Lenovo has always had a certain knack for producing some of the most reliable, ergonomic and slender ultraportables on the market (see ThinkPad X301 and ThinkPad X200). But they've always had one issue: prices that ring up at well over a grand. Where's the killer ThinkPad ultraportable for the rest of us been? Well hello, ThinkPad Edge 13 – a thin, light Intel ULV powered laptop with an entirely new design that starts at $549. Yes, $549. But at that price point and with some serious changes to some traditional elements can it live up to the ThinkPad quality that we've been accustomed to for years? And can it stand out in the overpopulated CULV-based laptop market? We spent a couple days putting a spec'd-up $899 model through our daily grind -- read on for our full review.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13

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Look and feel

When we pulled the Edge from its box the glossy black lid actually prompted us to check and make sure it hadn't come from HP or ASUS. Nope, this isn't your father's ThinkPad: gone are the classic scratch-proof, matte lid, dark metal hinges and right angled edges. And though die-hard ThinkPad fans may scoff at some of the more modern design elements, like like the optional ruby red color and the red LED in the ThinkPad logo (like that on the ThinkPad SL series), overall we're impressed with the aesthetics and the solid build quality of the budget system.

Though the 1.2-inch thick Edge isn't as thin as some other modern ultraportables, like the inch-thick ASUS UL30A and ThinkPad X200, at 3.5 pounds it feels extremely light in a hand and it slipped nicely into a backpack for a weekend trip. Ports-wise it's a standard affair; scattered along the right and left edges are three USB ports, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, a SD card slot and a hybrid audio plug for headphones and/or a mic. Like most other CULV machines, there isn't an optical drive.

You may want to sit down for this change though: when you open the ThinkPad Edge a chiclet-style keyboard stares you in the face. Yes, Lenovo's scratched the traditional, flush matte keyboard that's been associated with the brand since its inception for the new trendy style. Though initially we were hesitant about the change, after days of typing on the spill-resistant, curved keys – Lenovo calls them "keycaped" – we think it's a terrific move. We can't emphasize enough how much we like the typing experience; the firm keys and the way our fingers molded to them just felt right.

Thankfully Lenovo has still kept the infamous TrackPoint, but for those who prefer a touchpad, below is a fairly large multitouch pad with two, firm dedicated right and left mouse buttons. Two-finger scrolling was quite responsive, but we disabled the pinch-to-zoom function since it was overly sensitive when we had two fingers on the pad at the same time.

The 1366 x 768-resolution 13.3-inch screen is surrounded by a seemingly unnecessary thick bezel -- which actually raises the screen up by an inch -- but the screen itself is sufficiently bright and vibrant. Above the display is a low-light webcam like the one found on HP Envy 15, which displayed our face fairly clearly during a video call in a dimly lit room. The creepiness of this function is not unchanged, however.

Performance, battery life and software

Performance-wise, we've got nothing to complain about, as the Edge compares favorably to other CULV laptops we've reviewed. With a 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive our $899 version ran Windows 7 Professional without a hiccup and didn't lag when we had Firefox, Microsoft Word 20078, GIMP, TweetDeck and iTunes all open and running. (The $549 version contains an AMD processor, 2GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive and a three-cell battery.)

Like most ULV laptops the Edge lies somewhere in between a netbook and a higher-end Core 2 Duo laptop. The Edge notched 1,637 on GeekBench, whereas the Atom-powered Eee PC 1005PE scored 942, and the ASUS UL30A, which is powered by the same SU7300 processor, a slightly higher 1,705. When it comes to graphics the GMA 4500M card isn't going to be a gaming demon, but it was capable of streaming the Avatar YouTube HD trailer and a 1080p QuickTime video smoothly.

GeekBench 3DMark06 Battery Life
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 1637 905 5:12
ASUS UL30A 1705 765 6:25
ASUS Eee PC 1005PE (Intel Atom N450) 942 157 8:10

Lenovo's battery life prediction of seven hours is pretty on the mark. Its six-cell, 63Whr battery lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes on our video rundown test, and 6.5 hours with the screen at near-full brightness and WiFi on while listening to Slacker and typing in Microsoft Word 20078. Though it's not as long-lasting as some netbooks or the ASUS UL30A, it's still commendable for a 13-inch laptop.

Lenovo ships a pretty crapware free laptop, but does include its proprietary ThinkVantage wireless and battery tools. We discovered that our review unit was WiMax compatible while poking around the Access Connections wireless software; too bad there's no WiMax signal within miles of our location in New York, but this is a laptop review and not a Sprint/Clear one.

Wrap-up

As far as we're concerned there's no reason to preserve tradition for the sake of it -- especially when you can save some cash by tweaking the formula. Sure, the ThinkPad Edge 13 may not carry some of the premium features of the X301 or other higher-end ThinkPads, but for a budget ultraportable we've got very little to complain about. Of course, there are other options on the market, like the $799 ASUS UL30A with slightly longer battery life and the $825 ASUS UL80Vt with discrete graphics, but this ThinkPad has the edge with a superb feeling keyboard, better build quality and comparable CULV performance.
Lenovo

ThinkPad Edge 13

Pros

  • Brand new ThinkPad design
  • Amazing feeling chiclet keyboard
  • Over five hours of battery life

Cons

  • Glossy screen
  • More pricey than other ULV laptops
  • Thicker than other ULVs
Conclusion

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