, where it's more natural to press. Not once did I accidentally hit Fn instead of Ctrl, a record I can't claim for most other laptops.
Fans of the ThinkPad line also love the way these notebooks always give them lots of pointing options, and the Edge is no exception. It has a large touchpad--smooth and accurate--with distinct left and right buttons both above and below the pad. If you prefer Lenovo's little "TrackPoint" eraser nub for pointer control, you'll be relieved to see it still nestled between the bottom corners of the G and H keys. Nevertheless, a few corners have been cut in this inexpensive and lightweight model. The keyboard is not backlit and has no ThinkLight illumination on the lid, so it can be a little hard to use in the dark. Apart from those small omissions, nothing about the Edge stands between you and getting things done, which is precisely why ThinkPads are so popular.
Slightly Subpar Performance, Great Battery Life
Though its 13.3-inch screen size puts this notebook in almost the same category as all-purpose machines, it is billed and sold as an ultraportable. It's slim and light enough (under 4 pounds without accessories) to qualify. As with many ultraportables, it utilizes an ultra-low-voltage processor that sacrifices performance for battery life. Our test system came equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor at 1.3GHz, and starts at $799. A less-expensive, AMD-based system is available for as little as $579, but our experience with these processors tells us it would be a bit slower than the Intel flavor.
This low-voltage processor is largely responsible for the Edge's somewhat low WorldBench score of 65, but it's still fast enough for day-to-day business needs. Fortunately, the system comes equipped with 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM and a fairly speedy 7200 RPM hard drive, so system bootup and application launch times are quick. It takes about 5 seconds to wake from sleep--snappy, but not the fastest we've seen. Battery life is excellent, lasting 6.5 hours in our battery run-down test. You could probably go more than 7 hours simply browsing the Web, checking e-mail, and working on office documents.
An ultraportable ThinkPad is clearly aimed at the business road-warrior market, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the great connectivity options for this audience. The Edge has 802.11b/g/n support, of course, but it also has built-in 3G mobile broadband with GPS, and even WiMAX support.
In general, the ThinkPad Edge is a very successful updating of a staid notebook line that has been in desperate need of it for years. We found a few minor complaints (not enough status lights, for hard-drive access and Wi-Fi, for example), but the Edge still hits all the important notes--everything you love about ThinkPads is here, including a great keyboard (despite the switch to chicklet-style keys). With a few minor tweaks, we'd love to see this new design proliferate through the rest of the ThinkPad line.