With tablets and full-size laptops as pervasive as they are, it can be easy to forget that — for a few years there, at least — netbooks were all the rage. And why wouldn’t they be? What they lacked in pure power, they made up for with portability and cost-effectiveness. It’s no wonder some people get nostalgic over them; we just didn’t expect them to be in a position to pitch new products at Lenovo. Enter the NEC Lavie Mini: a sort of modern take on the classic netbook that, with the right accessories, doubles as a Switch-style game console.
Just let all that sink in for a moment.
To be absolutely clear, the Lavie Mini doesn’t properly exist yet — it’s a concept design cooked up by Lenovo its and sub-brand NEC, and there’s no guarantee that it will ever actually be made. Still, it’s hard not to appreciate just how delightfully odd this thing is. The Lavie Mini sports an 8-inch touchscreen running at 1900x1200, one of Intel’s 11th-gen i7-1180G7 processors, 16GB of LPDDR4x 4266MHz RAM, a 256GB m.2 SSD, two USB 3.1 Type-C ports, and an optical touch sensor in place of a proper trackpad, plus a tiny keyboard with curious, circular keys. (You’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of the Lofree; we did the same thing.)
The jury’s still out on how usable the Lavie Mini will actually feel because — again — it only exists as a protoype right now. Still, Lenovo and NEC hope that its gamer chops will be enough to help the idea find purchase. If on-the-go gaming is your main priority, you’ll be able to attach a pair of wireless controllers to the Lavie Mini’s sides, turning it into an ersatz Switch. (Just, you know, one with full access to your Steam library.) Meanwhile, if at-home play is more your speed, Lenovo says you can plop the Lavie Mini into an optional dock with extra USB ports and an HDMI-out for proper, 4K60 gameplay on your television.
As strange as the Lavie Mini might seem at first glance, Lenovo is far from alone in exploring the intersection between gaming PC and handheld console. Boutique PC makers like GPD have developed a cult following for building tiny computers with buttons and thumbsticks built directly into the chassis, and back at CES 2020, we saw Dell test the waters with its own Switch-like UFO concept. That said, anyone who thinks the Lavie Mini has a shot at production because another major PC maker also found the idea worth pursuing should note that Dell hasn’t said a single word about the UFO since last January.
Thankfully, Lenovo is no stranger to weirdo laptops — the half-e-ink Yoga Book C930 springs to mind, as does last year’s ThinkBook Plus. That the company ushered these out of the concept phase, through development, and onto store shelves should give new Lavie fans some hope; they’re solid proof that Lenovo commits to the bit. In the short term, though, if you want a Lavie machine, you’ll have to settle for the Lenovo and NEC’s Lavie Pro Mobile.
At first glance, the Pro Mobile is as practical as the Mini is whimsical. The fact that it packs Intel’s i7-1165G7 chipset with 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM and integrated Xe graphics should give the Pro Mobile the oomph to handle most road warrior workloads, but let’s be honest: the real draw here is just how portable this thing is. In addition to a 13.3-inch display and a six-row keyboard with 1.5mm of key travel, the Pro Mobile’s (partially carbon fiber) body weighs a shade under two pounds and is just 0.66 inches thick. The only drawback? Lenovo says you can expect up to ten hours of use from the Pro Mobile’s 49Wh battery, which is by no means stunning for a $1,700 laptop.