Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 review

The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 is a thin and light 11.6 inch laptop that blurs the lines in many ways between Lenovo’s consumer laptops and the company’s business-class ThinkPad machines.

Like a ThinkPad, the Edge 11 has Lenovo’s TrackPoint system with both a touchpad and a pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard. Like the ThinkPad X100e and X120e, the laptop features a full-sized chiclet keyboard which looks an awful lot like keyboards on the company’s larger business laptops.

But the Edge 11 also has a fingerprint resistant but bright and glossy lid. The company sent me a demo model with an attractive red lid. The notebook measures 11.2″ x 8.3″ x 1.2″ and weighs 3.3 pounds. The computer also has a relatively low starting price of around £400 in the UK, which would be roughly $665 US. Unfortunately the laptop isn’t available in the US.

While the ThinkPad Edge 11 isn’t available in the States, Lenovo was kind enough to send me a laptop to review. The demo model has an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, a 1.33 GHz Intel Core i3-380UM processor, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. The laptop is also available with an AMD processor.

The starting price for the laptop with a Core i3 CPU is about £530, or roughly $820 US.

Design

With the lid closed, you’d never guess that the Edge 11 is a ThinkPad. It has a somewhat boxy, angular design, but the glossy lid and chromed edges really don’t scream business. That’s not to say that there’s anything particularly unprofessional looking about this laptop. It’s just formed from the same mold as other ThinkPad models with their stodgy black cases and no-nonsense design.

When you open the lid, the laptop looks much more like other ThinkPads, particularly the x100e and x120e. The laptop has a full sized keyboard, but there’s a little less space than you’d get on a 13, 14, or 15 inch notebook. So Lenovo uses a chiclet-style keyboard which makes the best use of the space. But unlike most chiclet or island-style keyboards, the keys on Lenovo’s 11.6 inch ThinkPads have rounded edges to make them look more like other notebooks in the ThinkPad line. The keys are also a little concave, giving your fingers a little space to dip down into each key, but not very much.

Overall I find the keyboard comfortable to use, although I always have a hard time getting used to Lenovo’s placement of the Fn and Ctrl keys on the left side. While most PC makers place the Ctrl key on the outside and the Fn key immediately to the Ctrl key’s right, Lenovo laptops always have the Fn key on the outside. If you primarily use this or other Lenovo laptops, this won’t likely be a problem. Since I frequently switch between laptops, I always find a learning curve when using a Lenovo notebook.

There’s a dedicated row of function keys at the top of the keyboard, allowing you to control volume, brightness, media playback, and other settings with a single tap. These keys are less than half-height, which takes a little getting used to, but it doesn’t take too long to get used to the size.

What does take a little getting used to is the placement of the Insert, Home, Delete, and End keys in the upper right corner. I’m used to these either being on the right side of a laptop or placed by the arrow keys in the bottom right. During the weeks that I tested this laptop, I had to pause for a moment pretty much every time I was looking for the Home, End, or Delete key. I rarely find myself looking for the Insert key, so I’d be fine with that one moving to the back of the laptop.

Like other ThinkPads, the Edge 11 has a TrackPoint system which means you get both a standard multitouch trackpad with distinct leftand right buttons and a pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard which you can use to move the cursor without lifting your hand from the keyboard. There are left and right buttons below the keyboard as well as a center button for scrolling.

I find the TrackPoint system to be an acquired taste, but I know some people swear by it and wouldn’t consider using a laptop that doesn’t have one. I can say, the Edge 11 TrackPoint seems to work as well as any I’ve used.

Around the sides of the notebook you’ll find 3 USB ports, an HDMI port, Ethernet jack, SD card slot and combo mic/headphone jack.

From the side, the laptop doesn’t just look like it has a two-tone design, with the black base and red lid. The silver/gray paint on the side of the lid gives the machine an attractive three-tone look. The metallic paint job also shows up on the sturdy hinges holding the lid to the laptop.

Those hinges are designed so that you can tilt the screen back to an almost 180 degree angle. The screen is brightest and easiest to see when you’re facing it head-on, but you can also see the glossy display pretty well from the left and right sides. When you tilt the screen too far back the colors start to get washed out, but if you need to open the laptop up to hold like a book, I suppose it’s nice to have the option.

In bright sunlight, on the other hand, the glossy display does have a tendency to reflect glare and turn into a mirror.

On the back of the laptop you’ll find a VGA port and a jack for the power adapter. You’ll also see an oversized 6 cell battery which sits flush with the bottom of the laptop case, but which sticks out of the back like a tumor.

The bottom of the laptop has one large panel which you can open up to get at the internal components by removing three screws. While the ThinkPad Edge 11 has a glossy finish on the lid, the sides and base of the laptop are all matte with a slightly rough texture which helps make the computer easy to grip with your hands.

Performance

In many ways, the Core i3-380UM processor makes the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 the fastest computer I’ve tested since I started writing about portable computers in 2007. That’s probably not saying that much since I’m primarily interested in low price devices, which typically means low power. But it’s still pretty impressive to see just how much power this little laptop packs.

It achieved higher CPU scores than any other netbook, notebook, or nettop I’ve tested in just about every benchmark I ran. On the other hand, the laptop has an integrated Intel HD graphics chip which does not come out on top — or anywhere near it. You’ll get much better graphics performance from a computer with an NVIDIA ION, ATI Radeon HD, or similar graphics chip. But the Intel chipset in the Edge 11 is good enough to handle 1080p HD video playback, including HD Flash video. I just wouldn’t really recommend using this laptop for bleeding edge gaming or other tasks that require a powerful GPU.

The first test I ran was my standard Liliputing Benchmark, where I used a stopwatch to see how long it took to transcode audio and video files and to compress a directory with over 2,000 files into a single ZIP archive. The Edge 11 finished each of these tasks more quickly than any other computer I’ve tested.

The chart above compares the Edge 11 with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge X100e, which has an AMD Neo L625 dual core processor, a Lenovo IdeaPad U150 with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 chip, and a Dell Inspiron M101z with a single core AMD Neo K125 chip.

Next I ran the CineBench test, which looks at graphics and processor performance. This test involved rendering high quality images including a 3D image using single or multiple CPU cores. While the Edge 11 didn’t achieve top honors in the OpenGL 3D rendering test, it was way ahead of the pack in the CPU tests.

The comparison systems in this test include the ThinkPad x100e, IdeaPad U150, and the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150 which features an Intel Atom D510 dual core processor and NVIDIA ION 2 graphics.

Finally, I ran the 3DMark06 benchmark. As you’d expect, the Edge 11 trailed behind the IdeaCentre Q150 with its NVIDIA ION graphics in the overall score. But it actually topped the ThinkPad X100e, a laptop which features ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics.

Laptops with newer AMD graphics such as the Inspiron M101z or Acer Aspire One 721 do get slightly better scores (around 1230), but the Edge 11 sort of holds its own here — and if you look at the CPU scores you’ll see that the 3DMark06 benchmark confirms what we already knew: the Edge 11 has a faster CPU than the other laptops in these tests.

This is all well and good if you plan to play video games, transcode audio and video files, or watch HD videos. But what does it mean in terms of day to day performance? Do apps launch or run faster? Can the Edge 11 handle multitasking better than the competition? The answer? To be honest, I didn’t notice much difference between the Edge 11 and other 111 and 12 inch laptops I’ve tested recently.

That’s because to be honest, I find that most laptops with Intel CULV, AMD Neo, or Core i3 chips to be pretty much good enough for most day to day tasks. I haven’t had problems running multiple apps simultaneously with any of these systems. Web pages load quickly, videos play smoothly. The Edge 11 gives you a little more power if you need it. But that’s the sort of thing you’re going to notice more when you’re pushing the computer to the limits than when you’re editing office documents or surfing the web.

Battery Life

With a battery that sticks out from the back of the laptop like a sore thumb, you’d think that the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 would get decent battery life. Unfortunately, in my tests I was unable to get much more than 4 hours of run time — even while running the laptop at its lowest settings.

Lenovo includes a power management utility that lets you adjust system settings to improve overall performance or battery life depending on your needs. But at the middle setting, I got just a few minutes more than 4 hours. With the dial slid all the way to the “long battery life” side end of the spectrum, I got 4 hours, 20 minutes.

You may have better luck with different processor configuration options, but while the Intel i3-380um chip in this laptop offers decent overall performance, it doesn’t seem to offer the same kind of power-sipping features available from Intel CULV chips or even AMD’s recent Nile, Zacate, and Ontario chips.

A few years ago, an 11.6 inch laptop with a 4 hour battery and a sub-$1000 price tag would have been a steal. Today I kind of expect more from this class of computer.

Verdict

The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 is a small, sleek looking laptop with a reasonably powerful processor for a notebook in this class. While it doesn’t have the same sort of high performance graphics you’d expect from a machine with a discrete-level graphics chip such as the NVIDIA ION or AMD Radeon HD chips, the computer can handle HD video playback reasonably well, and it blows away most other portable laptops I’ve tested in CPU performance tests.

Overall, once you get used to Lenovo’s placement of the Fn, Home, End, and other keys, the laptop is a pleasure to use — until the battery dies.

I was very disappointed with the roughly 4 hours of run time I got from this computer, and if battery life is a consideration, you might want to look elsewhere — or at least pick up a spare battery. On the other hand, if you’re looking for one of the most powerful 11.6 inch laptops around and you happen to live in a country where the ThinkPad Edge 11 is available, it’s certainly a laptop worth putting on your short list.

  • Sumoforce

    Is the fan noise improved any from the x100e?

  • http://twitter.com/gordon1hd1 gordon z.

    This computer looks exactly like the x120e, except for the red color cover.

    Internally while the corei3-380um is much faster then Zacate, the battery life, graphic power, and price point of the x120e decimate the edge 11.

    For the US buyers, not having the Thinkpad Edge 11, in light of the thinkpad x120e is about to be released in a couple of day, is not really a lost at all.

  • Tkinleong

    I am a happy (red) x100e owner. This Edge 11 looks exactly like the x100e / x120e and even has almost the same spec sheet except the Core i3 processor. Is this just Lenovo’s way of regional marketing by offering the Edge 11 in Europe and Asia but the x100e / x120e in North America?

    Your review did not mention about the expandability aspect of this model. This 11″ Thinkpad is one of very few “netbook” models that you can order with built-in 3G/HSPA modem that is not carrier dependent.

    • Spamcorral

      Nope, x100e and Edge 11 are both available across major Asian markets.

  • Kobaljov

    A real ThinkPad is never glossy :-)

    But the HDMI is not available on the real ones :-

    And the USB 3.0 is still missing from both :-(

    (And before the buy check the new Edges with Sandy Bridge, E220, etc.)

  • AdvRider

    Any feedback please on how much the fan runs, and how noisy it is? Thanks!