Lenovo LaVie Z And LaVie Z 360 Reviews: Taking Thin And Light To A Whole New Level

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Design and Build Quality

Oftentimes, I'm forced to looked intensely at a new machine to spot minute differences in design and build quality. These small, subtle details are what differentiate one machine from another, and when you're looking at a sector with a lot of products that largely accomplish the same goal for approximately the same price, those details matter. Every so often, a machine like the LaVie Z crosses the test bench, which forces me to recalibrate my senses and focus on more intense, wholesale changes.

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Upon unboxing the LaVie Z, which tips the scales at only 1.87 pounds, I assumed there was a problem. Two possibilities entered my mind: either I had been shipped an exterior shell of a machine with nothing inside, or the LaVie Z was merely a keyboard case and I'd have to find the actual tablet computer to slot in, much like the Type Cover and Surface 3 arrangement. Neither were true.

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Instead, the LaVie Z booted up (quickly, I might add) and proved to be a real computer. It's the first time in a very long time where a sense of disbelief rushed over me as I saw Windows 8.1 come to life. I picked the machine up again with one hand, marveling at what was happening. Even as I write this, I have a tough time explaining just how light this product is. It truly feels as if it's too light to be a fully functioning system. I have an iPad Air keyboard case that weighs more than the entire LaVie Z, just to put things in perspective. The 2.04 pound LaVie Z 360 feels a little more "real," with enough heft that I'd believe there was a computer in there. Still, both of these machines gain major points for being so functional yet so light. You really do have to hold one to believe it.

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I've harped on weight aplenty, but the sheer lack of mass is undoubtedly the LaVie Z's strongest selling point. In order to get to such a weight, Lenovo relied on very thin plastics, which makes both rigs feel more brittle and fragile than their contemporaries. It's remarkably easy to flex the top lid of these laptops, which is somewhat unsettling to a road warrior that expects plenty of bumps and drops during travel. So, the most obvious downside of buying such a light machine is that it feels rather breakable in the hand, despite boasting a price tag north of $1500.

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Without qualification, there's no aura of premium here. Every inch of the machine looks somewhat plain-Jane, which was seemingly necessary to get the weight below 2 pounds. Along the right edge, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone/headset combo jack, an SDXC card slot, two full-size USB 3.0 ports, and a full-size HDMI output. The left edge is home to an AC charging port, a lock slot, a trifecta of status lights, and a power button.

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Open both machines up, and you'll find a black expanse that is only broken by a 13.3-inch display, a 720p front-facing webcam, a smaller-than-average trackpad, and they keyboard, which unfortunately doesn't live up to Lenovo's reputation. Calling the keyboard on both LaVie Z machines a compromise is understating things.

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The layout takes some getting used to. The odd placement of the lower Function key (it sits where the Ctrl key should be), the impossible-to-see Function icons on the F-keys, the lack of a keyboard backlight, and a small right Shift key are all problems. Toss in an awkwardly arranged Enter key and it's a recipe for typos galore.

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It makes no sense for Lenovo to shove a truncated keyboard onto a 13.3-inch machine. We've seen keyboards on 10- and 11-inch laptops with better sizing than this. If the keyboard's design was forced due to the weight-shaving done elsewhere, it wasn't worth it. I'd prefer a machine 0.5-pounds heavier with a keyboard that looks like it was designed with industry standards in mind. 

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Outside of that, the 13.3-inch QHD anti-glare panel on the LaVie Z is far, far superior to the 13.3-inch IPS multi-touch panel on the LaVie Z 360. Why? Glare. The latter machine has a very glossy finish, making it nearly impossible to use outdoors. It's most certainly not worth paying an extra $200 for. Yes, touch response is great but on a 13.3-inch machine, we suspect that most buyers won't be using this as a tablet.

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