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Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 Recap - 5 Months Later

The background story.
Almost a year ago today, my Apple MacBook Pro was stolen. While meeting with someone who I believed to be a potential buyer, the man grabbed the product of many months of hard work and ran for it. Unable to catch him on foot, I turned over a license plate and general description over to the police. To this day I have yet to hear a single word about the whereabouts of my computer and, to be honest, I highly doubt I ever will.

As the school term was in its more critical stage towards finals, I desperately needed a computer to type up my final papers. While the idea of picking up a very powerful netbook sounded like a great idea, a coworker tipped me off to an even cheaper and more powerful full-sized laptop than the machine I had singled out. It was a budget offering by Lenovo and fit the bill for what I wanted to do and, dare I say it, did quite an exceptional job of it.

I sold that machine, at the same cost I’d bought it for somehow, and began to look for a new machine. I’ve always wanted a ThinkPad, known for their legendary reliability and ease of repair. Compared to other Windows-based hardware manufacturers, Lenovo has also (mostly) resisted the urge to endow their products with unnecessary flair across their entire line of offerings and has somehow managed to make focusing on function first a very attractive design theme much in the same way that Apple has made minimalism attractive to its user base.

The problem is that getting a Lenovo, a ThinkPad specifically, isn’t always as easy of a task as one might think. Ordering a machine online results in a shockingly large amount of time between payment and actual delivery. The Lenovo Outlet, which has a much shorter pay-till-ship duration, didn’t have any machines I was truly after. My school’s computer store wasn’t any help, offering only a very limited supply of Windows-based machines, one of which was a Lenovo and for some reason was priced higher than most online retailers were selling it for.

I decided to see what I could find locally, and that’s when I stumbled upon a gem: a Lenovo Edge laptop featuring a (at that time) latest-gen Intel Core i5 CPU and more RAM than any other computer being sold next to it up to $200 more expensive. It was a no-brainer and I got myself over to the store as fast as I could to grab one of the two machines they had in stock. Two days later the price on the machine was raised by two hundred bucks, which essentially meant that I’d nabbed myself a steal at the easily justifiable price of just a penny shy of $500.


Why I bought it.
Why did I so readily splurge on this machine, an E420 to be exact? For many reasons, which best speak for themselves when listed:

  • ·         Matte LCD display. This computer was literally the only portable computer in the entire store that had this feature and it’s increasingly rare to find store-buyable computers without a glossy display. Outside of most Apple computers, the glossy displays that most manufacturers bestow upon their computers are usually of subpar quality in my opinion. Whatever prompted manufacturers to switch away from matte is beyond me. This might all just be personal taste, but I like a matte display.
  • ·         Latest-gen Core i5 processor. Computers are always being outdone and anything that is “latest-gen” will soon become old and “outdated” before you know it. Having the very latest and greatest for a moment, even if it’s a fleeting one at that, is always welcome in my book.
  • ·         6GB of DDR3 memory. It seems to me that most manufacturers are happy to equip a laptop with 4GB as standard and call it a day. 6GB means that I should never have to worry about running out of memory and having my computer come to a crawl.
  • ·         500GB Hard-Drive. Lots of space for programs, images, movies, music and documents. Not going to feel pinched any time soon.
  • ·         Built-in Bluetooth. I know, it’s not necessary, but it is a nice touch and means that I can seamlessly use my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse without ever having to plug in a dongle.
  • ·         It’s a ThinkPad. That means an excellent keyboard that is spill-resistant, the instantly recognizable red-dot TrackPoint cursor navigation coupled with an excellent trackpad, soft-touch coating on the back of the display for extra grip, a low-light optimized webcam and the unmistakable ThinkPad design. As a “business” laptop there’s no extra junk preinstalled that needs to be removed at first boot and everything simply works, as it should.

The thought of a 14” laptop appealed to me- just that little extra bit of screen real-estate without the traditional bulk of a 15” machine. Not quite enough room to equip the keyboard with a numpad, and as a result it’s properly centered on the deck of the computer. The hinge is built so as to allow a full 180-degree rotation of the display… in fact, the display can actually go past 180 degrees, but who would use a machine in such a state is beyond me.

I nabbed this computer locally because then I would have the opportunity to return it, if I should feel it to be necessary. As was later pointed out to me (before my return deadline had passed), I could have gotten a refurbished Dell with a Blu-Ray drive and a Core i7 in it for about the same price, but that’s just the thing; someone had returned that machine, for a reason. Maybe they bought it thinking that they might like it and then found that they were unimpressed and returned it. I wanted a new machine, one that would be mine from day one, and one that didn’t compromise on the features I considered important to me. The rest didn’t matter.


So… what happened?
Here we are, sitting five months down the road in a hostel in Berlin, and I’m still rocking the thing. I bought the ThinkPad partially in preparation for my move to Germany; I wanted something simple, rugged and good looking, and this computer was what I decided fit the bill perfectly. But did it actually do that?

Yes, yes it did. This computer has never disappointed me and has on many occasions surprised me, in good ways. For example, the first time I ever booted into Ubuntu I was stunned to notice that every single driver necessary for my computer’s hardware was already preloaded. Unlike almost every single computer I’ve loaded Ubuntu onto, there was no software that needed to be sideloaded just to get WiFi and Bluetooth up and running. Despite not being marketed for this feature, the battery turns out to be exceptionally long lived, at least on the most eco-friendly power mode.

Sure, sitting next to my friend and his LED-studded 15” Toshiba laptop with its dedicated graphics card, I sometimes feel as though my machine is inadequate and unable to compete. But when he has to lug his multi-pound power brick with him everywhere just to keep his power-thirsty machine satiated and then frequently experiences automatic heat-protection shut-offs despite his computer’s running the fan at its highest and loudest setting… I simply smile and continue doing my work. I don’t have to drag my charger with me everywhere, rarely hear the fan in my machine ramp up from its standard whisper of a purr and never, not once, have had my machine complain that it can’t do something, let alone shut itself off.

When you read about a ThinkPad’s low-light webcam as being a bit creepy in how well it works, then let me tell you: it is. While the image isn’t of the highest quality or the best true representation of color in the scene, it’s actually possible to carry out a decent video conferencing session using nothing other than the illumination provided by the computer’s LCD. The microphone next to it is also quite nice as well and- though it’s nothing magical and still picks up ambient noise like almost any built-in mic- it does a pretty good job of isolating one’s voice even in somewhat noisy situations.

It’s things like the matte LCD, which let me use the laptop quite happily glare-free sitting near a bright window in a cafĂ©, to the powered USB port, which supplies power to connected devices even if the computer is shut off, which make me love this machine. And others, too- I’ve actually had that last feature exploited by a few friends in the past.

However I suppose it would be unfair to rant and rave about how great this computer is. And in truth, I’m unable to do that without stating a few factors which have detracted from its image in my mind. First, the keyboard keys have begun to lose their textured tops and many of them are now showing and feeling a bit glossy. There are laptops out there which come from the factory with a glossy finish to them, and I usually tend to find them tacky and not very comfortable to use, so you can imagine my dismay at seeing glossy keys on my machine. (On the plus side, this change also speaks for itself in stating how much I love to type using this keyboard.) On the software side, the computer also doesn’t seem to have the best drivers installed for turning off-and-on the Bluetooth card. Sometimes the option to selectively toggle this card’s power state simply disappears for no explainable reason.

But that’s it. I’ve gone from using only the trackpad to, in more recent weeks, using the TrackPoint nav system almost full time, and for no reason that I can point to other than it being more convenient in certain apps and therefore I simply got used to it. The LCD tray has probably only ever been opened twice, the first time to check that the drive actually opened and the second time to see that the drive could read a disk. That’s literally it- everything I do now is either download- or USB-based for moving data around. Unlike the IdeaPad that I owned before this, the drive doesn’t have the unusual habit of ejecting the tray at random when being picked up, an annoying quirk that I’m glad to have left behind.

To summarize… the ThinkPad has not let me down.


Now what?
I won’t lie, I’ve been looking somewhat enviously at many of the new Ultrabooks coming out and, with Windows 8 around the corner, I’ve begun weighing over in my mind whether or not I will upgrade to one of the touchscreen-enabled machines once the OS comes out. It’s not that I don’t think that my machine will run Windows 8 fluidly, but rather my knowledge of how much more enjoyable it is to use the Metro- pardon, “Modern”- UI with a touchscreen as opposed to a traditional mouse and keyboard. (Though the latter is still highly useful in many work situations.)

However this computer has a lot of life in it and has yet to disappoint me in terms of speed, so for the time being I think I’m going to stick it out and not upgrade for at least a couple a year. Unless, of course, I manage to win the lottery and decide to treat myself to a new machine. But that’s not in the immediate future so far as I can tell so for now… I’m sticking with this. I like it and trust it. That's enough for me.

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