Offered in several different screen sizes and with dozens of component configurations, the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s (starts at $999.99; $1,299 as tested) has something to offer for nearly every PC user. Even better, most of the configurations are wallet-friendly, even those that include specialized features like discrete GPUs and 15-inch displays. We tested a mainstream 13-inch version of the 720s with a full HD display that closely resembles the Dell XPS 13 (9370), which retains our Editors’ Choice for best ultraportable laptop for its slightly better performance and more attractive styling. Still, the IdeaPad is a solid alternative and worth a spot on your short list.
Thin Borders, Well-Placed Camera
At just 0.53 by 12.04 by 8.41 inches (HWD) and 2.2 pounds, the 720s is among the most compact and lightest 13-inch laptops we’ve tested. The Apple MacBook Air, which revolutionized thin and light laptops, is bloated by comparison, measuring 0.68 by 12.8 by 8.94 inches and weighing 2.96 pounds. Even the far more modern HP Spectre 13 is a bit heavier at 2.45 pounds, weighed down by premium materials like Gorilla Glass and carbon fiber. The 720s, meanwhile, has a gray aluminum finish.
You can’t get that thin and light without trimming the borders around the screen, known as bezels. They’re certainly razer-thin on the 720s, giving the laptop a cutting-edge look that makes similarly priced competitors like the MacBook Air appear bulky and ancient by comparison. The slim bezels are unique to the 13-inch model of the 720s, though. If you step up to 14-inch or 15-inch versions, you’ll get a much more traditional look, with thick borders around the screen.
Our review unit’s borders are not so thin, however, that there’s no room for a webcam above the display. One of the worst parts about the otherwise-excellent XPS 13 is that its webcam is located in the bottom center, where it mainly captures a view of your knuckles if you’re typing during a Skype call. On the other hand, while Lenovo manages to include a traditionally placed camera, there isn’t enough room for IR sensors to allow face recognition for logging into Windows. The camera also suffers from rather grainy video and blurry still images because of its anemic 1MP sensor.
There’s nothing anemic about the screen, though. It’s a matte full HD (1,920-by-1,080) panel with an unusually wide range of brightness levels, so you can comfortably use it in a darkened bedroom or a fluorescent-lit boardroom. The matte finish means significantly reduced glare, and the in-plane switching (IPS) makes for exceptionally wide viewing angles. You can step up to a 4K glossy display for a modest premium.
The 720s has a display hinge that rotates 180 degrees, a flexibility that can come in handy since the light weight invites you to use the laptop anywhere, from propping it up on your knees while you’re laying on the couch to using it to display a recipe on the kitchen counter. That’s a perk that the XPS 13, the MacBook Air, and the Spectre 13 don’t offer.
In front of the hinge, you’ll find a very comfortable keyboard. It’s not as sturdy as the ones in Lenovo’s business-oriented ThinkPad lineup, but it’s fine for short typing sessions. The touchpad is generously sized, but feels flimsy compared with the excellent all-glass pads in Apple ultraportables. That could be a deal breaker for some prospective 720s owners, especially since there’s no touch screen available on the 13-inch version to serve as an alternative input method.
Below the directional arrow keys (which sadly are miniature), there’s a fingerprint reader that’s more accurate than the ones on several other Lenovo laptops I’ve used recently. In three days of testing, the system never failed to recognize my fingerprint.
On the 13-inch 720s, you’re limited to a single memory configuration (8GB), but you can choose from 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSDs. Our review unit has a 512GB drive, which should be more than enough if you don’t have gargantuan video and photo collections. On the other hand, if you’d like to bolster the storage, you can do so without paying a lot more. A model equipped with a 1TB SSD is available for $1,699 (currently discounted to $1,299 directly through Lenovo, but keep in mind that the company’s pricing is quite fickle). That’s a steal compared with a similarly equipped Apple laptop, and several hundred dollars less expensive than a similar XPS 13.
Before you stuff your drive full of movies, however, be warned that while they will certaintly look great on the 720s’s display, they won’t sound great. The downward-firing speakers at the bottom of the laptop’s chassis produce muddy sound, even with the Dolby Atmos optimization software activated and the machine held up in the air to give the speakers room to project.
Input and output ports are limited, as you’d expect on such a slim chassis, but there is a USB-C port on the left edge that supports Thunderbolt 3, a cutting-edge interface that lets you connect external displays, hard drives, and much more with blazing throughput of 40GBps. There’s a second USB-C port without Thunderbolt that’s also used for connecting the power cord, as well as two USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack. Wireless connectivity options include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
Lenovo includes a one-year warranty with the 720s.
Excellent Performance You’d Expect
Our review unit sports an Intel Core i7-8550U processor, which also powers many of the 720s’s competitors, including the Spectre 13, the XPS 13, and the Asus ZenBook UX430U. It’s both powerful and energy efficient, and all of the manufacturers have managed to harness its capabilities with roughly equal degrees of success, as you can see from the similar results in our performance charts below.
On the all-encompassing PCMark 8 benchmark, which simulates use of productivity apps, web browsing, videoconferencing, and other common tasks, each PC received a score of 3,000 or above, indicating excellent performance. The more specialized multimedia tests offered similar results, although the XPS 13 is both a few seconds faster at converting a video file in Handbrake and slightly more efficient at rendering a 3D simulation in Cinebench. Conversely, the 720s beat the Dell when it came to applying a series of filters in Photoshop, but the difference here was also only a few seconds (3:06 vs. 2:58).
Even though it costs the same as the 720s, the MacBook Air is woefully underpowered as a result of its ancient fifth-generation Core i5 processor (the Core i7-8550U is from the latest eighth generation). That means the closest Apple alternative to the 720s, at least in terms of computing performance, is a MacBook Pro that costs several hundred dollars more. The MacBook Air’s one advantage is battery life. It clocked in at 16 hours and 26 minutes on our rundown test, compared with 13:55 for the 720s and just 9:29 for the XPS 13 (which was handicapped here by its power-sucking 4K display).
See How We Test Laptops
If you like the 720s but want to play graphics-intensive video games, you should consider ordering a configuration with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti, which comes with a 15-inch screen and starts at the same $999 price. Like all of its competitors with an integrated graphics chip, the version we reviewed is woefully inadequate for playing the latest titles, although less-demanding games like Dota or Minecraft should run adequately. Only the XPS 13 managed to record a frame rate better than the 30 frames per second we call the absolute minimum for enjoyable gaming, and it only achieved this on one test (the Valley benchmark) when the quality settings were dialed down to medium.
Make It Your Own
The 13-inch Lenovo IdeaPad 720s isn’t the first ultraportable to include powerful components and a brilliant screen all while being exceptionally light and thin. It manages to do all this without costing an arm and a leg, and while still offering an extensive array of customization options. No matter your use scenario, you’re likely to find a configuration of the 720s that you’ll be happy you brought home. On the other hand, the Dell XPS 13 manages to eke out slightly better performance from the same components and include a beautiful design as well, so it remains our current pick as the best ultraportable you can buy.
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