The future of Windows 8 laptops is clear: they'll all have touch screens. Touch technology is becoming increasingly affordable, and it's a helpful, some would say necessary, way to experience Windows 8. In the present, that still means manufacturers going through their back catalogs and popping touch into old designs. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it just feels like what it is: shoehorning.
Lenovo makes some excellently designed laptops. The IdeaPad Z400 Touch doesn't feel like one of them. A thick body, a less-than-impressive-feeling keyboard and touch pad, and basic mainstream specs add up to a laptop that feels generic. It does have a 14-inch touch screen, but so what? So do many new laptops.
The Z400 Touch has a DVD drive, and a large 1TB hard drive. It doesn't have bumped-up graphics, though, or a more workhorse-level processor. For its price -- about $700 depending on where you buy it -- it's a fine deal but no bargain. Plus, it's much heavier than other mainstream 14-inch laptops we've tested this year.
With newer laptops on the horizon and this being a buyer's market for PCs, you're better off waiting, or spending up for a thinner, frankly better laptop. This is a functional but skippable product, and a perfect example of why PC sales are probably in decline.
|Price as reviewed||$699|
|Processor||2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3230M|
|Memory||6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||1TB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.6x9.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.3 pounds / 6 pounds|
In one sense, the IdeaPad Z400 has a clean, not unattractive design. A matte chocolate-brown lid and two-tone silver and black plastic inside give the impression of something higher-end. But it's the fit and finish here that runs cheap. Everything's plastic, not metal. Also, this laptop is seriously thick and heavy: over 1 inch thick and 5.3 pounds. The 15.6-inch-screen Asus VivoBook S500CA, recently reviewed, weighed only 4.8 pounds. The top lid alone feels thicker than many tablets.
Looking at one side, with its giant vent grille next to a VGA port, this laptop feels way too much like a spare hand-me-down from two years ago.
The keyboard, too, usually a strong point of Lenovo laptops, looks the part but has a lot of flex and a hollow feel. It comes off like a cheap lookalike knockoff of the far better ThinkPad keyboards. Don't be fooled. At least the volume and brightness keys are function-reversed for single-press use, and there's backlighting. A smaller-than-normal clickable touch pad beneath sometimes didn't register two-finger scrolling smoothly, either.
The 14-inch display's touch response, as with many touch screens, works excellently. The 1,366x768-pixel resolution, however, combined with a washed-out and not very bright picture, adds up to a passable computing experience. It's an average laptop display for a few years ago, and now that screens are increasing in quality and resolution with regularity, it feels a step behind. The 720p Webcam, at least, looks crisp. The Z400's stereo speakers are adequate.
|Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Ports, configurations, performance
The good news is that at least it has Bluetooth, HDMI, USB 3.0, Ethernet, an SD card slot, and DVD burner. Is that good news? It's perfectly ordinary news. This isn't an ultrabook, and in a "mainstream" laptop, that's what you'd expect.
There are several configurations of the Z400 Touch, and many more, it seems, in little retail-specific tweaks. Lenovo's Web site currently has the Z400 Touch starting at $599 with a third-gen 2.5GHz Intel Core i3-3120M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Configurations top out at $999 for one with a 2.9GHz Core i7-3520M CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive, and a higher-res 1,600x900-pixel display. All configurations have DVD drives, Bluetooth, and touch screens. None have AMD or Nvidia graphics or solid-state drive (SSD) storage options.
The closest configuration on Lenovo's site to the one we reviewed costs $679, and has a set of features preferable to ours: a 2.6GHz Core i5-3230M processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a 1,600x900-pixel display. Our review unit, which costs more on other sites, has 6GB of RAM and a 1,366x768-pixel display. Confusing? Yes. But not atypical for laptop vendors with numbing sets of coexisting retail configurations.