Lenovo IdeaPad Z370 a well-priced multimedia laptop

If you didn’t already know that Lenovo created its IdeaPad line to appeal to consumers, the peacock-blue case option of the IdeaPad Z370 would certainly provide a strong clue, as would the system’s large (for a laptop) stereo speakers and appealing price tag.

This 13.3-inch all-purpose portable is definitely not your father’s pricey, corporate-focused ThinkPad–and if you’re on a tight budget, that’s a good thing.

Configured with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 CPU (the midrange offering in Intel’s current mobile chip lineup), Intel integrated HD 3000 graphics, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, our evaluation unit cost $629 as of August 21, 2011.

That’s a pretty low price compared to the going rates for top-rated models on our current all-purpose laptops chart–but those models generally deliver much better performance, and many of them have 15-inch displays. Most of the 13.3-inch models we review fall into the ultraportable laptops category, but the Z370 is too thick (at 1.4 inches) and too heavy (at 4.7 pounds) to qualify as an ultraportable. It turned in a WorldBench 6 score of 113; the top-rated Core i7-based Dell XPS 15z earned a mark of 134.

Gaming scores were typical for a laptop with integrated Intel graphics, topping out at 28.2 frames per second for Far Cry 2 at the lowest quality setting and 800 by 600 screen resolution. That’s less than half the XPS 15z’s frame rate at the same settings–but the XPS 15z also costs more than twice as much and comes with discrete GeForce graphics, so the disparity in test results is no surprise. In short, don’t buy this laptop for raw computing power or serious gaming.

In our battery drain tests, the Z370’s six-cell lithium-ion battery ran for 5 hours, 13 minutes–a middle-of-the-pack figure for this notebook class.

The IdeaPad Z370 shines in multimedia performance, especially for travelers. The aforementioned built-in stereo speakers, located on top of the keyboard at both corners, deliver great sound for a notebook in this price range. Crisp and relatively loud, they made listening to streaming audio, watching YouTube music videos, or playing a film on the built-in DVD-recordable drive a real pleasure. The superior audio also helps with video chat over the built-in 2-megapixel webcam, which does an acceptable job of capturing images.

The widescreen (1366 by 768) LED-backlit display looked good, too, with solid off-axis viewing from side to side (though less so from above or below). I only wish that Lenovo had offered a Blu-ray Disc option so that I could enjoy the higher video resolution that the notebook supports. In fact, Lenovo offers relatively few configuration options for the Z370: You can save $30 by going with a Core i3 CPU, but then you’d have to forgo the cool, shiny, iridescent turquoise patterned case, which is only available with the Core i5. (You can get either CPU with a charcoal brown case.)

The same smooth blue plastic (but without the pattern) frames the keyboard, which like most Lenovo keyboards features beautifully sculpted keys with a fine-grained matte surface. Unfortunately, there’s no backlight, though Lenovo does embed several backlit touch-sensitive icons–for audio and sleep features–to the left of the right speaker.) The Z370 also omits a joystick. On the other hand, the multitouch-enabled Synaptics touchpad has an almost pebbled feel that I prefer to the smoother surfaces of other models; it was quite responsive and precise, to the point where I almost didn’t miss the wireless mouse I usually use with notebooks.

Aside from the case and CPU options, all Z370 models offer the same hardware: three USB 2.0 ports (one of which also supports e-SATA); 10/100 ethernet; VGA and HDMI ports; a five-in-one card reader (located on the front edge); and separate headphone and microphone jacks. Lenovo includes an external switch for the 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi–a nice feature for travelers–plus Bluetooth 2.1 support. I was disappointed, though, not to have the option to pay extra for 5GHz Wi-Fi or mobile broadband.

The Z370 comes with a fairly standard IdeaPad software bundle, a mix of potentially and questionably useful apps and utilities with a consumer bent (ThinkPad bundles tend to be far more minimalist). In this case, Lenovo’s OneKey Recovery software is definitely a plus: It works with a hardware button located next to the power-on button above the right side of the keyboard to help you create a disk image that you can use to restore your system if need be.

I also liked the Lenovo DirectShare utility for syncing files between other computers and USB drive on your local network. CyberLink’s Power2G disc-burning utility is certainly useful, and I enjoyed fooling around with the CyberLink YouCam software, which lets you experiment with different effects on video captures using your webcam, and then helps you upload videos to YouTube or Facebook, or attach them to email messages.

But the VeriFace face recognition software–for using your image as captured by the webcam for biometric log-ins–seems like more trouble than it’s worth. The Lenovo Smile Dock, an alternative desktop interface, didn’t do much for me either.

Other utilities that may not justify the hard disk space they take up include the Oberon-powered Lenovo Games Console, a relatively little-used video chat program called ooVoo (I would much rather have seen Skype), and a voice-over-IP package called PokeTalk. In general, I resent any unfamiliar software package that asks me to provide an e-mail address or other information before I know what it does, and these last few fall into that category.

But bloatware does help subsidize the low price on consumer notebooks, and you can always remove the stuff you don’t want (do it before you create the OneKey disc image). Overall, the IdeaPad Z370 looks to be a very reasonable option if you’re on a budget, don’t have heavy-duty computing needs, and would like a notebook that does right by movies and music when you’re not taking care of routine business or schoolwork.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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