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

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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.

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7.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 7

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.

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 MacBook ). 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.