Sure, the word is that ultraportables – or 11- to 13-inch laptops – aren't selling particularly well, but that hasn't stopped Lenovo. In fact, the company's had a particular obsession with 11.6-inch lappies over the last six months or so, but sadly each has massively disappointed. Adamantly claiming not to be a netbook, there was first the ThinkPad X100e, which we found to be great in terms of design and size, but seriously hurting (literally!) in thermals and endurance. Then there was the IdeaPad U160, which packed Core i7 CPU power, but had a rather dreadful three hours of battery life. But the third time's got to be the charm, right? The ThinkPad Edge 11 has the same chassis as the other Edge laptops, which hold a special place in our heart, but is powered by an ultra-low voltage 1.33GHz Core i3 U380 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. It's not too shabby for its $549 starting price (the AMD-powered version starts at $449), but has Lenovo learned from the past? Is this the 11-inch notbook (our new term for a machine that looks like a netbook, but is way more powerful) to rival the rest? Read on to find out in our full review.
If the ThinkPad X100e and the ThinkPad Edge 13 swapped DNA – we'll let you use your imagination as to how that could happen -- the resulting offspring would look a heck of a lot like the ThinkPad Edge 11. The 1.1-inch thick / 3.3-pound laptop is about the same size and weight as the X100e, but it's got the Edge's glossy lid, silver edges and red LED implanted in the ThinkPad logo. As you'd expect for the under $500 starting price, the machine is still made primarily of plastic, but it's still got the ThinkPad heritage with an overall sturdy feel and metal hinges. Obviously, you've noticed by now that our unit was adorned with a glossy cherry red cover -- if that's not your thing, it'll also be available in a glossy and matte black.
We're still of the mindset that 11.6-inch laptops are an ideal size – the Edge 11 isn't as small or cramped as a 10-inch netbook, but it's still light and slender enough to fit into a small shoulder bag and leaves some extra room on the airline tray table. (Although we still started longing for our larger-screened 13-inch machine after about four hours of use.) We're not thrilled that the Edge 11 has a vertically-protruding battery bump like the x100e, but at least this time it pays off in runtime. Fear not, we'll be coming back to that soon enough, but now we've got to tell you what ports surround this sucker – there are three USB sockets along with combo headphone / mic, VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet jacks.
Keyboard, touchpad and screen
At this point, our love for Lenovo's new "keycaped" chiclet keyboards should be quite well known. The black, matte curved keys are just downright glorious and feel as if they've been molded especially for our fingertips. We typed the entirety of this review on the Edge and found the panel to be quite firm and void of any flex or bounce. The keys actually have just the right amount of give. You'll also notice in the gallery that the function buttons have been shrunken down, but have been adorned with icons of associated shortcuts. Additionally, there are two full sized Shift keys, which meant not having to make any adjustments to our usual hand positioning. Clearly, we have very deep feelings for this keyboard.
Like the X100e, the Edge has the signature red ThinkPad TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard and a smaller touchpad below. We're pointing stick or nub people – call it what you'd like -- but the touchpad is decently sized if that's your thing. Unfortunately, it's not dimpled like most of the other ThinkPads.The multitouch capabilities are finicky, though we got the hang of two-finger scrolling in Internet Explorer 9 after a bit of trial and error.
Sadly, Lenovo didn't take the X100e's matte screen -- instead, the Edge has glossy 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-resolution display. A 720p Social Network trailer was plenty bright and clear, but, as per usual, tilting the screen back caused Justin Timberlake's face to blend in with the background. Horizontal viewing angles were also narrow, but tolerable when sharing the screen with a friend. Similar to the Edge 13, the top screen bezel is home to a low-light webcam, which displayed our face fairly clearly during a video call in a dark room. And yes, this "feature" never ceases to creep us out. The speaker strip on the front lip of the machine produced decently loud sound, but didn't seem a loud as the speakers on the Dell Inspiron M101z.
Performance, graphics and battery life
The Edge 11's 1.33GHz Core i3 U380 and 2GB of RAM performed just as you'd expect. We had no issues running multiple programs -- including TweetDeck, Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft Word 2010, GIMP -- and throwing a 720p clip into the mix didn't make it gasp for air. How does it compare to other 11.6-inch laptops we've reviewed lately with AMD's new Nile platform? We can't say we felt the difference between the Edge 11 and the dual-core AMD powered Inspiron M101z, though the benchmarks show that the Core i3-powered ThinkPad has a slight "edge."
Graphics-wise the Edge relies on Intel GMA HD graphics, which is fine for playing back 720p or 1080p video, but unsurprisingly not meant for slaying someone looking to play Civilization V. According to the benchmarks, AMD's integrated ATI graphics are still more powerful than Intel's integrated card.
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11
Dell Inspiron M101z (Athlon II Neo K325)
ASUS Eee PC 1215N
Acer Aspire One 721 (Athlon II Neo K125)
Lenovo IdeaPad U160 (Core i7 ULV)
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (AMD Athlon Neo)
ASUS UL50Vf (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)
827 / 3438
Alienware M11x (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)
654 / 5593
So, how's the battery life on this one? That's what you've been waiting for, right? Undoubtedly, it's better than both the U160 and the X100e. The 63Whr six-cell battery lasted for four hours and 42 minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same standard definition video at 65 percent brightness and WiFi on. That translated to about five hours and 15 minutes of cord-free computing when just using the system to chat with friends, check Twitter / websites and write this very review in Word. The runtime is actually better than any of the AMD Nile ultraportables we've reviewed, but obviously not as long as most Atom-powered netbooks with similar batteries. Still, it's a major step in the right direction for these sorts of machines. Also, we should mention we saw no heat issues when testing the Edge 11 – the keyboard stayed cool as did the bottom of the system when working with it on our lap in bed.
See what happens when you stick with it? Yes, the third time is certainly the charm for Lenovo when it comes to its 11.6-inch laptops. The Edge 11 solves all the major issues we had with the X100e – the little thing didn't double as a space heater and lasted for over five hours on a single charge all the while providing the performance we expect. All that, along with the Edge 11's dapper design and loveable keyboard puts it at the top of our 11.6-inch laptop list with the Dell Inspiron M101z -- we just wish the 11 were available on this side of the Atlantic.