Gadling Gear Review: Lenovo Twist Windows 8 Laptop

Lenovo Thinkpad TwistThe advances in touch screen technology over the past few years have had an undeniable impact on how we interact with our gadgets. Touch screens have made our smartphones more responsive and have allowed tablets to become a part of our daily lives. It seems only natural that they would also be integrated into laptops and desktops, something that has become more viable thanks to the release of Windows 8 last fall. One of the first laptops to use a touchscreen in conjunction with Microsoft’s new operating system is the Lenovo Twist, a product that does an excellent job demonstrating just how this technology can change the way interact with our computers.

At its core, the Twist is an Ultrabook class laptop, tipping the scales at 3.5 pounds and just .8 inches thick. Those measurement make the Twist very portable and will likely make it a hit with travelers who want to shed some weight when hitting the road. The Twist features a 12.1″ screen driven by a competent graphics chipset that is more geared for business applications rather than 3D games. It is available with your choice of three Intel processors, up to 8GB of RAM and standard hard drives of either 320GB or 500GB. The laptop also includes a 128GB SSD drive option, which is much faster and more reliable than a traditional mechanical drive. Two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and a 4-in-1 card reader slot round out the list of helpful features.

My test model was powered by an Intel i5 processor running at 2.6GHz and 4GB of RAM. This was more than enough horsepower to smoothly run Windows 8 and for accomplishing most day-to-day tasks. Checking email, surfing the web, writing blog posts and watching videos all went off without a hitch with the Twist barely missing a beat. Editing photos worked well too, although larger images put enough of a strain on the laptop to kick in the system fans, which is a bit jarring considering how quiet the Twist is most of the time. I wouldn’t recommend editing video on the Twist, however, as that isn’t a particular strong point for Ultrabooks in general.Those tech specs alone don’t distinguish the Twist, however, as they are pretty standard amongst thin and light Windows notebooks these days. What does separate Lenovo’s laptop from the crowd, however, is the unique touch screen display and its ability to pivot (Or twist! Get it?) on an axis point connected to the main body just above the keyboard. This gives the computer the unique ability of transforming into four different modes: Laptop, Stand, Tent and Tablet. Laptop mode functions in the traditional nature of all notebooks while Stand mode flips the screen around and away from the keyboard, allowing access to just the display itself. Tent mode rotates the contents of the display so that the Twist can stand-up on its edges, while Tablet mode folds the screen over the keyboard, making it into a large tablet. Personally, I found myself mostly using just the laptop and tablet modes, although the others will find their niche needs I’m sure.

Lenovo Thinkpad Twist in Tent ModeThe Twist’s touch screen is bright, clear and responsive, which is just what you would expect in any notebook from Lenovo. But more than that, the screen is simply fun to use, particularly in Window 8′s new interface which integrates apps with a traditional desktop interface. Anyone who has used an iOS or Android device will feel right at home here, tapping, sliding and pinching their way through any manner of apps from Angry Birds to Netflix to Skype. While the Windows 8 app store isn’t nearly as full as those two other operating systems, it still has nearly everything you could ask for and then some. Win 8′s live tiles also makes it easy to organize those apps as needed and automatically give you all kinds of information, such as Facebook status updates, news headlines and stock reports, at a glance.

When using the Twist in the traditional Windows desktop mode, the touch screen is still active and allows you to tap to open documents, launch applications and so on. But since the desktop was never designed for touch, I found it easier to revert to using the laptop’s built-in touchpad, which was functional although not as responsive as I would have liked. Lenovo has also included a touch stick integrated into the keyboard, but I’ve personally never been a fan of the nub as a way to move the cursor. If that is your favorite way to interact with a laptop, however, you’re likely to find this one to be responsive and easy to use.

Lenovo has built the Twist to be durable enough to take with us on our travels, adding in some nice features to help keep it safe. For instance, the laptop includes an active protection system that will automatically park the hard drive heads if the laptop should fall or be jostled violently. This helps prevent accidental damage to the drive, keeping our data safe and sound. Beyond that, the case is molded out of a tough magnesium alloy, which is very resistant to wear and the screen is shielded by Gorilla Glass, which does an excellent job of resisting scratches and breaking.

Battery life seems to be a bit of an Achilles heel for the Twist. Lenovo says it is capable of running for up to six hours between charges, which is about average for an Ultrabook of this type. But while testing my Twist I found that I was getting an average of just a shade over 4 hours of run-time on standard settings. Reducing the brightness of the screen and turning off Wi-Fi helped of course, but those are compromises that are tough to make. If you’re on a cross-country flight, it can help to extend your ability to use the computer, but you’ll still be looking for an outlet as soon as you land.

As with all touch screen devices, the Twist’s display can also quickly become filled with fingerprints, which is not something we’re traditionally use to from our laptops. You’ll probably want to carry a soft cleaning cloth in your laptop bag at all times to help wipe it clean. These are fairly common for smartphones and tablets these days, but you’ll find yourself needing one for this, or any other, touch screen notebook too.

If you’re in the market for a new laptop and you’re looking to harness the full potential of Windows 8, the Lenovo Twist is a fantastic choice. I found that once I started using a touch screen notebook it was incredibly difficult to go back to a standard model. Touch just seems like a natural way to interact with our devices now and anything less seems archaic in comparison. Aside from sub-par battery life, I found the Twist to be a great laptop for the average traveler’s needs, providing the ability to communicate with friends and family, while staying productive on the road. It’s lightweight and thin body make it highly portable and the touch screen simply makes it fun to use. When was the last time you could say that about your laptop?

The Twist also happens to be very competitively priced. It starts out at just $765, which is very affordable for a laptop with so many features built in.

Gadling gear review: Lenovo IdeaPad K1 tablet

The Lenovo IdeaPad K1Over the past two years, the introduction of tablet computers have had an unmistakable impact on how we travel. Smaller and lighter than laptops, yet with plenty of power and versatility, these devices allow us to stay connected, entertained, and productive, while on the go. Obviously, Apple’s iPad is the most well known of these products, but there are a host of other tablets available as well. Take for example the Lenovo IdeaPad K1, which is an affordable option for those looking for an alternative to the Apple hegemony.

Powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and sporting 1GB of onboard RAM, the IdeaPad offers plenty of performance in a relatively small package. The tablet features 32GB of storage and has a built in SD card reader that allows users to expand that capacity even further. As you would expect, it features both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, although there is no option for 3G or 4G service. The IdeaPad’s 10.1 inch widescreen display is adequate, if not exceptional, and like most tablets (iPad included), sound from the built in speakers is underwhelming. The IdeaPad has two webcams, a 2MP camera on the front and a 5MP on the rear, both of which best the iPad’s cameras by a considerable margin. I also liked that Lenovo’s included a built in HDMI port, which makes it easy to display content from the tablet on an HDTV.

Of course, all of that technology doesn’t mean much if the software that runs on the device isn’t up to par. The IdeaPad uses Google’s Android operating system (version 3.1 Honeycomb) to tie everything together, and that OS is both a strength and a weakness for the device. For instance, Android comes with a full featured app store, complete with every major app – or at the very least a worthy equivalent – to what you would find on the iPad. But the Android experience doesn’t feel quite as cohesive or intuitive to use as Apple’s iOS, and at times I had to search hard to find a particular app or setting.That isn’t to say that Android doesn’t bring plenty to the table to help distinguish itself from its biggest competitor. I love the desktop widgets that display weather, my personal calendar, and unread e-mail messages on screen at all times. The multitasking capabilities of the OS were also impressive, and I found it faster and easier to switch between running apps on the IdeaPad than on my iPad. I also came to appreciate the virtual home button and the ability to access installed apps from any screen, and the overall level of customization to the interface is greater than what you’ll find on iOS too. Android also happens to be compatible with Adobe’s Flash, although performance is a bit of a mixed bag, to say the least.

Despite those features however, I found that there was a general sluggishness to the IdeaPad that wasn’t common on Apple’s device. The K1 was slow to switch screen orientations when you flipped the device from portrait to landscape mode for example, and there were times when I’d end up tapping an icon twice because the OS was so slow to respond that I didn’t think that I got it right the first time. I’m told that the latest version of Android, code named Ice Cream Sandwich, addresses most of these issues however, and that update is expected to come to the IdeaPad in the semi-near future.

Other comparisons to the iPad are inevitable of course, starting with the physical aspects of the two devices. While the K1 doesn’t feel heavy in your hands, it is noticeably bulkier than Apple’s tablet – something that becomes more pronounced with extended use. It is also thicker than the iPad, although some may appreciate the added girth, which makes the device easier to hang on to for those of us with larger hands. The IdeaPad lags behind in battery life as well, clocking in at a bit over 8 hours in my tests. That’s far below Lenovo’s promised 10 hours, which is a mark that the iPad can hit easily.

To their credit, Lenovo ships the IdeaPad with quite a few good apps already installed, including NetFlix, Amazon Kindle, and even Angry Birds. They’ve also incorporated their own personalized launcher widget, that gives users quick access to the Chrome web browser, e-mail, music, movies, and more. It is a different approach than the dock that is found on the iPad, although I didn’t find it as useful since you had to be on a specific screen panel to access it.

So how does the IdeaPad fair as a travel companion? Overall, quite well. Despite a few nitpicks with performance and battery life, this is a solid device that will deliver everything you expect from a tablet. It offers movies, music, and games on the go, and serves as a good way to stay connected to friends and family while you’re away from home. The e-mail client is easy to configure and use, and the built in cameras work well with Skype too. Throw in the ability to read books and magazines on the device, and you’ve got everything you need for your next long international flight.

Better yet, Lenovo is selling the device at a very good price. With an MSRP of $399, the IdeaPad comes in at a hundred bucks less than the cheapest iPad, while still delivering twice the storage capacity. If you’re in the market for a tablet, but don’t want to pay the “Apple tax” or simply want to stay outside of their ecosystem, than the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is a worthy alternative.

Name Your Dream Assignment Contest

Calling all aspiring travel photo-journalists! If you’ve ever dreamed of having $50,000 in cash to live out your travel dreams, keeping a blog, and taking photos along the way, now is your chance. Lenovo and Microsoft have teamed up to offer an unbelievably cool travel contest that is really as simple as putting your dream assignment in photos and words for the rest of the U.S. to daydream about.

The contest is called the Name Your Dream Assignment, and it’s open to writers and photographers of all backgrounds. The contestant with the winning idea will win $50,000 to bring his or her dream assignment to life. In addition to this amazing cash prize, the winner will win a digital camcorder and a Lenovo ThinkPad. Two runners-up will get the Lenovo laptop too.

The contest started on March 3rd and will continue until April 3. At that point, the 20 entries with the most PICS will be judged by an expert panel, which will choose the winner based on originality, creativity, skill, and experience.

Get crackin’, people! Some Gadling members and readers have already submitted their dream assignments (see links below). If you have dream up of an assignment and post it on the site, feel free to add your link to the comments section below. I’m more than happy to PIC yours if you PIC mine! :)

Mine:
http://www.nameyourdreamassignment.com/the-ideas/hibren/minority-languages/

Reader Bernie’s:
http://www.nameyourdreamassignment.com/the-ideas/berniesiao/drowning-cultures/

Gadling Guru Willy’s:
http://www.nameyourdreamassignment.com/the-ideas/WillyVolk/shooting-sharks-around-the-world-underwater-and-topside/

Product review – Lenovo Ideapad S10

In this product review, I’m going to give you a (long overdue) review of the Lenovo Ideapad S10. The S10 was featured as one of the top 25 travel technology product of 2008 here on Gadling.

2008 was without a doubt the year of the netbook. These smaller computers have completely overtaken most computer sales charts, and have been the best selling style computer on Amazon.com for almost 7 months.

In a previous article, I’ve described what a netbook is, and how it can help you on the road, so check out that article if the term “netbook” is foreign to you.

I’ve picked the Lenovo S10 out of all the other netbooks on the market because of a couple of features that help it stand out in the busy crowd. So, why the Lenovo S10? Design may be a very personal thing, but I personally find it to be one of the best looking machines in the market.

Every part of the machine has been extremely well designed, and it’s quite simply great to look at. From the nice speaker grill on the front to the well positioned ports and buttons, it is obvious that Lenovo took their experience in making other notebooks, and put that into designing the S10. For those not up to date on the computer market, Lenovo purchased the IBM desktop/notebook division in 2005, so they have a very rich heritage.
Specifications

Inside the Ideapad S10 is an Intel Atom CPU running at 1.6GHz, the version on review here also features 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive, a webcam, 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth and Windows XP. The various available versions of the Ideapad S10 offer different amounts of memory and hard drive space. The machine is available in black, white, pink, blue and red.

Features

On the outside of the Ideapad S10 is of course where you’ll find the various ports. The S10 offers you 2 USB ports, an Ethernet (network) connector, audio in/out, a 4-in-1 memory card slot and an Expresscard/34 expansion slot.

That last feature is unique to most machines in this class. Expresscard slots allow you to add a large variety of expansion cards to the device, from memory card readers to 3G broadband access cards. Business users will most certainly appreciate the availability of this slot if they travel with a suitable 3G card. One minor beef I have with the Expresscard slot is that cards do not fully slide into it, this means you will always have to remove the card when you stow your machine to prevent damage.

On the inside of the machine, you’ll find a well designed keyboard, a fairly large trackpad and dedicated buttons for power and wireless control.

Keyboards have always been a very strong part of most Lenovo machines, and this one does not disappoint. The buttons are of course smaller than your home PC, but they are all very well positioned, and I rarely found myself reaching for the wrong button.

The trackpad has a slightly rough texture, making it much easier to navigate precisely, the 2 buttons for the trackpad are below the pad itself, much easier than on some other machines (like the Acer Aspire One).

Display and performance

The 10.2″ display has a 1024×600 resolution and is powered by an Intel 945G video chip. Of course, if none of this means anything to you, don’t worry. What it means in real life is that the screen has a decent resolution, without getting too small (or too big). Web pages fit the screen just fine, and the video performance is perfectly sufficient for most on-the-road entertainment purposes. Of course, with no internal DVD player, you’ll have to resort to video files to get your movie fix.

The screen is nice and bright, and even during some direct sunlight on a recent flight, I was able to read it. It also works from a fairly wide angle, so if you plan to get some private work done in public, you’ll need to consider getting a privacy screen.

Application performance is equally impressive, at least if you limit yourself to the kind of applications you’d use on the road. Web browsing, email, music and video all work just fine, but don’t expect to pull it out of your bag to play the latest and greatest 3D shooting game.

Travel with the Lenovo Ideapad S10 is quite comfortable – the machine is light, powerful enough for most tasks and with its built in webcam you can use chat applications like Skype or AIM.

It’s small size makes it perfect for using in-flight, and you won’t run the risk of snapping it in half when your fellow passenger decides to recline his or her seat in front of you.

Other machines often include a (very) basic case, but you’ll have to find one of those yourself for the S10. I recommend the Solo Netbook Messenger pictured here on the right.

Power and battery life

Power for the S10 comes from a 3 cell Lithium-Ion battery pack, which brings me to the only real complaint I have about the machine – battery life is pretty limited. In its defense, no other 3 cell powered netbook is any better.

With the 3 cell battery I was able to squeeze about 2 hours and 32 minutes out of the machine, before it shut down. If you need more than this, you’ll have to find a power source or outfit the machine with a $129 6 cell battery pack. The biggest drawback of the 6-cell pack is that it sticks out the back of the machine, adding quite a bit of bulk. The 6-cell pack doubles battery life to a respectable 5 hours.

Final thoughts

All in all, a very impressive machine, and of all the netbook machines I’ve tested in this price range, it is the most well equipped. Battery life is always going to be an issue on 3-cell computers, but there are options out there to increase it.

The Lenovo Ideapad S10 is priced between $349 and $409 depending on the version and color you select. This puts it well in line with most other netbook brands, despite offering some features not found in the competition.

To me, the price and Lenovo quality make it the best pick. The machine comes in a fairly basic package – you get the netbook, battery, AC charger and a manual/CD kit.

%Gallery-42325%

What is a Netbook? And why should you care?

In some of my previous posts, I dropped the term “Netbook” a couple of times, but an email from one of our readers made me realize I never really explained what a Netbook is.

Of course, since this is Gadling, I’ll not only explain what it is, but I’ll also explain how a Netbook can help you on the road, or how it can help you travel lighter.

The short version of the “Netbook” description is that it is a small portable computer, designed mainly with Internet access in mind. Netbooks are low power, low weight and (usually) low cost.

So, what makes the Netbook special, and why should you care?
The first (current generation) Netbook was introduced in 2007 by Asus and was called the “Eee PC”. Asus claimed that the Eee was Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to play, hence the slightly silly name.

The first Eee was an instant success, and forced every other major manufacturer to design their own little machine.

Anyone who has been around computers for more than 8 or 9 years will have a weird sense of déjà vu, as this sudden comeback of small computers is nothing new. Back in 1998 most companies had at least one small computer in their lineup, including one from British PDA designer Psion, called the Netbook.

What can a Netbook do?

Essentially, everything about the Netbook is perfect for people who travel. The machines are lightweight, they use fairly low power components which increases battery life, they are small enough to be used in a cramped coach seat. Most of them are also very affordable.

A Netbook can be found from most major retailers for as little as $299. In fact, the Netbook craze has taken off so well, that they make up 9 of the top 10 selling computer products at Amazon.com at the moment.

As a computer geek, I took an instant liking to Netbooks, and have to admit that my small machine has pretty much replaced my trusty (and bulky) laptop on the road. My Netbook has a 160GB hard drive, a 10″ screen, and can run any application I need, including some heavy multimedia applications like Slingplayer. With the built in webcam, I can make video calls.

Most Netbooks have at least one card reader slot, making them perfect for copying photos off your digital camera, and keeping them safe.

What can’t a Netbook do?

With their huge popularity, you’d expect Netbooks to be the perfect solution for every computer task. There are however still some things you can’t really do with a Netbook.

Gaming – Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to play Solitaire and Minesweeper on a Netbook. Just don’t expect to be able to run graphics intensive games. Many games will also run into problems with the relatively low resolution of the Netbook screen.

Multimedia – almost everything you can do on a “normal” computer will still work just fine on a Netbook. This includes iTunes, Windows Media player and most other media playing applications. A Netbook will have no problems playing large video files, but files in HD quality may be a tad too demanding for the graphics chip inside the machine. Because Netbooks are small, you won’t find a DVD player in them, so if you need to watch DVD’s, you’ll need to “rip” the movie to your hard disc, or purchase an external DVD drive (which pretty much defeats the purpose of a small machine).

There are plenty of other things Netbooks are not very good at – depending on the brand and model of Netbook you purchase, you may get a machine with a fairly small keyboard, so don’t plan to write your next bestseller on it. Also, folks with poor eyesight may find the small screens to be a bit too small, it is just another price you pay for having a light machine.

Picking a Netbook

When you start considering the purchase of a Netbook, you need to ask yourself whether you can live with the limitations the machine presents.

Most Netbooks are often in the same price range of a regular notebook, and that regular notebook has a much larger screen, a DVD drive, full size keyboard and more.

Let me give you a closer look at one of the most popular Netbooks on the market at the moment, the $349 Acer Aspire One:

This machine weighs just 2.3lbs and has an 8.9″ screen with a resolution of 1024×600 pixels. The Aspire One runs on an Intel Atom processor, at 1.6GHz.

The Aspire One is available in several “flavors”; with a solid state hard drive, or with a standard hard drive.

When you start shopping for a Netbook, your first choice will be whether you want a Linux based machine, or Windows. My personal opinion is that while Linux may be a cheap option, it really does not make sense to learn an entirely new operating system when the Windows XP option is just a few bucks more.

The second choice you’ll need to make involves the hard drive. The cheapest options usually involve solid state drives (referred to as SSD). SSD drives are pretty new in the consumer market, and their size is usually limited to about 8 or 16GB. If you plan to use your machine for nothing more than some basic web browsing and email, then the SSD drive will be just fine. If you need to store large files like movies or music, then you will most certainly want to consider a regular hard drive. These drives usually start around 80GB up to 160GB in most Netbooks.

One other advantage of SSD drives is that they are more shockproof than conventional hard drives, since they don’t use any moving parts.

Finally, but just as important; you will need to carefully select a battery. Most machines come with a three cell battery pack, which is good enough for about 2-3 hours of work. If you are often stuck in coach without a power port, then that may not be long enough. If you need more power, you’ll have to find yourself a Netbook with a 6 cell battery. This power source should last up to 5 hours, but there is a trade off; the battery pack adds a lot of weight and bulk to the machine, and these 6 cell packs often stick out the back by an inch or more. Another solution is to carry an external battery pack, like those offered by APC. Of course, with a larger battery, you once again lose a lot of the benefits of a nice small machine.

So there you have it; a Netbook is a small laptop, nothing more and nothing less. But it is without a doubt the biggest thing to happen in computers all year. In just 12 months, we went from one model Netbook, to well over 50. If you travel a lot, and you’d like to shave a couple of pounds off your carry-on bag, then a Netbook may be the perfect solution for you.