In 2008, Lenovo launched its first small business line, the SL series, which offered a less conservative riff on the classic ThinkPad design. Now comes the Edge series, designed to blow the doors off of ThinkPad's time-honored design aesthetic while providing cost-conscious small-to-medium-sized businesses with plenty of performance and strong battery life at value prices. Though there's room for improvement, the 13.3-inch Edge 13 ($899 as configured) delivers on these promises in a big way.
While clearly inspired by nearly 20 years of ThinkPad design, this is a brand new look for a new decade. For the first time ever on a ThinkPad, the lid is available in three colors: glossy Midnight Black, matte Midnight Black, and Heatwave red. The sides are adorned with a silver trim, which adds a nice touch of color, but would be even more attractive if it were metal. The deck, bottom, and display bezel are made out of attractive smooth plastic, rather than the rubberized or grainy black material most ThinkPads have.
Best of all, the lid and the deck feature a glitzy ThinkPad logo with a bright red light that serves as the dot over the letter I. The light fades in and out when the notebook is asleep.
At 13.1 x 9.0 x 1.2 inches (with the standard 4-cell battery) and weighing 3.8 pounds, the Edge 13 is easy to carry. It's also similar in size and weight to the HP ProBook 5310m (12.9 x 8.7 x 0.9 inches, 3.8 pounds) though the ProBook has a flat bottom, while the Edge's 6-cell battery adds about 0.3 inches of thickness to the back. Like many ultraportables, the Edge saves weight by eschewing an optical drive.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Perhaps the most radical break with ThinkPad tradition on the Edge 13 is its new keyboard. Rather than having a set of tightly packed keys like every other ThinkPad, the Edge has a set of narrowly-spaced island-style keys with a different shape and surface. Along with the redesign comes one fewer row of keys at the top, as legacy keys such as Scroll lock have been eliminated. Like many other ThinkPads, including the T400s, the Edge keyboard is spill-resistant, with a drainage hole for liquids to flow out of the bottom of the chassis.
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When we first saw this keyboard design we were skeptical, because traditional ThinkPad keyboards offered industry-leading quality and responsiveness over the years. However, the new keyboard was even more responsive and pleasant to use than that on the ThinkPad T400s, our previous favorite. The added space and increased tactile response of the keys equaled a typing score of 92 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor, our best score ever.
Though the keyboard is new, it contains the same highly-accurate red TrackPoint that's made the ThinkPad famous. Using the TrackPoint we navigated around the desktop without removing our hands from the home row.
Those who don't like a pointing stick will be pleased with the huge, comfortable touchpad on the Edge 13. Though its smooth surface is different than the textured one found on the T400s and SL410 ThinkPads, it's no less accurate. The pad also supports multitouch gestures such as pinch to zoom, and rotating fingers to rotate images. The large mouse buttons offer just the right amount of tactile feedback.
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Warm temperatures on the left side of the Edge 13's palm rest marred the typing experience a bit. After 15 minutes of streaming high-def video over Wi-Fi with the notebook plugged in and High Performance power profile selected, we measured the touchpad at 94 degrees Fahrenheit and the spot between the G+H keys at 96 degrees. However, the middle bottom (near the battery) measured 100 degrees and the left side of the palm rest just below the left Ctrl key got as hot as 97 degrees. While this wasn't painfully hot like the 103-degree HP Envy 15, we couldn't help but notice the heat as we typed. Fortunately, by using Lenovo's Power Manager utility, we were able to adjust various performance settings to throttle down the CPU while throttling up the cooling. These actions lowered the heat a bit.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel glossy screen on the Edge 13 provided bright colors and sharp images, whether we were surfing the Web or watching a high-def video. Viewing angles were solid, even from 90 degrees, though the overhead light in our office did reflect off of the screen.
The Edge's 1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU and integrated Intel GS45 graphics combined to provide smooth, sharp playback of high-def video, when we streamed a 720p episode of Lie To Me from Fox.com and when we played a 1080p WMV file from Microsoft's WMV HD Content Showcase.
The Edge 13 won't replace your stereo, but audio quality was surprisingly good, when watching streaming video from Fox.com and when listening to music. Streaming a heavy metal song and a jazz tune from Napster, sound was loud and free from major distortion, if not overly rich and layered.
Ports and Webcam
The Edge features three USB ports, a single audio in/out jack, a lock slot, VGA, Ethernet, and HDMI ports. Unlike many more expensive ThinkPads, including the T400s and X301, the Edge comes standard with a 5-in-1 memory card reader for transferring files off of digital cameras and camcorders.
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Images on the low-light sensitive webcam were smooth and colorful, even in the dim light of our office cubicle. When conducting a call over Skype, the green color of our shirt was visible despite the poor lighting conditions.
The ThinkPad Edge 13 is available with a choice of CPUs from AMD and Intel. The Edge configuration we reviewed came with a 1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU that offered good performance, though its goal is long battery life. When surfing the Web, playing HD videos, typing e-mails, chatting on Skype, or circling the globe in Google Earth, the Edge was smooth and responsive.
On PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system performance, the Edge 13 returned a score of 2,879, which is slightly better than the ultraportable notebook category average of 2,766, and more than 400 points above the consumer-focused ASUS UL30A (2,442). However, the HP ProBook 5310m, which sports a much-faster 2.26-GHz Core 2 Duo SP9300 CPU, scored 3,382.
When it came to transcoding video, the results were also slightly above average. When converting a 114MB MP4 to AVI format in HandBrake, the Edge 13 took 11 minutes and 25 seconds, which is more than two minutes faster than the 13:38 category average, but more than four and a half minutes behind the HP ProBook 5310m, which finished in just 6:50. When performing the same encoding operation using Oxelon Media Converter, an application which takes advantage of multiple CPU cores, the Edge 13 finished in a brisk 1:17.
The Edge 13's 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive took a mere 44 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Professional (32-bit), which is three seconds faster than the HP ProBook 5310m (47 seconds), and much faster than the 61-second category average.
The Edge completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, in 3 minutes and 37 seconds for a rate of 23.5 MBps. This was quite a bit faster than the category average of 20.9 MBps, but a tad slower than the HP ProBook 5310m (26.2 MBps) and its 320GB, 7,200 rpm drive.
The Edge 13's integrated Intel GS45 graphics chip is nothing to write home about, but combined with the 1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, it made the Edge good enough to play high-definition video at full screen, zoom around Google Earth, and do some light gaming.
On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures graphics prowess, the Edge 13 scored 908, which is just above the category average of 857, but more than 40 points below the ProBook 5310m's score of 952. The ASUS UL30A managed a modest score of 760.
Despite its modest 3DMark06 score, the Edge 13 notched a playable frame rate of 33 fps in World of Warcraft at 1024 x 768 resolution. At its native resolution of 1366 x 768, however, the performance dropped to 6 frames per second.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
With the optional 6-cell battery, the Edge 13 lasted for 5 hours and 46 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. This time was 22 minutes longer than the category average and 16 minutes longer than the ProBook 5310m. However, the ASUS UL30A lasted a very long 9 hours and 55 minutes, the longest time we've seen in this class.
The Edge's Intel 802.11n card delivered decent transfer rates of 20.0 Mbps and 19.2 Mbps when positioned 15 and 50 feet from the router, respectively. The 15-foot score is on a par with the category average of 20.5 Mbps, while the 50-foot rate bests the category average of 17.2 Mbps.
Our review unit also had built-in WiMax capability and a Qualcomm Gobi wirelesss broadband modem that can be used to connect to 3G providers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless. (This was not activated for testing.)
Click to enlargeThe ThinkPad Edge 13 charged rapidly, taking only 1 hour and 12 minutes to reach 80 percent of capacity. That's more than twice as fast as the category average of 2:32. To reach 100 percent charge took another 53 minutes, for a total of 2:05, much better than the category average of 3:42. The HP ProBook 5310m was almost as fast, charging in 2:19, while the ASUS UL30A took a full 3:50.
During the charging process, the Edge 13 used a total of 6,425 watts. Divide that by number of minutes of battery life and you get a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency rating of 18.6, which is better than the category average (19.4), but a bit behind the HP ProBook 5310m (13.7) and the ASUS UL30A (14.0).
Software, Warranty, and Small Business Services
The Edge 13 comes with Lenovo's standard suite of ThinkVantage utilities including its Rescue and Recovery utility, Power Manager, and Access Connections wireless manager. The most compelling of these is the Password Manager, which lets you store and manage all your passwords.
The Edge comes standard with a one year warranty on parts and labor and 24/7 toll-free phone support. Like all ThinkPads, its warranty can be upgraded to two or three years.
In addition to longer warranty coverage, small businesses with limited IT resources will appreciate having the option to purchase ThinkPlus services, which include priority support, accidental damage protection, and secure online backup.
Click to enlargeOur review unit costs $899 and comes with a 1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 5,400 rpm hard drive. Though the SU7300 is the highest-end CPU offered, you can also get the Edge 13 with an Intel SU4100 CPU or with AMD Turion Neo X2 or AMD Athlon Neo X2 dual-core CPUs. The notebook can be configured with up to 4GB of DDR2 RAM, and hard drives are available in capacities of160 to 500GB. You also have a choice of a 4- or 6-cell battery in the models equipped with AMD processors.
The Edge's $549 starting price provides great value for small businesses, but the base configuration has the AMD Turion CPU and a 4-cell battery that offers significantly less battery life than the one we tested. For that reason, we recommend getting a unit with one of the Intel CPUs and the 6-cell battery. The 7,200-rpm hard drive should also offer a nice performance boost over the 5,400 rpm options.
With its modern design, the $899 Edge 13 is no ordinary ThinkPad, but it offers the same kind of first-rate keyboard, pointing stick, touchpad, and screen we've come to expect from its siblings. At this price, the HP ProBook 5310m, which offers a faster CPU, faster hard drive, and an anodized aluminum and magnesium rubberized chassis, represents a slightly better value. However, if you want small business system with stylish looks, solid performance, long battery life, and an incredible keyboard, the Edge 13 is a compelling choice.