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Lenovo ThinkPad E220s review: Lenovo ThinkPad E220s

Lenovo ThinkPad E220s

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Scott Stein
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Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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For some people, a laptop needs to be a full-fledged computer that offers some portability as a secondary factor. For others, portability takes center stage at the expense of performance. Ideally, we'd like to have both, but a certain amount of compromise is always necessary.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s 50382KU Intel® Core™ i5-2537M (1.4GHz up to SC 2.3GHz, 3MB L3, 1333MHz DDR3)
8.0

Lenovo ThinkPad E220s

The Good

The <b>ThinkPad Edge E220s</b> has an excellent balance of size and performance, with a great keyboard and touch pad and all the necessary ports in easy-access positions.

The Bad

Despite its low-voltage processor, the E220s has worse battery life than other ultraportables, such as the Samsung Series 9.

The Bottom Line

Balancing between ultraportable and full-size laptop, the 12-inch ThinkPad Edge E220s offers an exceedingly compact computing experience matched by an upscale design, marred only by subpar battery life.

A solid entry in the 12-inch ultraportable category of laptops, the $819 Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s could be an excellent choice for someone looking for a compact yet still highly capable business computer. While its 12.5-inch screen might seem like an odd middle ground between tiny and full-size, in practice it offers a broader screen experience while slotting into a laptop that feels more like a subcompact.

The ThinkPad Edge brand emerged last year as a redesigned small business-oriented line, updating the classic, staid ThinkPad look with sleeker features. The E220s is a refinement and a high-end alternative, with an edge-to-edge glossy display, improved sound, and a more upscale feel. Yet, at a starting price of $749, it's still affordable for its size. Compared with a thin 13-incher like the Samsung Series 9, it's a downright steal, considering the same second-generation Core i5-2537M processor is inside.

Sure, ThinkPad shopping can be a bit of headache when you factor in all the various sizes and configurations out there. The ThinkPad X220 also has a 12-inch screen, but a faster CPU and a higher price. The ThinkPad X120e starts more affordably, but is thicker and has a slower CPU. The Edge E220s might be the one in the middle that feels just right. Even compared with the highly hyped Lenovo ThinkPad X1, with its larger screen, sturdier build, and faster processor, we preferred the Edge E220s: its lighter weight, more affordable price, and better (but still not fantastic) battery life seemed like more useful features for business travelers looking to lighten their load.

Price as reviewed / starting price $819 / $749
Processor 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM
Hard drive 320GB, 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel HM67
Graphics Intel HD 3000
Operating system Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.3x8.4 inches
Height 0.85 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 12.5 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.3 pounds / 4.0 pounds
Category Ultraportable

ThinkPads seem to be undergoing a design evolution that's slowly seeping into the whole product line. The Edge series was the start of the ThinkPad redesign, introducing a new, modern raised island-style keyboard and larger touch pad, along with a sleeker chassis. While recent laptops including the ThinkPad X1 have also appropriated this new look, we find the Edge series comes off slightly more relaxed.

Earlier in 2011, we reviewed the IdeaPad U260, a stylish Lenovo consumer-oriented laptop with slick looks and a 12.5-inch screen, but an underwhelming battery. The ThinkPad Edge E220s offers a newer, faster CPU, a better battery, and nearly the same size and feel.

The ThinkPad Edge E220s is covered top to bottom with a rubberized finish that's soft to the touch, similar to that of the IdeaPad U260 and ThinkPad X1. While the E220s looks like it is black at first glance, under the right light it looks like a very, very dark green. It's a different tone than the keyboard, which is true black. A chromed plastic edge lines the top lid and the keyboard deck, highlighting the curved lines around the front lip.

Inside, the keyboard-to-palm-rest proportion seems perfect: a full raised keyboard isn't quite edge-to-edge, but doesn't waste space, while the palm rests flank a medium-size square multitouch click pad. The glossy 12.5-inch display is covered with edge-to-edge glass, and it looks sharp: it's a clean overall effect. However, the Edge has a little more flex and plastic in its chassis than the tanklike roll-cage construction of the ThinkPad X1. It's a different product--the X1 is more expensive and a larger laptop--but it bears mentioning. The Edge E220s is a perfect marriage of size and design for its weight class; this is the sort of laptop we'd prefer to carry in our bag on a daily basis.

We're big fans of the ThinkPad Edge keyboard design, and the E220s' keyboard feels as good as we remember. Lenovo's variation on the raised keyboard uses slightly concave keys, which offer a more centered feel when typing fast. The ThinkPad X1 had a similar keyboard that felt a bit crisper, but we found typing on the Edge E220s to be a breeze. Instead of a backlit keyboard, the E220s has a small overhead LED light that shines down from the upper lid (which some ThinkPads have had for years) to illuminate the keyboard and surrounding area. It's actually a very smart idea for plane travel--it's cozy, like a book light for ThinkPads.

Similarly, the improved click-pad design on this ThinkPad Edge solves the reduced finger-space problem introduced by the red rubber trackpoint and its included discrete buttons. The red nub, a perennial ThinkPad offering, isn't something we use, but some business travelers swear by it. That red nub sits between the G, H, and B keys on the keyboard, but the addition of three accompanying physical buttons below the space bar used to crowd the track pad when it, too, used discrete buttons. Now, the free space feels better proportioned. The smooth click-pad surface responds well and has cleanly clicking zones on the bottom, although it collects fingerprint smudges.

A fingerprint reader on the right palm rest can be set to any finger for biometric log-ins without passwords. The rest of the interior of the Edge E220s is button-free, with the exception of the power button on the upper right. Media controls such as volume and screen brightness are executed with the function button strip on the keyboard, and are function-reversed, and you can simply press the volume key directly.

The glossy 16:9-ratio 12.5-inch screen on the ThinkPad Edge E220s has a pretty standard-for-laptops resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which looks sharper on the slightly smaller screen than it does on a 13-inch laptop. Screen brightness is above average, although the viewing angles degenerate quickly when the screen is tilted too far. Then again, the Edge E220s's top lid only opens up about 135 degrees instead of the near-180 tilting on some ThinkPads. Basically, this means you'll likely be viewing the E220s' screen head-on most of the time, anyway.

The stereo speakers situated in a grilled bar above the keyboard are enhanced with Dolby sound. This makes a difference when listening to movies and music: while it's not enthusiast-level, this is one of the best-sounding tiny ThinkPads we've encountered. Volume levels get loud, and we made do with just half-volume most of the time. Being a "premium" level ThinkPad Edge, the E220s not surprisingly comes with an HD Web cam that's better than you'd normally find on a 12-inch-class laptop. The maximum 1,280x720-pixel-resolution camera has good contrast and light sensitivity, and Lenovo's Web conferencing audio settings have pro features such as keyboard noise suppression.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, SD card slot 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WiMax/mobile broadband Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

The selection of ports on the ThinkPad Edge E220s is more than suitable for its size--in fact, it matches what you'd find on most 13-inch and larger laptops. Three USB 2.0 ports--one of which is an eSATA combo--are efficiently placed along the sides, along with VGA and HDMI. USB 3.0 isn't present, but most people don't even use it yet. Bluetooth (a $20 extra) and the presence of Intel Wireless Display (a feature on a great number of Intel-powered 2011 laptops that requires a sold-separately receiver box for your TV) offer additional connectivity options. A rear SIM card slot is easily accessible for 3G broadband-enabled configurations. WiMax is available as an option for an extra $55.

Our configuration of the Edge E220s came with a Core i5-2537M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive, which currently costs $819 on Lenovo's Web site. The E220s starts at $749, with a Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB, 5400rpm hard drive. Windows 7 Professional costs an extra $50 to preinstall; upgrading from 2GB to 4GB of RAM costs $80; upgrading from a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive to 320GB and 7,200rpm costs $70; or, a 128GB SSD option costs $350.

The 1.4GHz Core i5-2537M CPU in the ThinkPad Edge E220s is the same processor we tested in the Samsung Series 9. It's a low-voltage CPU, amounting to a slower experience than on regular standard-voltage Core i-series processors, but it's a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, which affords it integrated graphics and battery-extending advantages. We found the E220s to perform admirably, despite the low-voltage CPU. In fact, in our benchmarks, it was a faster laptop than the Samsung Series 9. Multitasking, HD video streaming, and other processor-intensive tasks are pulled off well enough to not feel hindered by the CPU choice. When we reviewed the similar-size IdeaPad U260, it featured last year's low-voltage Core i5 CPU, and we found it lacked a little punch. This Edge E220s gives a faster, better experience. Alternatively, you could upgrade to a 1.5GHz Core i7-2617M CPU on Lenovo's Web site for an extra $70.

Speaking of faster, the E220s comes with "Lenovo Enhanced Experience 2.0," Lenovo's branded tweaking of the CPU for better performance. It's hard to tell what it exactly provides, but bootup times seemed a little better than on the average Windows laptop.

The Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics offer some onboard horsepower for gaming and GPU-intensive tasks, too. Unreal Tournament III played at 42.3 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel resolution and medium graphics settings. That's no better than bearable, but from a laptop this size, few would expect anything much better.

Annual energy consumption cost
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s
3.38 

Juice box
 Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)
Off (60%) 0.58
Sleep (10%) 0.76
Idle (25%) 5.7
Load (05%) 31.07
Raw kWh number 29.81
Annual energy cost $3.38

With its non-removable six-cell battery, the ThinkPad Edge E220s lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes in our video-playback battery drain test. We'd expect something higher for a low-voltage laptop, especially since the Samsung Series 9 (albeit, with an SSD) lasted over an hour longer. However, the Edge E220s outperformed the disappointing IdeaPad U260, proving the value of a second-generation CPU. Its battery outlasted the ThinkPad X1's internal six-cell, but that should be no surprise, as the X1 tested packed a standard-voltage processor. More than 4 hours should get most people over the hump into an acceptable range of battery life, but there are plenty of options (the MacBook Air, the Toshiba Portege R835) that will do better.

Lenovo offers a standard one-year warranty with the ThinkPad Edge E220s. That warranty can be upgraded up to three years when ordering on Lenovo's Web site, along with adding extra service options such as priority on-site care and accidental damage protection. In addition to the onboard ThinkVantage troubleshooting and driver update apps, the Lenovo Web site offers the same information, but an actual tech-support contact number can be hard to find (although chances are your company IT team would handle any problems with the system). If you do need to call Lenovo, try this 24-7 support line: 1-800-426-7378.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s
783 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1,696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad X120e
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2,048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce GT 320M; 128GB Apple SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad U260
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Core i5 U470; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1,696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad X220
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 2520M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320 Hitachi 5,400rpm

Samsung 9 Series
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 128GB Samsung SSD

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s 50382KU Intel&#174; Core&#153; i5-2537M (1.4GHz up to SC 2.3GHz, 3MB L3, 1333MHz DDR3)
8.0

Lenovo ThinkPad E220s

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 7Support 8