Slim, sleek and sexy ultraportables are all very well, but there are times when you need a bit more oomph. That’s why notebooks like the Sony VGN-Z21MN/B are such a good option. It may not be as thin as a MacBook Air or a Lenovo ThinkPad X300, but it’s light, packs more power and – thanks in part to its switchable graphics – has incredible battery life.
Lenovo’s latest, the T500, can’t compete with these ultraportables when it comes to stamina and portability, but one thing it certainly isn’t lacking is power. And while it doesn’t boast supermodel looks – with its business-like straight lines, sharp, pointy corners, bevelled edges and all-black cloak – its sheer practicality races to the forefront.
It boasts the same powerful processor as the Sony – a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 – which, coupled with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, was enough to achieve a highly respectable score of 1.19 in our benchmarks. That’s plenty for even intensive tasks.
And, hidden beneath the black exterior, there’s another similarity. The T500 is equipped with dual-switchable graphics: an ATI Radeon Mobility HD 3650 for when it’s connected to the mains, and Intel’s lower-powered GMA X4500MHD for when you’re out and about. The former is quick too: its 61fps in our low settings 3D benchmark is good and promises improved performance in graphically intensive applications that support DirectX 10 – Photoshop CS4, for instance.
The biggest advantage the T500 holds over more compact machines is its screen. It’s both larger at 15.4in than the Sony’s 13.1in panel, and also higher resolution, with a massive 1,680 x 1,050 pixels. The backlight isn’t quite as bright as we’d like, but colour balance is fine; there’s no backlight bleed and no evidence of grain, either.
If its looks aren’t anything to write home about, the T500’s ergonomics certainly are. In traditional Lenovo fashion, you get both trackpoint and trackpad. The trackpad is set very slightly below the level of the wristrest, reducing the risk of brushing it by accident.
Compared with almost every other laptop, the T500’s keyboard is excellent – the large keys and deep travel make it arguably superior to using a standalone keyboard. ThinkPad aficionados may notice it’s a littler lighter to the touch than previous offerings, though.
That black chassis is strong, with thick, sturdy plastic all-round and a screen that feels tough enough to resist being trodden on by an elephant. We couldn’t make an impression – twisting it every which way failed to produce any ripples or show-through on the screen.
And while the T500 is far from skinny at 2.6kg, you do get plenty of goodies to justify the extra heft. There’s an HSDPA modem complete with Vodafone SIM, a DVD writer, a DisplayPort external monitor output (in addition to a standard D-SUB socket), Bluetooth, a TPM module and a fingerprint reader.
Battery life is by no means bad, either. It can’t compete with the Z21’s 9hrs 32mins, but in Energy Saving graphics mode it managed a light-use time of almost six hours, which is incredible for a laptop with a screen this large. If you want to spend even more time away from the mains then a nine-cell, 8,400mAh battery is available.
And let’s not forget there are all the usual benefits of buying a Lenovo laptop. The ThinkVantage tools allow quick, easy access to components such as wireless modules and battery life settings. All manner of other useful tools are available by pressing the blue button above the keyboard, too, from backup to system restore to update utilities.
In the T500, Lenovo has produced yet another sound laptop. It can’t boast the good looks or the all-round panache of the Sony Z21 with its incredible battery life, good performance and light weight, but, to be fair, it’s a different proposition.
The combination of the top-quality Lenovo keyboard with a large, high-resolution screen and supreme build quality make for a very capable desktop workstation. Factor in the substantially lower cost and that makes the T500 a tempting proposition.