|Introduction & Specifications|
|The awkward days of Window 8 laptops without touchscreens aren’t behind us just yet, but the end is in sight. It’s easy enough to resist touching the Start screen on a desktop PC, but when a laptop display is inches from your fingers, if you're anything like us, your instinct is to reach out and touch it. Thankfully, affordable touch-enabled laptops have begun to hit store shelves, like Lenovo's new IdeaPad Z400 Touch.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad Z400 Touch is one of the laptops ushering in the era of touch screens for mid-range systems, so we’re taking it for a spin (and a swipe) for you here.
Until Haswell arrives, Ivy Bridge is the name of the game for many laptops these days. As such, the Z400 Touch sports an Intel Core i5-3230M processor, along with an Intel HM76 chipset. The processor clocks in at 2.6GHz, but offers 3.2GHz speeds with TurboBoost. And the on-chip Intel HD 4000 graphics make for decent HD video viewing and reasonable casual gaming capabilities.
Lenovo rounds out the system with 6GB of DDR3-1600 memory and a 1TB hard drive that spins along at 5400rpm. That’s a nice chunk of storage space for this kind of notebook, and an SSD to complement it would bump up the price, so we can see why no SSD is present, though the speed increase would be appreciated. One of (but not the only) differentiating factor between ultrabooks and laptops is the lack of an optical drive in the former. Being a laptop, the Z400 Touch has a DVD burner. No Blu-ray, but at this price, that’s understandable. And it has a DVD tray – not a slot-loader.
The Z400 Touch has the ports you’d expect it to, but maybe not as many of them. It has an SD card reader, sure, and USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, but there are only two of those USB 2.0 ports and (more importantly) only one USB 3.0 port. Users who like to hook their laptops up to the usual monitor/keyboard/mouse/printer/external drive/USB-powered fan (I know you have one) will want to keep that in mind. Other ports include a single HDMI output, a VGA port, and a mic/headphone combo jack.
On the connectivity side of things, the Z400 Touch is in good shape. It has a LAN port, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The laptop also has a webcam that provides 720p video and can capture 1MP photos. we like the indicator light, which lets you know when the webcam has stopped recording.
By the way, if you want to buy the Z400 Touch with this configuration, you’ll need to use Amazon.com. On Lenovo’s website the $599 model has a Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive. The model on Amazon.com ships free for Amazon Prime customers.
Next up, we’ll dig into the laptop’s design and portability.
|Design & Touch Screen|
|One of the most exciting features in the Lenovo Z400 Touch is, well, touch. The laptop’s 14-inch display supports multitouch, and it’s very responsive. The surface of the screen is smooth and we didn’t feel any resistance or tackiness when moving our fingers across it. Pinching works fine, and the zoom delay (between when you move your fingers and when the image becomes clear again) is very slight. With the Z400 Touch, whatever you feel you sacrifice by going with a mid-range laptop, a good touch screen won’t be on the list.
Weight and size matter in a laptop, even if it’s going to spend much of its life on your desk. The Z400 Touch weighs in at 5.29 pounds, which is about right for a 14-inch laptop (The Dell Inspiron 14R weighs 5.1 pounds and the HP Envy dv4 comes in at 4.79lbs, for example). The laptop is light enough not to strain my shoulder when I carry it in a typical notebook bag for 20 minutes, but it’s too heavy for me to comfortably hold with one hand. When I went to pick up the Z400, I found myself using two hands, or lifting it onto its side so I could get a better one-handed grip.
The Z400 Touch is 13.6 inches wide x 9.6 inches deep x 1.1 inches high. That means it’s pretty slim for a laptop. To make it feel even slimmer, Lenovo used a chassis that has sloped edges, so that the laptop appears almost ultrabook slim when closed. To include Ethernet support (typically one of the bulkier ports on laptops these days) without breaking up the laptop’s clean lines, Lenovo built a small door that can be pulled open to expose the full Ethernet port.
Ports sit on either side of the laptop, but not the front or back, so the sides feel a little cluttered as a result. The SD card slot, which is often at the front of laptops, sits on left edge of this laptop. The single USB 3.0 port is next to the SD slot, while the pair of USB 2.0 ports are over by your right hand.
The backlit keyboard has a broad layout in which the keys are visibly separate from each other. Laptops keyboards are often crowded and somewhat uncomfortable, but not here. I also like the touchpad, which is very responsive to finger movement and taps.
The chassis has a sturdy feel, which is all the more important now that you’ll be poking the screen. I didn’t have any trouble with the screen wobbling or moving while I tapped and swiped. The top of the chassis is a “Dark Chocolate” polycarbonate shell that has a brushed metal look, while keyboard area has a chrome finish.
|The Lenovo Z400 includes several pre-installed programs. For malware protection, Lenovo installed McAfee Internet Security with a one-month subscription to get you started. The program handles virus and spyware protection and includes a software firewall. Other tools include backup and restore features and parental controls.
We typically uninstall security software to avoid interference with system benchmark. I uninstalled McAfee Internet Security without any hassle. If you prefer other security software, it’s nice to know that yanking McAfee and installing your own shouldn’t be a problem.
One program you can’t just pick up on your own is the CyberLink OneKey Rescue System software. This is actually a hardware/software combo: in the event that your laptop suffers a catastrophic crash and you can’t get Windows to boot, you can press this button (it’s a tiny button near the power port; you’ll need a pen or paperclip) and you can restore the operating system. If you haven’t already created any of your own, the software will use its original backup to restore your system. That’s a handy feature and one that adds to the laptop’s value. CyberLink PowerDVD is another handy app that comes with the laptop.
Lenovo also packs several of its own (well, branded) programs onto the Z400 Touch. Lenovo PowerDVD (related to CyberLink PowerDVD) handles DVD playback and can also play movies and music stored on the laptop. It has ads and encourages you to upgrade to a paid version.
Lenovo included (CyberLink) YouCam 4 video and photo capture software as well, which is easy to use. Adjusting capture quality and resolution is easy, and it has a countdown timer that gives you a chance to get ready before the recording light comes on. It also has an avatar creator that is mildly fun to use. The photo side of the software is a little more limited – the settings here are mostly related to shutter speed and image format – but the picture quality is good and the timer is particularly useful for the camera. Once the time starts, you see live video of the area to be shot and make quick adjustments to improve the photo. There are buttons for sharing to Facebook and YouTube too.
Although the Z400 touch comes with much more software than you would find on a boutique system, it’s generally useful software. You’re sure to see some apps that you don’t normally use, but I didn’t spot any that looked inappropriate for a typical user. The laptop’s complement of included apps doesn’t strike me as bloatware, but rather as an honest (and probably fairly successful) attempt to get you up and running faster.
|Cinebench & SiSoft SANDRA|
|We kicked off our testing with some established benchmarks. Cinebench and SiSoft SANDRA are popular tools for measuring the performance of systems and are used by both reviewers and IT personnel.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 touch handled itself well for a mid-range system, even topping other systems in the CPU test by a small margin.
We like SiSoftware SANDRA (System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) because its suite of benchmark tools let us get a look at the performance of individual subsystems. We usually run the Processor and Multi-Media tests, as well as a memory test and benchmark that taxes the system’s hard drive and (if available) SSD drive.
|PCMark 7 & 3DMark 11|
|Next, we fired up some benchmarks by Futuremark. The company, which is based just outside of Helsinki, Finland, started publishing benchmarks in 1998. Since then, Futuremark has developed benchmarks for testing standard PCs and mobile devices and continues to update its flagship 3DMark gaming benchmark suite.
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 benchmark includes a suite of tests designed to measure the way your computer would perform during typical tasks. It includes an Entertainment Suite, which offers gaming scenarios and tests its media playback capabilities. The benchmark also has a Creativity Suite, in which the system processes images and video. Other tools include the Computation Suite and the Storage Suite. The latter is capable of measure SSDs and hard drives, either individually, or as a whole.
PCMark 7 produces an overall score and scores for the individual test suites. We use the overall PCMark score for comparison purposes, and that score puts the Z400 Touch around the lower middle of our pack of recently tested systems. Not bad, considering it outscored a system with a Core i7 processor.
As a gaming benchmark, 3DMark 11 puts extra emphasis on your system’s handling of DirectX 11. But it measures more than the graphics card’s performance (the processor can make a big difference to a score, for example) and is a good way to get a feel for a system both as a gaming PC and as a general-use computer. Futuremark recently updated 3DMark 11 to support Windows 8, so if you plan to run this test on your own Windows 8 system, be sure to get the latest update.
The Z400 Touch really didn’t hold its own, here. The Intel HD 4000 graphics appeared in several systems that provided better benchmark scores. The Z400 Touch's processor, memory, and software / driver configuration all contribute to its somewhat lower score here.
|3DMark Cloud Gate & Far Cry 2|
|Next, we ran the new Cloud Gate test in the recently-revamped 3DMark suite, as well as the benchmark tool built into Far Cry 2. The game provides a look at the laptop’s DirectX 10 capabilities, while the synthetic benchmark gives the Z400 Touch a chance to redeem itself after that rough 3DMark 11 performance.
The flagship benchmark in Futuremark’s catalog, 3DMark is a popular choice for testing everything from gaming PCs to mobile devices. Of course, the technology differences between a gamer a smartphone significant, so 3DMark has a separate test suite for each device category. The Cloud Gate test is aimed at entry-level PCs and laptops, and has two subtests: a processor-intensive physics test and two graphics tests. Cloud Gate uses a DirectX 11 engine, but the graphics are designed to be compatible with DirectX 10 systems. We run the test suite at its default 1280 x 720 resolution and at default rendering quality settings. Keep in mind that 3DMark Cloud Gate scores aren’t comparable to scores from say, 3DMark Fire Strike (gaming PCs) or Ice Storm (smartphones and tablets).
Because 3DMark Cloud Gate is so new, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is the first laptop we’ve used with this test. So, comparing the score isn’t possible with this test, but keep an eye out for our upcoming laptop reviews – we’ll be including this score in our charts as the comparison pool grows. For now, let’s take a look at a test for which we have plenty of comparison scores: Far Cry 2.
When it comes to lush vegetation in a steaming, sinister jungle, no one pulls it off quite like Ubisoft does in its Far Cry series. Far Cry 2 uses high-quality texture, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. The game’s built-in benchmark gives us a good look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10.
Here, the Z400 Touch put up a decent score. The frame rate of 20.32 won’t turn any heads, but it’s not bad; you can play Far Cry 2 on this laptop without getting teased by your buddies. (Well, it depends on who they are, we guess.)
|Battery life is always a big deal for a laptop, but it’s a little less important in a mid-range laptop that’s probably going to be spending most of its life near a power outlet. The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is equipped with a 4-Cell Li-Ion, 48Whr battery that will get you through short excursions. Don’t count on it for all-day conferences, though. The adapter is very small and never got hot during our testing – in fact, it never seemed to get hotter than room temperature.
We put the Z400 Touch through two tests. Battery Eater Pro is designed to tax a laptop’s resources to shed some light on how long the laptop’s battery can stand up to heavy use. Our web browsing test, on the other hand, is very light duty: we direct the browser to a page that has typical web page elements and refresh the page regularly until the battery slowly grinds to a halt.
Battery Eater really punished the Z400 Touch, making the system cry “Uncle” in only 93 minutes. But the laptop redeemed itself when faced with the web browsing test, putting up a strong 6.5 hours of surfing. That’s good news for anyone looking at the Z400 Touch as an everyday laptop, but it won't last as long unthethered as machines that include larger, higher-capacity batteries.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: A mid-range laptop should handle typical media consumption and office productivity chores without any trouble at all. That’s why you’re paying a little more than you would for an entry level system, but not shelling out for a high-end rig: you want it to handle the basics with ease. You’ll push the limits of a mid-range system when you try to do heavy lifting, whether in the form of graphically intense games or serious CAD or video-editing work. With that in mind, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is a good mid-range laptop. It’s not a game machine, that’s for sure, but it has real horsepower for day-to-day tasks.
The multitouch display and Windows 8 make the Z400 Touch a particularly good deal for the money. The display’s resolution isn’t particularly high (1366x768) but laptops with higher-end screens in this price range often don’t have touch. If touch is a big deal to you, then you’ll like this display. As we mentioned earlier, it’s very responsive to touch and it looks good too. If you could care less about touch, you’ll probably find that the display is just fine. Text is crisp, video is bright and clear, and colors are vibrant.
The laptop’s muted stylishness also works in its favor. The chassis is sleek and the dark colors give it a professional look. And typing on the Z400 Touch’s keyboard is a much more comfortable experience than you’ll get on many competing laptop keyboards. That’s mostly due to the space between the keys (alleviating the cramped feeling many laptop keyboards have), but it’s also thanks to the keys themselves, which offer resistance much like some quality, desktop keyboards.
Given the style, comfort, and performance you get for the price, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is a good deal. Keep in mind that you’ll need to check Amazon for the configuration we reviewed, but if your budget has flexibility, you might want to check out Lenovo’s site for additional configs.