Lenovo IdeaPad Z360 Review

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$749
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Relatively fast performer; Excellent keyboard and comfortable touchpad; Good speakers ; Sharp webcam with facial recognition

The Cons

Short battery life; Lackluster design; Weak integrated graphics; Relatively expensive

Verdict

Lenovo squeezes an excellent keyboard and zippy Core i3 CPU into this lightweight machine, but the design and battery life could be better.

Lenovo's IdeaPad Z360 provides nearly everything mobile users need in a compact package. Weighing in at a fairly light 4.4 pounds, this 13.3-inch widescreen machine boasts a fantastically comfortable keyboard and touchpad, plus a DVD burner (which is becoming a rarity). Still, the $749 IdeaPad Z360 does have a few weaknesses that may cause you to think twice before buying.

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Note: While our IdeaPad Z360 test unit came with a 2.27-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor, Lenovo offers it with a slightly faster 2.4-GHz i3-750 CPU for the same price.  

Design

Measuring 12.9 x 8.6 x 1.3 inches and tipping the scales at a manageable 4.4 pounds, the Z360 isn't the lightest laptop with a 13-inch screen, but it's fairly compact and slips into laptop bags easily.

At first glance, the IdeaPad Z360's design appears pretty low-end. The laptop's chassis is molded from cheap-feeling black plastic with smoothly rounded edges. The lid flexes disconcertingly when pressed and its high-gloss surface picks up fingerprints easily. Covered with nine separate fan grilles and split out into obvious upgrade compartments, the matte-black plastic undercarriage has much the same budget feel.

The inside of the Z360 has a more premium vibe, but it's still not great. The deck (though actually plastic) is clad in shiny metallic silver with plenty of curves, ridges, and softly edged indentations. A huge rolling speaker grate sits below the display and curls upward slightly. It's reminiscent of an art deco radiator or a classic car grille, which you'll love or hate. Despite its faux-metallic construction, the Z360's silver deck doesn't feel that sturdy; it bends a bit when pressure is applied.

Lenovo supplies feather-touch buttons that put the Z360 in a number of modes--Autodetect, Movie, and Normal--depending on what type of computing you're doing. You can also toggle sound modes (on/off/mute) and Energy Management schemes here as well.

Heat

The IdeaPad Z360 stayed very cool during our testing. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full-screen, the touchpad measured 88 degrees, the space between the G and H keys was 85, and the middle of the underside was just 90 degrees Fahrenheit. All are well below what we consider uncomfortable, which is 95 degrees and higher.

Keyboard and Touchpad

While the IdeaPad Z360's overall design may not be your cup of tea, we doubt many will take issue with its phenomenal keyboard. Featuring an island-style layout taken from Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge line, the keys are big and well-spaced, with a rough, non-slip surface. Even better, they are slightly concave and make a pleasing clacking sound when tapped. All this makes typing on the Z360 a wonderful experience.

The notebook's touchpad is pretty roomy (3.3 x 1.6 inches) and sports a finger-soothing textured surface. However, the pad's mouse buttons, while discrete, are slightly mushy.

Display and Audio

The Z360's LED-backlit 13.3-inch widescreen display has a relatively standard 1366 x 768 pixel resolution. Even so, the glossy screen did justice to our test materials. We observed pleasing contrast with deep blacks and well-saturated colors in both DVD movies and Hulu videos. While two or three people could cluster around the notebook to watch content, brightness starts to drop quickly when the screen is viewed off-axis.  

The Z360's stereo speakers pump out surprisingly good--but not very loud--audio. Located directly above the keyboard and equipped with Dolby sound technology, they provided a pleasingly open sound field and a little more bass than your typical laptop.    

Ports and Webcam

On the left side of the Z360 is Ethernet, VGA, one USB port, a USB/eSATA port, and a Kensington lock slot. Also on the left side is an HDMI port for A/V output to HDTVs. On the right hand side are headphone and mic jacks, an additional USB port, and a tray-loading DVD burner. The front lip of the laptop features a 5-in-1 memory card reader and a physical switch to activate the system's wireless radios.

The Z360 comes with a 1.3-megapixel webcam that captured sharper video than other notebooks we've recently tested, and it can track faces to make sure your mug stays in the frame. The webcam can also be controlled via the bundled CyberLink Webcam software, which lets you use avatars and insert amusing backgrounds and animated effects. Lenovo's VeriFace software allowed us to log into the notebook without typing a password.

Performance

Modestly configured with a 2.27-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor and 3GB of main system memory, the IdeaPad Z360 offers good performance for this class of machine. The notebook turned in a solid PCMark Vantage score of 5,023, which is almost 500 points higher than the thin-and-light category average (4,629). The IdeaPad Z360 easily beat out both the HP Pavilion dm3t (3,669) which has a slower 1.2-GHz Intel Core i3-330UM CPU and the Toshiba Satellite T235 (3,158) that uses an old 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 processor.

We also found the Z360 to be peppy enough for everyday tasks. We viewed Hulu videos and manipulated multiple browser windows at once, all while checking Twitter feeds and streaming music without any issues.  

Possibly due to its slow 5,400-rpm hard drive, the IdeaPad Z360 faltered on our file transfer test. It was able to transfer a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 19.40MBps, which is below the category average of 25MBps. By comparison, the Satellite T235 managed to notch 24MBps on the same test. The Z360 redeemed itself on our transcoding benchmark, converting a 114MB MP4 file using Oxelon in a relatively quick 1:05. This beat both the Pavilion dm3t (1:51) and the Satellite T235 (1:42).  

Graphics Performance

Outfitted with weak Intel HD graphics, the notebook scored just 1,635 on 3DMark06, about 1,200 points below the thin-and-light average. Forget about mainstream games. The laptop could only muster 9 fps while playing World of Warcraft at its native resolution. On autodetect settings, that number climbed only to 18 fps (30 fps is preferable).

Battery and Wireless

While its battery life isn't terrible, the Z360 doesn't have as much endurance as competing notebooks. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the laptop lasted a relatively short 3 hours and 58 minutes. This result is nearly an hour less than the typical thin-and-light laptop. In addition, both the 13-inch HP Pavilion dm3t and the Toshiba Satellite T235 outlasted the Z360 with runtimes of 5:35 and 6:11, respectively.  

Using an Intel Advanced-N 6250 AGN adapter, the Z360's Wi-Fi performance was mixed. At a distance of 15 feet, the notebook turned in throughput of 40.6 Mbps, which is well above the category average of 32.4Mbps. Even so, it's slightly slower than the Satellite T235, which managed 42.9 Mbps at the same distance. At 50 feet, the Z360 garnered a data rate of 19.60Mbps, which is below the current average of 21.33Mbps. By contrast, the T235 was able to achieve a swift 27.5Mbps.

When out of range of Wi-Fi, the Z360 can access WiMax wireless broadband networks as well. Opening the WiMax utility hidden in the Start Menu will activate this feature. Once connected, launching a web browser directs you to Clear's website, where you can sign up for wireless plans starting at about $60 a month, or $24 for a day pass.

Turning on WiMax automatically disables Wi-Fi; annoyingly, turning WiMax off doesn't reactivate Wi-Fi. Even worse, to turn Wi-Fi back on, you must use the bundled WiMax utility. Using the Windows tool does nothing.

Software and Warranty

Lenovo includes a full version of PowerLink's Powe2Go software for burning CDs and DVDs. A separate SmileDock utility allows you to shop for new software and peripherals, check the weather via Weather Bug's app, or sign up for a CrossLoop tech support account (starting at $50). We found the SmileDock interface to be awkward; it's much easier to purchase products and services through their corresponding websites.

Lenovo backs the IdeaPad 360 with a standard one-year limited warranty which covers parts and labor. You can purchase a full range of warranty upgrades, including expanding basic coverage to three years for an additional $99. To see how Lenovo fared on our annual Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Configurations

While our $749 IdeaPad Z360 test unit was equipped with a 2.27-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor, a faster 2.4-GHz i3-750 CPU now comes standard in the laptop's base configuration. The other available models differ in that one offers a Core i5-460M (2.53GHz) CPU with Intel HD integrated graphics for $799, while another provides a Core i5-560M (2.66GHz) chip and discrete Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics for $949.

Verdict

Compact and lightweight, Lenovo's IdeaPad Z360 offers plenty for mobile users to like. It has the performance to tackle everyday business and home computing tasks without breaking a sweat. The notebook also boasts a superbly comfortable keyboard and touchpad, and we like the clean-sounding speakers. Still, the Z360's relatively short battery life will give frequent travelers pause, and its price is a little high given the cheap-feeling design.

Those who place a premium on ergonomic comfort and speed will want to consider the Z360, but overall we prefer the HP Pavilion dm3t ($599) and Toshiba Satellite T235 ($629). They don't have as much horsepower as this IdeaPad--or DVD drives--but they offer more stylish and sturdy designs along with much longer battery life.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.27GHz Intel Core i3-350M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 3GB
RAM Upgradable to 3GB
Hard Drive Size 500GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 13.3
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW DL
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Model Intel Centrino Advanced-N + WiMAX 6250
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Mobile Broadband WiMax
Touchpad Size 3.3x1.6
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) USB/eSATA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 Year limited covering parts and labor
Size 1.3x12.9x8.6 inches
Weight 4.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.lenovo.com