For some people, a laptop needs to be a full-fledged computer that offers some portability as a secondary factor. For others, portability takes center stage at the expense of performance. Ideally, we’d like to have both, but a certain amount of compromise is always necessary.
A solid entry in the 12-inch ultraportable category of laptops, the $819 Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s could be an excellent choice for someone looking for a compact yet still highly capable business computer. While its 12.5-inch screen might seem like an odd middle ground between tiny and full-size, in practice it offers a broader screen experience while slotting into a laptop that feels more like a subcompact.
The ThinkPad Edge brand emerged last year as a redesigned small business-oriented line, updating the classic, staid ThinkPad look with sleeker features. The E220s is a refinement and a high-end alternative, with an edge-to-edge glossy display, improved sound, and a more upscale feel. Yet, at a starting price of $749, it’s still affordable for its size. Compared with a thin 13-incher like the Samsung Series 9, it’s a downright steal, considering the same second-generation Core i5-2537M processor is inside.
Sure, ThinkPad shopping can be a bit of headache when you factor in all the various sizes and configurations out there. The ThinkPad X220 also has a 12-inch screen, but a faster CPU and a higher price. The ThinkPad X120e starts more affordably, but is thicker and has a slower CPU. The Edge E220s might be the one in the middle that feels just right. Even compared with the highly hyped Lenovo ThinkPad X1, with its larger screen, sturdier build, and faster processor, we preferred the Edge E220s: its lighter weight, more affordable price, and better (but still not fantastic) battery life seemed like more useful features for business travelers looking to lighten their load.
|Price as reviewed / starting price
|$819 / $749
|1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M
|4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM
|Intel HD 3000
|Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
|Screen size (diagonal)
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter
|3.3 pounds / 4.0 pounds
ThinkPads seem to be undergoing a design evolution that’s slowly seeping into the whole product line. The Edge series was the start of the ThinkPad redesign, introducing a new, modern raised island-style keyboard and larger touch pad, along with a sleeker chassis. While recent laptops including the ThinkPad X1 have also appropriated this new look, we find the Edge series comes off slightly more relaxed.
Earlier in 2011, we reviewed the IdeaPad U260, a stylish Lenovo consumer-oriented laptop with slick looks and a 12.5-inch screen, but an underwhelming battery. The ThinkPad Edge E220s offers a newer, faster CPU, a better battery, and nearly the same size and feel.
The ThinkPad Edge E220s is covered top to bottom with a rubberized finish that’s soft to the touch, similar to that of the IdeaPad U260 and ThinkPad X1. While the E220s looks like it is black at first glance, under the right light it looks like a very, very dark green. It’s a different tone than the keyboard, which is true black. A chromed plastic edge lines the top lid and the keyboard deck, highlighting the curved lines around the front lip.
Inside, the keyboard-to-palm-rest proportion seems perfect: a full raised keyboard isn’t quite edge-to-edge, but doesn’t waste space, while the palm rests flank a medium-size square multitouch click pad. The glossy 12.5-inch display is covered with edge-to-edge glass, and it looks sharp: it’s a clean overall effect. However, the Edge has a little more flex and plastic in its chassis than the tanklike roll-cage construction of the ThinkPad X1. It’s a different product–the X1 is more expensive and a larger laptop–but it bears mentioning. The Edge E220s is a perfect marriage of size and design for its weight class; this is the sort of laptop we’d prefer to carry in our bag on a daily basis.
We’re big fans of the ThinkPad Edge keyboard design, and the E220s’ keyboard feels as good as we remember. Lenovo’s variation on the raised keyboard uses slightly concave keys, which offer a more centered feel when typing fast. The ThinkPad X1 had a similar keyboard that felt a bit crisper, but we found typing on the Edge E220s to be a breeze. Instead of a backlit keyboard, the E220s has a small overhead LED light that shines down from the upper lid (which some ThinkPads have had for years) to illuminate the keyboard and surrounding area. It’s actually a very smart idea for plane travel–it’s cozy, like a book light for ThinkPads.
Similarly, the improved click-pad design on this ThinkPad Edge solves the reduced finger-space problem introduced by the red rubber trackpoint and its included discrete buttons. The red nub, a perennial ThinkPad offering, isn’t something we use, but some business travelers swear by it. That red nub sits between the G, H, and B keys on the keyboard, but the addition of three accompanying physical buttons below the space bar used to crowd the track pad when it, too, used discrete buttons. Now, the free space feels better proportioned. The smooth click-pad surface responds well and has cleanly clicking zones on the bottom, although it collects fingerprint smudges.
A fingerprint reader on the right palm rest can be set to any finger for biometric log-ins without passwords. The rest of the interior of the Edge E220s is button-free, with the exception of the power button on the upper right. Media controls such as volume and screen brightness are executed with the function button strip on the keyboard, and are function-reversed, and you can simply press the volume key directly.
The glossy 16:9-ratio 12.5-inch screen on the ThinkPad Edge E220s has a pretty standard-for-laptops resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, which looks sharper on the slightly smaller screen than it does on a 13-inch laptop. Screen brightness is above average, although the viewing angles degenerate quickly when the screen is tilted too far. Then again, the Edge E220s’s top lid only opens up about 135 degrees instead of the near-180 tilting on some ThinkPads. Basically, this means you’ll likely be viewing the E220s’ screen head-on most of the time, anyway.
The stereo speakers situated in a grilled bar above the keyboard are enhanced with Dolby sound. This makes a difference when listening to movies and music: while it’s not enthusiast-level, this is one of the best-sounding tiny ThinkPads we’ve encountered. Volume levels get loud, and we made do with just half-volume most of the time.
Being a “premium” level ThinkPad Edge, the E220s not surprisingly comes with an HD Web cam that’s better than you’d normally find on a 12-inch-class laptop. The maximum 1,280×720-pixel-resolution camera has good contrast and light sensitivity, and Lenovo’s Web conferencing audio settings have pro features such as keyboard noise suppression.
|VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
|Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack
|Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
|2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, SD card slot
|3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
|Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WiMax/mobile broadband
|Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
The selection of ports on the ThinkPad Edge E220s is more than suitable for its size–in fact, it matches what you’d find on most 13-inch and larger laptops. Three USB 2.0 ports–one of which is an eSATA combo–are efficiently placed along the sides, along with VGA and HDMI. USB 3.0 isn’t present, but most people don’t even use it yet. Bluetooth (a $20 extra) and the presence of Intel Wireless Display (a feature on a great number of Intel-powered 2011 laptops that requires a sold-separately receiver box for your TV) offer additional connectivity options. A rear SIM card slot is easily accessible for 3G broadband-enabled configurations. WiMax is available as an option for an extra $55.
Our configuration of the Edge E220s came with a Core i5-2537M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive, which currently costs $819 on Lenovo’s Web site. The E220s starts at $749, with a Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB, 5400rpm hard drive. Windows 7 Professional costs an extra $50 to preinstall; upgrading from 2GB to 4GB of RAM costs $80; upgrading from a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive to 320GB and 7,200rpm costs $70; or, a 128GB SSD option costs $350.