X
Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test computers

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review: A powerful two-pound hybrid

The full-power 13-inch Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is a super-light hybrid with high-end performance.

ackermandan-square
Dan Ackerman
ackermandan-square

Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

See full bio
6 min read

While the Lenovo LaVie Z is an impressive clamshell laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor that weighs under two pounds, you might be even more impressed with the LaVie Z 360, its touchscreen hybrid cousin.

lenovo-lavie-z-360-01.jpg
7.9

Lenovo LaVie Z 360

The Good

This 13-inch touchscreen hybrid weighs just a hair over two pounds and includes a powerful high-end processor.

The Bad

The keyboard is poorly laid out, and this model is heavier and more expensive than the non-touch version. The screen only autorotates in tablet mode.

The Bottom Line

The Lenovo LaVie Z is an impressive engineering feat, but unless you need the touch screen and 360-degree hinge, stick with the less-expensive, lighter, non-touch model.

Made of the same magnesium/lithium alloy as the non-hybrid version, the Z360 keeps the same components as the original -- and much of the same design -- so many of our observations on apply to both models.

The Z 360 adds a glossy touch screen under edge-to-edge glass, but the tradeoff is that this model is both heavier and more expensive. It weighs 2.04 pounds (or 0.93kg, which is exactly the same as Apple's new 12-inch MacBook ) while the clamshell LaVie Z is only 1.9 pounds (0.86kg).

Adding that hybrid hinge and touchscreen also adds $200 to the price. The single configuration of the Z 360 available in the US is $1,699, versus $1,499 for the clamshell version (or $1,299 for a 12-inch ). Lenovo is not currently offering the system in the UK or Australia, but that converts to £1,107 or AU$2,177.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Given its weight and size, the internal components and the performance of the LaVie Z and Z 360 are especially impressive. Inside, you won't find one of Intel's low-power Atom or Core M CPUs, or even a standard low-voltage Core i5. The single currently available configuration uses a new fifth-generation low-voltage Intel Core i7 processor. That Core i7 is paired with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, along with most of the standard ports and connections missing from something like the USB-C-only MacBook.

While adding a touchscreen and a hybrid hinge makes this more practical than the non-hybrid version, the Z 360 has been criticized for limiting the function of its built-in accelerometer for automatically changing the screen orientation as you fold the hinge into different positions. The Z 360 version rotates its screen as needed when folded all the way back into tablet mode, but not if you flip it upside down into a tent-like shape or any other in-between position. This is an issue that might potentially be solved via a software update, but so far Lenovo has offered no guidance on when or if an update is coming, instead pointing out that the system is meant to be used in either clamshell or tablet modes, nothing in between.

And there are other tradeoffs. The keyboard is far from Lenovo's usual standards, with misplaced and mis-sized keys making even simple typing a chore, especially because of a small, easy-to-miss, right Shift key that seems deliberately designed to frustrate. Retraining your fingers to use the small, quirky keyboard is the biggest hurdle to what is otherwise an excellent laptop that offers both power and portability.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Responsibility for that, plus a generally budget-looking chassis, might be chalked up to Lenovo's partner for the LaVie series. The LaVie Z is the product of a partnership Lenovo has had with computer-maker NEC since 2011, where the two companies would sell some Lenovo machines as NEC-branded PCs in the Japanese market. That partnership has now expanded, with this as the first NEC-designed system to be sold outside of Japan with Lenovo branding. However, NEC has sold its own branded version of the LaVie Z in Japan for the past couple of years.

Both LaVie models are incredibly impressive examples of how laptops are continuing to become slimmer and lighter, while maintaining decent performance and battery life. But the LaVie Z, especially in its hybrid form, suffers from first-generation jitters.

Of these two, my suggestion is to save $200 and seriously consider the non-touch, non-hybrid version. It's less expensive and lighter, but keeps the same high-end components.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360

Price as reviewed $1,699
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 2,560x1,440 touch screen
PC CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U
PC Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design & features

Aside from small differences in weight, price and display, the look and feel of the LaVie Z 360 is essentially identical to the non-hybrid LaVie Z model we previously reviewed.

Despite its high cost, there's little about this laptop that looks especially premium at first. The matte-black magnesium\lithium alloy looks and feels like plastic, although, it's purportedly one of the lowest-density metallic materials ever invented and is referred to by engineers as a "superlight material."

Sarah Tew/CNET

When you pick it up, however, it's amazingly light, and the LaVie Z has impressed everyone I've handed it to. But it also flexes a fair amount under even modest pressure, so it doesn't feel especially sturdy.

Some of the aesthetic and usability limitations come from the way the components are put together to be as slim and light as possible. Both the display and keyboard are integrated directly into the housing, rather than being dropped in later, which accounts for the especially shallow keyboard.

That keyboard is the single-biggest strike against the LaVie series. The key faces on the island-style keyboard are very small. Especially on the right side, a confusing pile-up of the right Shift key and the directional arrows mean you'll constantly be jumping up a line when trying to hit Shift. A very small Backspace key sits next to a key labeled FWD Space, which is the complete opposite of what the missing Delete key does.

In contrast, Apple manages to take the limited space for its 12-inch MacBook keyboard and find hidden advantages to take the edge off of the tradeoffs, making each key face wider and more stable, despite being even shallower than the keyboard here.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the keyboard is a bust, the basic clickpad-style touchpad below the keyboard works surprisingly well, even when using multitouch gestures such as the two-finger scroll for navigating long Web pages.

There has been a trend in premium laptops over the past two years to shoot past the standard 1,920x1,080 resolution, in some cases all the way up to 4K, although that extreme is usually of dubious usefulness for a small laptop screen. In this case, the LaVie Z 360 sits at a happy medium, with a 2,560x1,440 native resolution (the non-hybrid version has the same resolution).

The display in this model has a glossy finish, with edge-to-edge glass over the front face of the lid. Off-axis viewing is decent, and this hybrid version of the screen brings back a bit of the punch and deep color missing from the matte display in the non-hybrid LaVie Z, although in general we still prefer matte screens. Touch response was very good, and makes navigating Windows 8 much easier.

Ports & connections

Video HDMI
Audio Combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance and battery

After the single USB-C port in the 12-inch , one might think overly connected laptops were a thing of the past, especially for the thinnest and lightest models. Fortunately, Lenovo shows us this doesn't need to be the case. Both the LaVie Z and LaVie Z 360 make room for two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port and an SD card slot, which should be enough for most users.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bumping up to an Intel ULV Core i7 processor, both LaVie Z systems performed well in our standard benchmark tests, and felt fast and responsive in everyday use. Offering similar performance was the latest generation of Toshiba's Kirabook premium 13-inch laptop, which uses the same processor. Apple's 12-inch MacBook, with a slower Core M processor, fell well behind, as did a premium Windows laptop with a current-gen Core i5 CPU. Note, however, that the recently updated 13-inch MacBook Air, also with a current-gen Core i5 processor, was surprisingly a bit faster in our multitasking test, thanks in part to its operating system advantages in some of our testing apps, not to mention its lower-resolution display.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Battery life was decent, considering the high-power i7 processor, but if this was a standard 13-inch Core i5 laptop, we'd expect more. The non-hybrid LaVie Z ran for 7:51 on our video-playback battery-drain test, while the LaVie Z 360 hybrid ran for 7:40 on the same test. The 12-inch MacBook ran longer, at around 12 hours, as did the high-end 13-inch Toshiba Kirabook, at 8:50. If you were performing more intensive tasks, such as continuously streaming HD video over the Internet, you could expect about five-and-a-half hours of life, based on our anecdotal tests.

Conclusion

The LaVie Z 360 packs a lot of power into a lightweight package, and this version includes both a touchscreen and hybrid hinge, while adding only a little weight. You could hand either LaVie Z we reviewed to someone and there's a good chance they'd ask if it was a hollow plastic mockup rather than a fully functioning laptop.

But, both this and the non-hybrid version suffer from a plain-looking design and an especially frustrating keyboard, that latter of which hurts real-world usability.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In this price range, I'd steer towards the Core-M-powered 12-inch MacBook or the similar Samsung Book 9 for casual websurfing and simple tasks, while also giving the LaVie Z series a serious look for heavier workloads, thanks to its more powerful processor. But, unless the touch screen is a must-have, I'd also lean towards saving $200 and going with the lighter, less-expensive non-hybrid LaVie Z version, which includes extra bragging rights by slipping in at just under two pounds.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 370Toshiba KiraBook (2015) 382Lenovo LaVie Z 390Lenovo LaVie Z 360 409Dell XPS 13 (2015) 441Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 465
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 221Lenovo LaVie Z 227Toshiba KiraBook (2015) 228Dell XPS 13 (2015) 243Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 268Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 307
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Apple iTunes encoding test

Lenovo LaVie Z 101Lenovo LaVie Z 360 101Toshiba KiraBook (2015) 101Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 107Dell XPS 13 (2015) 113Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 130
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Video-playback battery-drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 1,080Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) 747Toshiba KiraBook (2015) 530Lenovo LaVie Z 471Lenovo LaVie Z 360 460Dell XPS 13 (2015) 422
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Lenovo LaVie Z Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD
Lenovo LaVie Z 360 Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2015) Yosemite OSX 10.10.2; 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y31; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) Yosimite OSX 10.10.2; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphis 6000; 128GB SSD
Toshiba KiraBook (2015) Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2015) Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD

lenovo-lavie-z-360-01.jpg
7.9

Lenovo LaVie Z 360

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 7
Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping