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Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch review: Bulky and cheap, but brilliant

HardwareFeatures
by Joel Santo Domingo, 18 Nov 2013Features
Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch review:  Bulky and cheap, but brilliant

The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch desktop replacement laptop gains many of the features that ultrabooks have brought to the market, including a backlit keyboard, 10-finger touch screen, and — unfortunately — a sealed chassis.

It follows the traditional laptop format, with a single hard drive, single optical drive, and a good number of I/O ports around the system's chassis. The Z400 Touch is a very good, solid laptop that outperforms many of the thin-and-light systems in its price range.

It's got the goods, and will turn your eye from the more expensive ultraboooks, and that makes it our choice for entry-level desktop replacement laptops.

Design and features

The Z400 Touch is undoubtedly a desktop replacement laptop, on account of its thickness. It measures about 1.25 x 13.75 x 9.75 (HWD), which is quite a bit larger than today's crop of ultrabooks. The Z400 Touch's 2370g weight isn't too bad compared to the laptops of the past, but it's hefty compared to recent laptops, particularly the 900-1800g pound ultrabooks.

What you get in return for all that heft is a performance PC with most of the accoutrements that you'd expect if you were replacing a high-end laptop that's ageing itself out of its useful life. It has a mix of the modern and the traditional, with a textured keyboard deck with a shallowly embedded one-piece trackpad. The top lid and bottom panel are coloured "dark chocolate," which translates into a deep brown that's close to black.

The system's keyboard is a mixed bag. Its sculpted, chiclet-style keys are comfortable to type on initially, but the keyboard surface between the keys exhibits visible flexing. We also noticed some fingerprints on the keys after a typing session. They are nothing a good wipe with a microfibre cloth couldn't handle, but the flex and fingerprints may be an issue if you're picky.

The keyboard is backlit, which is a feature that can help users typing in a darkened room. The row of function keys defaults to the icons printed on them: for example F1 and F2 are volume, F11 and F12 are screen brightness, etc. To use the traditional function keys, you need to first press and hold down the Fn key. This is the more logical way to do it, since DOS-style F1-F12 functions are rarely used compared to CTRL-keys.

The Z400 Touch's 1,366 by 768 LED backlit screen is certainly bright enough for day-to-day use. The 10-point touch screen is covered by a seamless piece of glass, aside from two pinholes for the webcam's microphones. The hinge area has a hump, where a traditional laptop would have had its removable battery. The Z400 Touch has a sealed battery, which is a disadvantage if you're the type who leaves their laptop plugged in all the time and doesn't discharge it regularly. Eventually the battery will fail, and you'll have to take the system to a service depot to get a new battery installed.

Media entertainment

The Z400 Touch comes with a DVD burner, so you can continue to enjoy your library of DVD movies and install older software that needs physical media like CDs and DVDs. While optical drive use is declining rapidly, the presence of an optical drive can be a solace to those carrying over old habits. Competitors like the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook (£400) eschew the optical drive to shave thickness (though not necessarily weight in this case).

The Z400 Touch is a decent laptop for media entertainment, with respectable sound thrown from the base-mounted speakers. The system comes with Dolby Home Theatre software enhancement. Running the system with Dolby on makes movies and music sound richer, and the system has enough sound volume to keep a small group happy.

The Z400 Touch has a few pieces of pre-loaded software like accuweather.com, Kindle, Evernote Touch, Skype, eBacy, rara.com and Intel AppUp. The system also comes with Lenovo's utilities for support and OneKey recovery, which can help you, restore the system after buggy software or a virus compromises the operating system. The screen reacts quickly to taps and swipes, including the off-screen gestures that bring up menus and allows you to switch active programs quickly.

Windows 8 is really made for a touch screen PC, shown by how much better the Z40 Touch is in day to day use when compared to a similarly priced system without a touch screen like the Toshiba Satellite C875-S7340 (£385) The Z400 Touch comes with 6GB of memory, good for the multitasking user that likes to listen to music while surfing with 25 tabs open. The 1TB drive is capacious, though the system is noticeably slower opening apps and programs compared to an SSD-powered laptop.

Since the Z400 Touch is thicker than an ultrabook, the system can accommodate quite a few ports on its sides. It has VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, and a SD card reader on the left. The Z400 Touch has the DVD burner, headset jack, and two USB 2.0 ports on the right. The former Editors' Choice for entry-level ultrabooks, the Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (£430) comes with the same number of ports, sans optical drive. Another former EC for entry-level touch ultrabooks, the Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644 (£495), has fewer I/O ports.

Performance

The mobile Intel Core i5-3230M processor is clocked much higher than the Core i3 and i5 processors in the ultrabooks listed above. As such, the Z400 Touch is the performance leader compared to the ultrabooks and other systems in its price range (£370-496). While the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15z-b000 has a slightly better 3D performance numbers due to its AMD Radeon graphics, the Z400 Touch absolutely plasters the HP 15z-b000 on the more important multimedia (Handbrake, Photoshop) and day-to-day (PCMark7) tests. The Z400 Touch also outperforms the Acer M5-481PT-6644 and Asus S400CA-UH51 on the multimedia tests.

The Z400 Touch also shines on the battery rundown test. Its almost five-hour battery life (4 hours 51 minutes) is worlds better than the three-hour battery life of the HP Sleekbook, and it outlasts the four hours of the Acer M5-481PT-6644 and Asus S400CA-UH51 as well.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch shows that you can still find a traditional laptop that can outshine one of the newer thin-and-light systems. We've seen the rise of the ultrabook and like-minded systems with AMD processors in them.

The Z400 Touch might be thicker, but it's also more capable on the whole, and is certainly a more modern take on the desktop replacement laptop, with its touch screen and touch-oriented Windows 8 operating system. It therefore takes over as the new Editors' Choice for entry-level desktop replacement laptops.

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