The 14-inch member of Lenovo's small-business-oriented ThinkPad Edge family of laptops, the ThinkPad Edge E420s promises a strong combination of sleek looks, portability, performance, and typing comfort. But is this 14-inch Core i5-powered notebook ($889 as configured) the best choice for mobile professionals on the move? Heck yeah.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s business laptop offers a sporty reinterpretation of the classic ThinkPad motif. While design elements such as the Edge E420s' Lenovo logo, bright red TrackPoint, and dark color are all ThinkPad staples, the notebook's chrome trim, end-to-end infinity glass, and rubberized chassis breathe new life into this tried-and-true aesthetic.
If you look at the deck in bright light, you'll also notice that the Edge E420s is actually a very dark green--Lenovo calls it "moss black"--rather than the traditional ThinkPad black. We particularly like the small touches, such as the red light that sits above the "I" in the ThinkPad logo and blinks when the system is asleep and the soft-touch bottom.
At 4.4 pounds and 13.7 x 9.3 x 1.2-inches, the ThinkPad Edge E420s is one of the most portable 14-inch notebooks on the market, weighing less than the Toshiba Tecra R840 (4.6 pounds), the Lenovo ThinkPad L420 (5.2 pounds), and the Dell Latitude E6420 (6.2 pounds).
Keyboard, TrackPoint, Touchpad
The ThinkPad Edge E420s features a spill-resistant, island-style keyboard that provides the same legendary quality and responsiveness we've come to expect from Lenovo business notebooks. With curved, "smile-shaped" keys that make it easy to avoid adjacent-key errors, a comfy rubberized palm rest that cradles your wrists, and a heavy dose of tactile feedback, the Edge E420s allowed us to achieve a high rate of 86 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, 8 percent above our typical score. Too bad the keyboard isn't backlit, like the new HP ProBook 5330m.
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Like other ThinkPad notebooks, the Edge E420s has both a TrackPoint pointing stick and a touchpad. In general, we prefer the TrackPoint, because it provides the most precise navigation available on any notebook while allowing touch typists to keep their hands on the home row.
The Edge E420s' 3.7 x 2.4-inch touchpad provides comfortable, accurate navigation around the desktop. And though the buttons are built into the pad, we had no issues with jumpiness like we've experienced on many other notebooks with "clickpad"-style designs. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom worked fairly smoothly, though we sometimes needed to repeat the gesture for rotating images in order for it to register.
The ThinkPad Edge E420s stayed extremely cool throughout our testing. After streaming video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a chilly 81 degrees, the keyboard a frigid 85 degrees, and the bottom a mere 87 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees Fahrenheit comfortable and below 90 degrees imperceptible.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe 14.1-inch, 1366 x 768 glossy display on the ThinkPad Edge E420s provided bright, colorful images and decent viewing angles. However, because the 200-nit display is covered end to end in glossy infinity glass, the screen can be a bit reflective and colors wash out at angles greater than 45 degrees to the left or right.
The ThinkPad E420s's Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip allowed it to handle any video we threw at it with great aplomb. From a 1080p QuickTime trailer for Thor to a 720p streamed Flash episode of Fringe, videos were smooth and sharp.
In our testing, the quality of the ThinkPad E420s's audio playback varied based on the type of music played. When we listened to bass-heavy tunes, playback was accurate, though not overly rich. However, when we queued up a heavy-metal tune, the sound was noticeably tinny and we could feel the speakers quaking. At maximum volume, anything we played was loud enough to fill our entire one-bedroom apartment.
Ports and Webcam
The ThinkPad Edge E420s has two USB ports (one of which can sleep and charge) on the right side of the chassis along with HDMI and a combo headset/mic jack. On the back are an Ethernet connection, eSATA/USB port, and VGA out. On the left side are an SD Card reader and a slot-loading DVD drive. We only wish the ThinkPad Edge E420s had a USB 3.0 port to enable faster backups.
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Whether we were speaking on Skype or just previewing the image in Lenovo's conferencing control panel, the 720p webcam provided reasonably sharp, clear images with smooth motion. However, in low-light environments such as our office cubicle or right next to a window on an overcast day, our face was covered in shadow. The camera is not Skype HD-certified, so if you want to chat at 1280 x 720 resolution, you'll need to use another application such as OoVoo or WebEx .
With its 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M CPU, 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, 4GB of RAM and integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip, the ThinkPad Edge E420s provides solid performance that's great for most tasks. On PCMarkVantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system performance, the ThinkPad Edge E420s scored a reasonable 6,290, which is comfortably higher than the 5,438 category average for thin-and-light notebooks, but trails the 2.5-GHz Core i5 powered Toshiba Tecra R840 (7,728) and the 2.5-GHz Core i5-enabled ThinkPad L420 (7,354).
The 320GB 7,200-rpm Seagate hard drive booted into Windows 7 Professional in a speedy 40 seconds, 25 seconds faster than the category average (65). It took the drive 2 minutes and 41 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 31.6 MBps, quite a bit faster than the 25.5 MBps category average and the 24.2 MBps turned in by the Toshiba Tecra R840.
When it came to transcoding video, the ThinkPad Edge E420s was no slouch. Taking advantage of Intel's Quick Sync technology, the E420s took just 37 seconds to transcode an HD video using Cyberlink Media Espresso, a full minute less than the category average (1:37) and on a par with the ThinkPad L420 (0:34). When converting a 114MB MPEG4 to AVI format using Oxelon Media Encoder, the Edge E420s took a reasonable 55 seconds, just faster than the 59-second category average.
The ThinkPad Edge E420s's Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip is good enough to play back HD video and perform most business tasks, but we wouldn't recommend it for hardcore gaming. On 3DMark06, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the notebook scored 3,627, on a par with the 3,622 category average but behind the Toshiba Tecra R840 and its AMD Radeon HD 6450M chip (4,369).
The ThinkPad Edge E420s managed a rate of 30 frames per second in World of Warcraft with the graphics set to Good, which is playable. When we turned up the special effects, that number dropped to an unplayable 15 fps, less than half the category average (30.6 fps).
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
With its embedded battery, the ThinkPad Edge E420s lasted an impressive 6 hours and 41 minutes, nearly two hours longer than the 4:55 category average and similar to the Toshiba Tecra R840 (6:34). The ThinkPad L420 trailed by nearly half an hour (6:14). Because of its long battery life, we think the E420s is a better choice than the 12.5-inch ThinkPad Edge E220s, which weighs 1.2 pounds less but lasts only 4 hours and 55 minutes on a charge.
The ThinkPad Edge E420s's Intel WiFi Link 1000 802.11n radio provided below-average transfer rates of 23.3 Mbps and 15 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from our router. Those numbers pale in comparison to the 35.6 and 22 Mbps category averages and the 33.9/19.8 provided by the Toshiba Tecra R840.
Our review configuration of the ThinkPad Edge E420s carries an MSRP of $889. For that price, you get the 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, Bluetooth, and Windows 7 Professional.
However, the notebook starts at just $699. For that price, you get a 2.1-GHz Core i3-2310M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 5,400-rpm 250GB hard drive, no Bluetooth, and Windows 7 Home Premium. Lenovo offers few customization options, only letting you choose between Core i3/i5 CPUs, Windows Home and Professional, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and a variety of hard drives. We recommend the 7,200-rpm hard drive, a $70 premium, because it should make applications open a bit faster.
Software, Security, and Warranty
Click to enlargeThe ThinkPad Edge E420s comes with a standard array of Lenovo ThinkVantage utilities. These include the ThinkVantage power manager, which allows you to exert fine control over the power settings; Enhanced Backup and Restore; and Airbag protection, which stops your hard drive in the event of a fall. Our favorite ThinkVantage software is the Web Conferencing manager that allows you to set the microphones for single or multi-person use, to configure the webcam, and to turn on keyboard noise suppression for VoIP calls.
In addition to ThinkVantage utilities, the ThinkPad Edge E420s comes with a couple of pre-loaded applications. Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition allows users to access basic Office functions or upgrade to a full version of Office for a price. A trial edition of Norton Internet Security 2011 provides 30 days of protection. Skype and Adobe Reader are also on the hard drive.
The ThinkPad Edge E420s also comes standard with a fingerprint reader, which can be configured to log you into Windows with a single swipe. Using the finger enrollment software is easy enough. However, we wish Lenovo used a powered fingerprint reader that can cold boot the computer like it does on the ThinkPad X1.
Whether you're a mobile professional, a student, or just someone who needs an affordable notebook for work and play, the ThinkPad Edge E420s is a compelling choice. This laptop offers a great typing experience, solid performance, and strong battery life. If you need discrete graphics for gaming or high-end business applications, you'll want to consider a more expensive system with an AMD or Nvidia graphics chip such as the $1,219 Tecra R840. However, if you can get by with Intel integrated graphics, the Edge E420s is the small business notebook to get.