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Lenovo B575 Laptop Review


Introduction:
I picked up the Lenovo B575 from Best Buy for $299.99 about a week ago today and in that time I've had a decent amount of time spent with it, learning its little foibles. The reason why I bought it was simple: I wasn't able to get done what needed to get done, and with Finals looming overhead, I quickly came up with a list of requisites I wish to have in a computer, a tentative budget and began looking locally. (The thought of return shipping and dealing with a non-local entity didn't quite appeal to me.)


HDMI was the main stickler. If a computer couldn't output to HDMI, at least with an adapter, then it was deemed outdated. Chiclet-style keys, not the super-cheap netbook but higher-quality Lenovo Thinkpad Edge- or Apple-style were what I had in mind. Design was key as well- I wanted utilitarian simplicity. I didn't want to pay an Apple premium and thankfully this wasn't even a consideration since my budget was right about three hundred dollars. Lastly I valued portability and ease of carrying highly. The options left to me that were new were, quite frankly, non-existent at first. I had begun to fixate on the idea of an 11-to-13 inch netbook / ultraportable, due to my uncontrollable urge to own a Lenovo X120e. That computer ruled itself out with its slightly premium price tag and online-only availability, which was further made worse by the ridiculously large amount of time between ordering and shipping.

When my boss at work suggested I consider a full-size laptop, I was hesitant. I knew what Windows-based laptops entailed: boring, cheap and hallow plastic frames with silly outdated designs and accents. Things made glossy for the sake of covering up the cheapness of their material composition. You know what I'm talking about... glossy keyboards, palm-rests, trackpads and LCD-surrounds. Sometimes an entire computer is made of glossy plastic. Sure, the computer might look extra shiny and new in the store, but attempting to use the thing under any direct light results in a glare nightmare. And what of a glossy trackpad or keyboard? Fingers actually do better on matte surfaces in terms being slick and sliding over them.

The alternative was to buy expensive or buy a business-class laptop. (Often they are the same thing.) Lenovo. HP or Dell's business-lines. But they cost a lot for the advantage of simplicity. So I could go used. There are deals to be had there, as I've found a two-year-old HP ProBook for about fifty dollars less than what I bought this Lenovo for, that I snubbed in favor of the Lenovo (but may pick up later on; keep reading).

However I'm a stickler for new. So when I found an 11-inch Acer Aspire One at Target for about $340 with all of the requisites, I decided I'd give it a chance and started to plan an outing to go get it. A quick search of Best Buy before we got in the car, however, showed that I'd definitely be shooting myself in the foot. This Lenovo has the same (actually better) specs in almost every way, except for the size. I went down to my local Best Buy, demanded a machine that hadn't been "Best Buy Optimized" (read: opened first by employees and made more expensive), and took it home. What follows is the review.


Hardware:
Beginning with a quick walkthrough of the specs, here's what the Lenovo has built into it:
  • Lenovo Model: B575-1450ABU
  • AMD Dual-Core E-450 CPU @ 1.65 GHz
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 320GB 5,400rpm Hard-Drive
  • 15.6" LCD Display
  • AMD Radeon HD 6320 GPU (built into CPU)
  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi
  • Fingerprint Reader
On paper, the specs of the machine rival that of many computers one- or two-hundred dollars more expensive, and on those grounds alone this Lenovo is a great buy. In addition to the Fingerprint Reader the computer has some fancy login options involving the webcam, should that be of more appeal.

Externally, the computer is pretty well equipped. On the left side there's a Kensington lock port, the AC jack, VGA, HDMI, e-SATA and a USB 2.0 port to help keep things neat. By neat, I mean most people's setups using this machine should wind up being pretty neat and tidy since nearly all the necessary ports are located on just this one side. The front edge of the laptop has some activity indicator lights, a WiFi toggle switch and an SD reader, which is kind of nice.The right-hand side features another USB 2.0 port, the Ethernet jack, disk drive capable of writing DVDs in addition to CDs, another USB 2.0 port and headphone / microphone jacks. That's it- due to the design of the display hinge, no ports are found on the back.

On the keyboard deck, things are kept extremely simple. Two well-proportioned yet small speaker grills are found opposing each other above the keyboard. A power-button, which I initially never suspected of illuminating, as well as a one-touch system restore key are towards the left and some indicators for caps-lock, num-lock and hard-drive activity are towards the right, also above the keyboard. The keyboard itself is quite spacious, though off-center, which is a bit annoying. The num-pad that is responsible for this asymmetrical arrangement features smaller keys than the other keys on the keyboard, thus making them a bit less comfortable to use though still convenient when rapid number input is important. Then there is the very understated fingerprint reader in the palmrest dock. Due to the main keyboard's leftward bias, one's wrist palm and wrist should, in theory, never find themselves resting upon the reader.

The touchpad material feels much the same as that found on a ThinkPad laptop, with a touch scroll-bar on the right. The clickers themselves are separate from the pad and feature separately moving surfaces for the left- and right-click. Till the manufacturers of Windows-based computers can match Apple's trackpad in terms of multitouch precision, this is how all computers should be.

Flipping over the computer reveals some hardware serial number identification, a removable panel under which anything replaceable / upgradeable is hidden and the battery, which connects in a manner enabling an extended-life version that protrudes out the back of the laptop to be a possible upgrade.


Design Thoughts / Usage:

From the get-go I think it is important to make clear that I actually bought and own this laptop. For that to have occurred, the laptop obviously needed to impress me from both a performance perspective and a hardware-design perspective. For the most part, the B575 manages to do these things excellently. On paper it has specs I was after and face-to-face it doesn't offend me. The lid is very simple if not a bit overly chunky. That is to say, Lenovo definitely didn't skimp on the plastic, even though they most definitely used plastic as opposed to a more durable, premium and expensive metallic alternative. There is a very simple texture applied to the lid that is also found on the palmrest. Annoyingly, this texture doesn't photograph very well, meaning you'll need to take my word that it looks a lot better in person.

Where this laptop falters in the design department, is much of what's found once the laptop is opened. The glossy-plastic surround for the LCD is not necessary, even though this is one of the few laptops I've ever encountered where I can almost believe that the desired effect of appearing more expensive and flashy was successful. Still, I'd rather have seen simple matte plastic. To add insult to injury, the most-used part of the keyboard is off-center, resulting in an annoyingly persistent urge to constantly adjust the laptop when using it. Either center the screen with one's position and extend one's right arm farther than the left in order to type, or center the keyboard and put the display off-center. Or find a middle-ground. It is awkward, and the numpad is to blame.

Further faults of the laptop arise from its indicator lights. The ones found on the keyboard deck make sense enough, but those found on the front edge are bordering on the excessive and pointless. One of them indicates that the computer is turned on, while the other tells whether or not the battery is charging, charged, or discharging. In other words, those two lights will always be illuminated, though the latter may change to red if the battery condition is extremely low. Then a third LED is illuminated whenever WiFi is turned on- once again, pretty much all the time. Excessive much?

Not to worry, though, because these so-called "faults" are members of a very small minority from aspects of this computer. The keyboard, while uncentered, is absolutely amazing to use. I've used quieter, without a doubt, but I absolutely love Lenovo's chiclet-style keyboards. The only improvement I might make here would be swapping it out for the keyboard on the ThinkPad X100e/X120e. Losing the numpad would be repaid for in more than full by the allowance of symmetry in the keyboard and trackpad placement in relation to the display, as well as the extra durable features found on most keyboards in the ThinkPad family.

The display itself is sharp and portrays colors with decently accurate color reproduction, but it is also afflicted by noticeable degradation when viewed from different angles. A matte display would have been a more-than-welcome sight here, but alas it isn't so there's no point in wishing for such a thing. The camera found above the display isn't bad, though it isn't great in low-light either. The speakers, while clear, produce very low levels of bass noise when playing full-bodied music. They're good enough for YouTube videos but if this computer is doing serious part- or full-time duty as a music machine, a pair of headphones or some decent computer speakers should definitely be on the shopping list.

Overall, the computer is relatively compact which is nice. While it obviously could lose a few more millimeters to be considered trim, the design language employed by Lenovo manages to hide its pudge better than many of the competitors. Overall, it's simple and it works.

In terms of performance, I was initially extremely happy with the computer. For $300, it is an extremely hard product to beat. However as I was opening up a 1080p video clip in VLC Player, I was shocked almost to the degree of annoyance to see the clip stuttering. The audio track played without fail, but for some reason the video just couldn't seem to play consistently. I transferred the same clip to a computer at work to check the file integrity and was bothered to see that the clip played just fine on that machine. Once at home I couldn't quite figure it out: I bought this computer under the impression that it would load 1080p clips with ease, so what was going on? Literally a bit over an hour ago, I realized that VLC will try and decode video clips using only the CPU by default. After changing some settings and telling it to utilize the built-in graphics and system codecs, the same video clip that had failed to play properly before was now crystal clear. Perfect.

So to sum up performance: this machine is more than capable of what I need it to do. I might still return it in a few days due to the availability of a better-designed machine with a much more agreeable price that is admittedly a bit older, but as of now I cannot fault the computer. While Lenovo still installed some random junk on the computer that was activated on first-boot, the computer has a very clean Windows 7 environment on it without any major annoyances. Even the standard battery has a surprisingly long runtime, something which isn't even strongly marketed for this machine.


Conclusion:

What more is to be said of this computer? For $300, one obviously has to forego certain industry-trendy features such as a Blu-Ray drive, USB 3.0 ports and an Intel processor, but in exchange one gets what can best be described as an extremely solid laptop. Unless one had a very specific requirement, I cannot think of much reason to purchase any other laptop in the $250-600 range, and since I can say that I've never even thought of this computer from that perspective before, this laptop is an absolute gem among a pile of me-too laptops trying to be too trendy for their own good. If speed is the name of the game, there are obviously better options out there, but this computer is genuinely hard to beat. And there you have it, the most recent yet full-featured review of what is the cheapest yet most-complete laptop of recent. It's a fitting end.



















Comments

  1. Thank you for the review! I was considering this machine, I think this was the push I needed.

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    1. Sorry for the slow reply... glad to have been a help!

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  2. Terrific, thanks for review. Just bought one. I'm a Mac user but finding my B575 quite nice to adjust too. Nice feature.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you like it... I do still miss that computer... only got rid of it and upgraded as I nabbed another higher-spec Lenovo when it went on sale!

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