A business laptop with good speed, strong build quality and an excellent keyboard
Design and user comfort
The Edge E320 is made out of hard plastic that feels soft and rubber-like, yet also quite smooth (and around 10 per cent of the laptop is constructed from recycled material). The unit has an understated design, and even the most determined Lenovo haters (Mac fans) in our office thought it looked good. We think it’s one of the better looking Lenovo products and we’re glad Lenovo hasn’t gone overboard with its design. It’s not the same as the firstLenovo ThinkPad Edge that we saw back in Fenruary 2010, but there are similarities, especially with the keyboard.
It’s a laptop that feels good to use and it’s comfortable to handle. At 1.8kg, it’s not super-light, but it also doesn’t feel heavy when you carry it around or use it in your lap. It ships with a power adapter that’s around 100mm long and 30mm thick, so the whole package provides good portability. The 13.3in screen is held in place by strong hinges and it has a grey trim around the edges, just to make it stand out a little.
With the screen closed, the Edge E320 is about 28mm thick, but the base itself is around 21mm at its thickest point. You won’t find an optical drive in the base, but you will find an HDMI port, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, a combination headphone and microphone port and three USB 2.0 ports (one doubles as an eSATA port and two of them can be used to charge devices even when the laptop is off). The right side of the base has a vent with a visible, thick copper heat sink and a fan is installed to keep things cool. The fan makes a slightly annoying whirring noise even when the laptop is being used to just browse the Web, and it gets a little louder when the CPU is under a full load.
It has a solid (and spill resistant) keyboard that is one of the best in the Australian laptop market. The keys are large and soft, they possess good travel and bounce, and they don’t make too much noise when you hit them. There are a couple of keys in unusual positions though: the Delete key is three spots in from the top-right corner and the Control key is two positions in from the bottom-left corner. The BIOS allows you to swap the position of the Control and Function keys, allowing Control to become the corner key.
Other things that we like about the keyboard include the dedicated Print Screen key, the little Page Up and Page Down keys, which sit just above the left and right arrow keys; the reversed F-keys, which allow you to change brightness and volume and other system functions without having to press the Function key — this can be changed in the BIOS if you don’t like it.
In addition to the keyboard, there are many other little details about this laptop’s design that we appreciate. The power LED is inconspicuous as it doubles as the dot in the ‘i’ of the palmrest’s ThinkPad logo. There aren’t any bright LEDs on this laptop and it’s a joy to use at night. However, we do wish that the keyboard was backlit — the spacebar actually has a backlight (or keyboard light) logo on it, but nothing happens when you press it in conjunction with the Function key — it’s such a tease. There is no backlight option with this model.
The bottom panel of the Edge E320 comes off easily and we love the fact that the screws are designed to stay with the panel — you’ll never lose them. The overall layout of the laptop is clean and all components are easy to access — you can even replace the CPU without too much trouble. There are two memory slots (one free), one 2.5in hard drive bay, a Wi-Fi module (a dual-band Broadcom 2×2 11a/b/g/n Wireless LAN PCI Express Half Mini Card Adapter) and a Mini PCI Express slot. The Mini PCI Express slot can be used to accommodate a solid state drive.
The construction of the ThinkPad Edge E320 is neat and it’s a unit with easy-to-access components.
Specifications and performance
The CPU is an Intel Core i3-2310M with a 2.1GHz speed, two cores and Hyper-Threading. Along with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive (Seagate ST320LT007-9ZV142) and integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, the performance of the ThinkPad Edge E320 is fast for regular office work and even multimedia tasks. You can use it to encode music, edit video and convert files, but it can’t be used effectively for gaming.
In our Blender 3D rendering test, the Edge 320 recorded a time of 58sec, while in our MP3 encoding test it recorded 1min 7sec. These results are almost identical to the 13in HP ProBook 5330m laptop, which uses the same CPU. However, it was a little slow in our DVD transcoding test, in which it took 1hr 12min. The HP completed that task in 1hr 6min. In 3DMark06, the Edge recorded a score of 3493, while in our hard drive transfer test a rate of 33.65 megabytes per second was attained, which is good.
One area in which the ThinkPad Edge 320 shines is battery life. Its 63 Watt-hour lenovo laptop battery lasted 5hr 13min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. It’s a very good time for a 13in laptop and you can get even more life out of it if you enable one of the many power schemes that are available.
The battery utility in this ThinkPad is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen. It can give you intricate details of the battery, including how much power it is consuming, how much power is left, and even how long it will take for the battery to fully recharge. You can also set the recharge capacity to 80 per cent in order to improve the overall life of the battery (in terms of charging cycles). There are many other facets to this utility, all you have to do is click on the advanced button to see them all.
The advanced mode of the battery utility.
There some things about the ThinkPad Edge E320 that could be better. The keyboard could use a backlight, a USB 3.0 port would be nice, the screen could use better brightness and vertical viewing angles, and it could use biometric security (it has a Computrace-capable BIOS though).
Furthermore, we also think it’s about time Lenovo ditched the TrackPoint pointing device — it’s useful in confined spaces and it doesn’t get in the way while typing, but we think it’s unnecessary — and we wish the touchpad was a little better. While it’s a very responsive pad with good gesture support, the placement of the left- and right-click buttons underneath the pad makes it almost impossible to perform right-click and drag operations.
Taking all these things into consideration, the ThinkPad Edge E320 is still a fine product and we think it’s one of the most comfortable laptops on the Australian market. It’s a good size, it’s well built, it has a relatively light weight and it costs well under $1000 in its standard form. Our review model cost $772, but with a 128GB SSD it would cost $1080. Either way, we think that’s a good deal.
Dell makes another splash in the business laptop market with their latest addition – the Dell Vostro V131. Just what the heck makes the Dell Vostro V131 so special? For starters, it will come with up to 9.5 hours of dell laptop battery life, which is pretty decent in this day and age – placing it on par with those long-lasting netbooks. After all, many of us these days are extremely mobile, and it isn’t always convenient to find a power outlet nearby when you need one, so getting all the help you can from a long lasting laptop battery is always appreciated.
Apart from being powerful, it is also thin and sleek in design, being one of the lightest and thinnest laptops from the Vostro range. It’s main target would be small business customers, where the Dell Vostro V131 can stash away an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor inside makes sure that you won’t be found wanting when processing power is required.
To make sure you remain well connected, the Vostro V131 sports a wide range of connectivity options where among them include WWAN, WiMax & LTE (US only), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. There is also a standard fingerprint reader for better security of your sensitive information inside, while the Absolute LoJack security software comes pre-loaded to make sure you have peace of mind, even if your laptop is stolen by someone.
While the Dell Vostro V131 is not going to be a gaming powerhouse at any time (Facebook and other casual games are fine), that is because this is an office-centric laptop, where it is suited for everyday office operations such as document editing, presentations and email. Of course, you will also have the advantage of a built-in full HD camera for video conferencing purposes, SRS Premium Voice Pro, digital array mics and built-in Skype. With a couple of USB 3.0 ports, this is one future-forward machine – and the chiclet keyboard with a backlit option certainly suits those who love working late into the night.
You will be able to bring home the Vostro V131 for as little as $449, now is that cheap or what?
The term “thin and light” has a flexible meaning in the laptop world. Currently, to be truly thin, a PC must be in the same range as the MacBook Air. Still, plenty of 13-inch laptops survive in a thicker range that would have been considered thin a few years ago, but which seem merely normal today. The Asus U31SD is just that sort of laptop. Its thickness is more akin to a 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro, but Asus’ laptop lacks an optical drive.
We reviewed a nearly identical Asus U31JG laptop a few months ago, noting that it was a solid computer but lacked an up-to-date Intel processor. The U31SD has a second-gen Core i3 2310M CPU and improved Nvidia GeForce GT 520M graphics, along with a markedly better battery life than the previous U31JG. It’s an improvement in every way.
The Asus U31SD has the same design and body as the U31JG-A1 we reviewed back in March. Our design impressions remain the same. While the U31SD is a compact laptop, it’s not really a looker. Its brushed-aluminum lid and palm rest are reminiscent of those on the Asus UL30A that we reviewed years ago, but times have changed: Laptops like the Apple MacBook Air and the Samsung Series 9 have redefined thin, making this laptop seem comparatively chunky. In fact, it is surprising that this 13-incher lacks an optical drive: Similarly thin laptops such as the Sony Vaio S and the Toshiba Portege R835 include one.
Glossy black plastic surrounds the keyboard and upper screen while the keyboard deck and trackpad have a brushed silver metal finish, giving the laptop a two-tone look. It’s not a look that stands out. While this may seem like we’re being sticklers, design is a big factor in what makes a portable laptop comfortable and easy to use, and the slightly bulky chassis just isn’t eye-catching. At 1.78 kg, this laptop’s just light enough to feel travel-friendly, but it’s heavier than the Sony Vaio S and Toshiba Portege R835.
The raised-key keyboard has comfortable spacing between keys, but a slightly mushy key feel. A row of Page Up/Page Down buttons on the right side squishes and pushes the Enter and Shift keys in a bit, making them hard to find by feel.
|Price as reviewed||S$999|
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core i3 2310M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard Drive||640GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 520M|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||32.8 x 23.3 cm|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3-inch|
|System weight||1.78 kg|
|Category||Thin and light|
An inset multitouch touch pad is smaller than average, making two-finger gestures a bit harder to pull off. The textured surface had mixed responsiveness in our testing. A mirror-finish plastic rocker button-bar beneath feels much like those of other Asus laptops; we’d prefer easier-to-click discrete buttons. The terrible mouse button bar is a long-standing Asus issue that never seems to get fixed, no matter how many times we knock it.
Above the keyboard, it looks like there are two symmetrically laid-out power buttons on the upper left and right sides; however, the one on the right is the actual power button, while the one on the left launches the Quick Start OS, a pared-down, faster-booting collection of applications that includes a Web browser. Quick-start OSes are meant for the impatient, and are a poor attempt to offer up what speedier-booting systems such as the iPad and MacBook Air already do far better. We never find ourselves using quick-start OSes; we’d rather boot Windows 7 and put our laptop to sleep between sessions. Need to quickly check email or a Web link? That’s what a smartphone is for.
The 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768-pixel-resolution glossy display is inset from the upper lid, forgoing any edge-to-edge glass. This makes for a bit less glare, but the display’s clarity and viewing angles are average at best. Text and images are very readable, but colors aren’t ultravibrant. It’s a middle-of-the-road display.
The same can be said for the U31SD’s speakers: The Altec Lansing stereo speakers don’t live up to their high-end branding. They push their sound through narrow grilles at the front edge of the laptop, under the palm rest. Maximum volume isn’t particularly loud, and the sound quality leaned toward the tinny. They’ll do in a pinch, but headphones are a better bet. Included Sonic Focus equalizer software helps adjust levels for movie watching.
The included VGA Webcam comes with Asus’ LifeFrame camera software, offering a variety of settings for recording video and snapping pics, including gimmicky Photo Booth-like backdrops and effects. Maximum resolution is a measly 640 x 480 pixels, with light sensitivity and contrast suitable for basic Web chats.
|Asus U31SD||Average for category (thin and light)|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
There aren’t any surprise bonus ports or connections in the Asus U31SD: In fact, its no-frills feature set lacks Bluetooth and USB 3.0, along with the aforementioned optical drive. That will be a turn-off for some. At least the included 4GB of RAM and roomy 640GB hard drive are a little above standard for the size and price.
The U31SD we reviewed has a 2.1GHz second-generation Intel Core i3 2310M processor. The performance of this Sandy Bridge Core i3 CPU is rock-solid for everyday work, but it’s notably slower than the Core i5 processors we’ve seen in recent, similarly priced laptops such as the Toshiba Portege. Performance benchmarks show the Asus U31SD falling into the middle of the pack of notebooks with identical Core i3 2310M CPUs such as the HP ProBook 5330m.
Interestingly, the Asus U31SD comes with pretty decent Nvidia discrete graphics, too. The GeForce GT 520M GPU has Optimus automatic switching and performed well enough in our game testing to suit most mainstream games. Street Fighter IV ran at 44.3 frames per second in full-screen native resolution with 2x antialiasing. It’s an odd disconnect for discrete graphics to be paired with a lower-end Core i-series CPU, but these step-up graphics are one of our favorite features on this laptop, so we won’t quibble.
Performance and Battery Life
The Asus U31SD’s included six-cell asus laptop battery lasted 5 hours and 55 minutes while playing a continuous video loop. That’s a big step up from the Asus U31JG we reviewed just a few months ago, and is an excellent result for a laptop with stepped-up graphics. You can, of course, do better–Apple’s 13-inch MacBooks get 7 hours of battery life, and so does the Toshiba Portege R835–but this stands well above the pack.
The Asus U31SD comes with a chassis that feels uninspired and is topped off with a middle-of-the-road screen and speakers. If you can live with that–and a lack of higher-end features such as USB 3.0–then the U31SD might be right for you.
At S$999, it’s a solid performer, but considering that similar laptops like the Toshiba Portege R835 can be had for the same money, this doesn’t seem like quite the bargain it’s cracked up to be. However, for back-to-schoolers who need all-day battery life, the U31SD could be a sweetly sized and priced purchase.