Review: Lenovo LaVie Z 360

Introduction and design

In the race to make laptops smaller, thinner and lighter than ever, 2015 has been an exciting year. Dell brought out a stunning machine with the Dell XPS 13, squeezing a 13-inch screen into an 11-inch frame. Apple, on the other hand, sought to reinvent the laptop with a brand new 12-inch MacBook, which squeezed an iPhone 6-sized logic board into its all-aluminum frame while introducing a redesigned keyboard and trackpad.

Now, Lenovo has brought forth its own contender with the Lenovo LaVie Z 360. Weighing in at only 2.04 pounds (0.93 kg), the paper weight on your desk is probably heavier than this 13-inch, 2-in-1 laptop. However, unlike other thin-and-light hybrid machines like the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi and the firm’s own Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, it hasn’t given up ports or performance in the name of portability.

Inside of this 0.67-inch thick machine, you’ll find an Intel Core i7 processor plus two USB 3.0 ports and full-size SD card reader. While it’s amazing that Lenovo has managed to squeeze so much into such a thin and light frame, the Lenovo LaVie Z has sacrificed too much in the ways of battery life and build quality to get there.

http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/laptops-portable-pcs/laptops-and-netbooks/lenovo-lavie-z-360-1298894/review

Design

"Is this thing real?" was a question my friends all asked me when I handed them the LaVie Z 360. The laptop truly is so light that you might think you actually bought one of those mock laptops from an Ikea showroom.

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, because the LaVie Z 360 weighs a hair over 2 pounds. This makes the LaVie Z 360 a pound lighter than just about every other 13-inch laptop. The only notebook to weigh less is the new MacBook, which sacrificed everything from full-size USB ports to a traditional keyboard and trackpad to reach its 2.03 pound (0.92 kg) goal.

Now, that light weight comes as both a blessing and curse. On one hand, you’ll barely notice this laptop is even in your bag because it is just that light. That said, the laptop feels genuinely hollow, and it creeks easily under pressure – even if you’re just holding it with your hand. Worse yet, the entire device feels like it’s comprised of flimsy plastic rather than the magnesium-lithium chassis it’s actually made of.

The laptop even looks cheap. Lenovo is usually good about making its machines look premium, even if they’re meant to be budget devices, with interesting quirks like brushed plastic panels or a minimalistic design.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

The LaVie Z 360, on the other hand, appears as if it was glued together. The laptop features plenty of naked panel lines with an especially prominent end cap, which clearly runs across the front lip and loops around the touchpad. If that weren’t striking enough, the display appears as if under a thin sheet of plastic. The clear film appears to bend and warp at certain places. With the test unit sent to TechRadar, I could most prominently see and feel dents in two places along the base of the screen.

It’s off the mark, compared to the solid build quality I expect from a ThinkPad or even the Flex series, but that can be mostly attributed to the fact that – technically – this isn’t a Lenovo device at all. Rather, this is a device manufactured by a Lenovo-partnered Japanese electronics firm named NEC, which Lenovo then went on to market and distribute in the US and elsewhere in the western world.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Shimmering pixels

The plastic screen Lenovo chose to go with doesn’t just look bad, it also hampers the underlying quality of the display. Reflections, for one thing, are an absolute nightmare, as the plastic sheen catches every speck of light. If you’ve watched any of the recent Star Trek films, like lens flare, these small bright spots annoyingly obscure anything you’re trying to look at on the display.

The glossy display is a real downgrade from the matte screen seen on the Z 360’s non-convertible kin, the Lenovo LaVie Z, which TechRadar’s Juan Martinez felt was the best he had ever tested. Unfortunately, having a shimmering sheen is an unavoidable pitfall when you add a touchscreen to the equation.

The screen itself is pretty decent but definitely not the best I’ve seen. While the backlight is more than adequately bright enough to be kept at 50% most of the time, be prepared to see a whole lot of yourself when you take this laptop outside. The display turns into a mirror under sunlight. Colors on this screen are decent, but they have a habit of being too washed out, which unfortunately makes this an unreliable platform for image editing.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Bar none, the worst thing about the multimedia experience on the LaVie Z 360 is that it seems to be outfitted with the tiniest and tinniest-sounding speakers Lenovo could source. It’s not an exaggeration to call them the worst speakers I’ve ever encountered on a laptop. Sound projects as if the device were setup with a mono-only channel that mostly comes pouring out of its right side.

The audio quality is so bad it may as well be on par with trying to listening through the ear speaker on a smartphone. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the underlying speakers were that small, given that they’re crammed into the front lip of the laptop.

Specifications and value

The Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is by far one of the daintiest laptops in the world, weighing in at only 2.04 pounds (0.93 kg). It’s far lighter than the 3.26-pound HP Spectre x360 and even more so compared to the 3.31-pound Acer Aspire R13. Even the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro and Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi outweigh the Lenovo hybrid – at 2.62 pounds and 3.14 pounds, respectively – despite both machines adopting thinner, fanless designs.

In terms of footprint size, the Z 360 is also fairly compact, measuring 12.56 x 8.35 x 0.67 inches or 319 x 212 x 17mm (W x D x H). It’s narrower, but a bit thicker than the 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63-inch (324 x 218 x 16mm) Spectre x360. The Acer Aspire R13 is by far the bulkiest out of this trio, with a 13.54 x 9.07 x 0.71-inch (344 x 230 x 180mm) frame.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Spec Sheet

Here is the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

  • CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 (1,600 MHz)
  • Screen: 13.3-inch, WQHD 2,560 x 1,440 IPS multi-touch
  • Storage: 256GB SSD m.2 SATA
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI-out, SD card reader, headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Connectivity: Intel Wireless 7265 (2 x 2 dual band) AC
  • Camera: 720p HD
  • Weight: 2.04 pounds
  • Size: 12.56 x 8.35 x 0.67 inches (W x D x H)

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

The Lenovo LaVie Z 360 only comes in one configuration, as listed above, and it comes priced at an extravagant $1,599 (about £1,026, AU$2,138). That’s pretty dang expensive for any laptop, let alone a machine that feels too flimsy for its exorbitant premium and promises a scant six hours of battery life.

For $1,399 (or AU$2,399), you could pick up a top-end HP Spectre x360 rocking an upgraded 2,560 x 1,440 display, the same processor plus twice the amount of solid-state storage space. A slightly less impressive Spectre x360 outfitted with only an Intel Core i7-5600U processor and 256GB of flash storage is also available in the UK for £1,225.

With a $1,499 budget, you could pick up an Acer Aspire R13 with all the same bells and whistles as the Z 360, plus twice the amount of flash storage. Unfortunately, readers in the UK and Australia can only pick up this 2-in-1 laptop with a 1,920 x 1,080 display and 256GB SSD for £799 or AU$1,999.

Performance and features

While the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 might be light in terms of poundage, it’s undoubtedly heavy on performance. Thanks to a high-end Intel Core i7 processor beating at the heart of this machine, you can easily multitask across a dozen tabs in a web browser with plenty of office applications crunching worksheets at the same time. Lightroom users in particular will love the speed at which the Z 360 can open and process files, though again, a lackluster display hampers this experience.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 5,140; Sky Diver: 2,661; Fire Strike: 723
  • Cinebench CPU: 285 points; Graphics: 23 fps,
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,379 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 11 minutes

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Benchmark numbers put the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 at the top of the heap, and that’s really not so surprising considering its processor is a few steps ahead of the competition. The performance gap is most evident looking at the difference between the Z 360’s Cinebench score of 285 compared to the HP Spectre x360‘s 257 point score. Although the Acer Aspire R13 comes sporting the same exact CPU as Lenovo’s convertible, its Cinebench score hovered around a paltry 207 points.

Similarly, the Z 360 is a cut above its competitors on the graphics front. While the Z 360 completed the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark test with 723 points, the Aspire R13 trails behind with 656 points – while Spectre x360 is in last with 621 points. In short, these scores mean the Z 360 is better suited to play games and handle other visually intensive tasks.

For instance, I was able to play Hearthstone on high settings and full resolution, using the LaVie hybrid as an oversized tablet. No matter how explosive the action got, I never ran into any instances of slowdown or stuttering.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Troublesome convertible

While most convertible laptops, like the Spectre x360 and Aspire R13, support multiple modes of usage, the Z 360 is designed only to switch between being a landscape-oriented tablet and PC. This means you pretty much have the option of using the machine as a regular notebook with the keyboard beneath your fingers or turn the screen all the way back and use it as a widescreen tablet.

Or maybe not.

In my time testing the LaVie Z 360, the laptop’s accelerometers would sometimes jolt into life, and the screen would rotate depending on the machine’s orientation. I contacted Lenovo just to be sure this wasn’t a bug, to which a representative noted that the Z 360 "only operates in laptop and tablet modes and is not meant for tent and stand modes."

So, in essence, the LaVie Z 360 not only fails to be as versatile as other 2-in-1 machines, it’s only by some malfunction that the screen can auto-rotate like any good hybrid machine should.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Who designed this?

The only thing worse than the chintzy feel of the LaVie Z 360 is its keyboard. While the mushy keys and little travel are small annoyances, the completely alien layout of the keyboard (not following an American, European or even Japanese layout) is by far the worst design choice. Instead of a full sized backspace key, you’ll find a smaller one that’s made room for a forward space key.

Clearly, this is not Lenovo’s signature AccuType keyboard. Rather, this is NEC’s design.

Other instrumental commands, like the insert and delete keys, meanwhile, have been jammed tightly into the bottom row, taking up precious space typically reserved for the space bar. All together, these little quirks add up to a terrible typing experience that you can get used to, but not without having to look down to locate the delete key every time.

Lenovo LaVie Z 360 review

Short fuse

After our usual PCMark 8 synthetic battery test spat out a battery life of 3 hours and 11 minutes, I wasn’t very confident I could get even a half day of use out of the Z 360. Lenovo claims its 2-in-1 can last up to 9 hours, but no matter how few programs I ran, I only got a maximum 5 hours and 51 minutes of usage out of the laptop. It’s an unimpressive total, considering I ran the laptop at half brightness with only a few Firefox tabs, writing a document in Microsoft Word and chatting with co-workers on Hipchat.

Running down the laptop a second time using some more intensive programs, such as Lightroom, further hampered the battery life to an even more disappointing 3 hours and 52 minutes.

With the Aspire R13, you can expect to get much better numbers, with seven hours of continuous usage, based on our tests. The Spectre x360 can also easily outlast the LaVie Z 360, with battery life ranging from six hours (or nine according to HP).

Lenovo’s hybrid laptop might be the lightest in the world, but it’s clear this machine has lost a significant portion of its battery to make that happen.

Bundled software

The Z 360 comes with a surprisingly light offering of preloaded applications despite Lenovo’s expansive business suite. Lenovo Reach and QuickControl are among the curious omissions, but Share It still comes pre-installed, offering users an alternative to Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive. More importantly, you’ll want to launch System Update along with downloading all the appropriate patches for Windows 8.1 once it’s out of the box.

Verdict

The Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is a marvel that’s been marred with missteps. On the one hand, Lenovo has achieved much bringing us the world’s lightest 2-in-1 laptop that is a performance beast in its own right.

But on the other, between the disappointing build quality, poor battery life and questionable keyboard choice, this machine’s many flaws make its exorbitant price tough to justify.

We liked

Aside from weighing nearly nothing in your bag, the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is by far one of the easiest 2-in-1 laptops to hold up as a tablet device. It truly is astounding how light this notebook is. Despite nearly matching the new MacBook as the biggest loser, the Z 360 a much fuller featured machine with full-size ports and a processor with bite.

We disliked

The Lenovo LaVie Z 360 has a long list of sins that tarnish this otherwise revolutionary device. Firstly, for $1,599 (about £1,026, AU$2,138), this machine should feel much more solid and not like it’s made of shallow plastic.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with the laptop is the bizzaro keyboard that likely won’t irk just me. Worse yet, the battery simply does not last long enough. To top it off, the subpar screen and abysmal speakers are both thing you will have to contend with day in and out.

Final verdict

Ultimately, the Lenovo LaVie Z 360’s asking price is too high for what it actually is. Sure, it’s lighter than any 2-in-1 laptop on Earth, but the cuts made to get there have severely hamper its versatility. If you’re looking for a machine that offers more modes of use, then the HP Spectre x360 and, more so, the Acer Aspire R13 should be up your alley. Both of these rivals are also better choices if you’re looking for a longer lasting machine, especially the Spectre x360.

Carrying the LaVie Z 360 was a joy for several weeks – not having worry about a sore shoulder was fantastic. But Lenovo’s hybrid simply sacrificed too much for that nicety.

If Lenovo continues the LaVie line, somehow introducing a larger battery,going with a more rigid shell and returning to its beloved keyboard would go a long way in making the next Z 360 a more useable machine. Yes, even if that means losing the coveted "world’s lightest" title.

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