The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 is a new 14" screen laptop that comes equipped with the latest 2nd generation Intel Core i3 and i5 processors. The ThinkPad Edge E420 is very competitively priced starting at $549 and is targeted at small business buyers, but can easily serve well as a student laptop given the similar needs between these two customer sets. While the ThinkPad T420 I recently reviewed is a higher end and more expensive 14" screen laptop, the Edge E420 is a close cousin and has many of the same configuration options. The Edge E420 differs most from the T420 in terms of design and build. We’ll cover those differences in this review and evaluate whether the E420 makes a good option for a student laptop.
Before commencing with the review, here are the full specs for the E420 as purchased for review:
The Edge E420 was ordered direct from Lenovo.com during a sale event, the price was $539.10 before any taxes. Shipping was free. The purchase process is pretty straight forward at the newly redesigned Lenovo.com, I might add I like the new design they’ve applied to the site, it’s much fresher looking and easier to navigate now:
The E420 was ordered on June 3rd and delivered just 10-days later on June 13th. That’s pretty impressive fulfillment time for a custom configured laptop with standard free shipping.
Below is a picture of the ThinkPad E420 packaging it arrived in and then the unboxing:
ThinkPad Edge E420 Vs. ThinkPad Edge E420s Differences
Just to be clear, this review is of the ThinkPad Edge E420 and NOT the ThinkPad Edge E420s, that is a different model laptop although quite similar to the E420 in configuration options. Some key differences between the E420 and E420s are as follows:
The E420s is slimmer, at 0.9" thin to 1.2" thick. The E420 is 1.10" to 1.29" thick.
The E420s weighs less at 4.1lbs versus 4.6lbs for the E420
The E420s battery is sealed (cannot be removed and replaced) while the E420 battery can easily be removed and replaced or upgraded to a larger battery
The E420s has an Infinity glass display, essentially a design touch that adds an extra layer over the screen to make it look like a single glass panel.
The E420s has 3 USB 2.0 ports, the E420 has 3 USB 2.0 ports
The E420s has no ExpressCard expansion slot, the E420 has a 34mm ExpressCard expansion slot.
The E420s starts at $699 and the E420 starts at $599 (at the time of this writing on Lenovo.com)
The E420s uses aluminum and magnesium for some parts of its construction, the E420 does not.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Design and Build
The ThinkPad Edge E420 strives to be a little different from the ThinkPad T420 design wise, but still maintain enough of the same characteristics to make it unmistakably a ThinkPad. The first difference you’ll notice are the curved edges at the front as the Edge tries to gain a bit of design flair over the standard ThinkPad look. Also unique is that he “i” in ThinkPad lights up in red, which is either corny or cool depending on your viewpoint. Upon opening the lid the chiclet keyboard is definitely a non-standard ThinkPad touch you’ll notice but one that’s more common among consumer laptops these days. It’s certainly a more modern look. Outside of that the Edge E420 is still all black and uses the same logos as other ThinkPad’s, it has the red pointing stick and red and blue striped mouse buttons common on all ThinkPads. Bottom line, the E420 won’t be mistaken for a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop and has a professional and classy look but with a bit of an edge (ha).
The lid for the Edge E420 has a rubberized texture top to make for easy grip when carrying and a silver plastic trim along the sides of the lid. When opening the lid there is no latch mechanism to use like you get on regular ThinkPads, you just flip it open. A nice touch is that when closing the lid it features a soft close hinge. The hinges themselves are very strong, there is no screen wobble at all and they hold the screen firmly down when closed.
The ThinkPad Edge E420 is about average in weight for a 14" laptop at 4.6 pounds (4 lbs 10 ounces), the Edge E420s weighs a half pound lighter at 4.1lbs. It’s actually lighter than the 4.8lb weighted ThinkPad T420 I recently reviewed, this is likely because the T420 uses more metal in the design which thereby makes it more rugged, but at the same time heavier. The E420 can’t be called a thin and light computer, that’s reserved for laptops around 4lbs or lighter, but it’s still portable and won’t weight down your backpack too much.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Screen
The 14.0" 1366 x 768 Edge E420 screen is definitely not going to provide any wow factor, it’s very average. Average level brightness, average viewing angles, average screen resolution and average color depth. This is what you expect in this price range laptop. The good thing is that the screen is matte instead of glossy, I personally find glossy screens a strain on the eyes after several hours of viewing. The Edge E420s has an infinity screen that is a somewhat glossy finish, so if you really hate screen reflection the cheaper Edge E420 might actually be preferable for you.
Some different angle pictures of the ThinkPad Edge E420 screen:
The Edge E420 has no screen upgrade options, you can choose whether to have a built-in camera at the top of the screen (I did not), but that of course will not affect screen quality. So if you’re a person that loves higher resolution screens or more expensive IPS technology screens you’ll have to up your budget and look at something like the ThinkPad X220 or ThinkPad W520.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Performance
The performance on the ThinkPad Edge E420 is quite amazing for the price. Considering you can pay close to $500 and get the latest Intel Core i5 2nd generation processor, a fast 7200RPM spinning hard drive (the fastest hard drive you can buy, only SSD is faster) and ample 4GB of RAM you’ll be more than set for blazing through your everyday school computing tasks. The Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics will even be good enough to do some gaming, although serious gamers playing the latest 3D based games would need a faster dedicated graphics card not available in the Edge E420. For 90% of students though, this laptop is going to provide more than enough power and not be outdated 4-years from now as you’re getting the latest processing technology inside.
For those that like to see benchmark scores for an idea of performance, I ran the Windows Experience Index and also PCMark Vantage to give an overall idea:
– A 5.9 score on Windows Experience Index (scores range from 1.0 to 7.9, higher is better). Each component scores quite impressively, there is no Achilles heel for performance on the E420.
– A 6,056 PCMark score, a very good score for this class of laptpop, a comparison chart sourced from laptopmag.com is here for comparison scores to what other laptops in this class range got. It performed above the category average of 5,457.
You’ll have zero problems multi-tasking and having several browser tabs open with the E420 processing power when equipped with an Intel Core i5. HD video playback will be excellent, many people mistakenly believe Flash video (which is what a majority of online streaming video sites use) needs a good graphics card to run smoothly, but in fact processing power is more important.
Edge E420 Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad Edge E420 keyboard uses a chiclet style keyboard, which is quite popular for many laptops today. This is one main difference between the regular ThinkPad and the Edge line, the enterprise targeted ThinkPad’s stick with a trusted and true keyboard design. To be honest, I prefer the regular style ThinkPad keyboard, from time to time I do find myself catching a finger under a key. Since keys have more space and clearance under them with this design I have experienced catching my finger under the “J" key as I move from having pushed the “M" key and move up to pushing the “Y" key. Take a look at the keyboard layout and you might imagine how this happens, it’s a little hard to put in words.
Other than that minor complaint that is related to chiclet keyboards in general, this keyboard is very good. It feels much like a regular ThinkPad keyboard — each key has a nice travel distance and a very solid stroke, there is no flex or “clickety-clack" going on at all. The keyboard allows you to move your fingers fast and the noise is minimal even if you’re a key punishing typist like myself. The PgUp and PgDn keys are ridiculously small and poorly located, there’s no way you’ll be able to use them in a touch type fashion. The top row of function keys are also shrunken to fit the keyboard, this isn’t a big deal but if you’re clumsy or have big paws then it could be irritating to have to peck at such small buttons to adjust things such as volume and screen brightness.
The touchpad on the E420 is very generously sized which is nice for moving the cursor around the screen if you prefer the touchpad over the pointing stick. Personally I prefer the red pointing stick Lenovo puts in the middle of the keyboard, it’s nice to have this feature on a laptop that cost just over $500 – generally it’s reserved for expensive $1,000+ business laptops. Either way, having multiple methods of mouse input means you can choose which works best for you and that’s a plus. The touchpad and mouse buttons overall work great, the touchpad offers scrolling and zooming gestures. The only minor knock I can give is that the two mouse buttons below the touchpad are rather chintzy – use the red striped buttons above the touchpad and you’re set as they’re excellent and easy to reach while touch typing.
ThinkPad E420 Battery Life
You can configure the Edge E420 with either a 6-cell or 9-cell battery, I went with the 6-cell. It’s nice to know you can upgrade the battery or buy a replacement down the road if you want, the Edge E420s has a sealed battery like the MacBook Pro so you cannot upgrade or easily replace the battery.
Using a battery rundown test in which I opened a browser window and set the browser to refresh every 60 seconds, set the screen brightness to an above medium setting (7/12), left wi-fi on and set the power usage to “Maximum Battery Life" in the software settings I got 4 hours and 9 minutes of battery life. This is a decent battery life amount, in a more demanding scenario in which screen brightness is cranked all the way up and you’re downloading a lot of files or watching video you’ll probably end up with closer to just over 3 hours of battery life.
If you get the 9-cell battery you can assume you’d get around 6-hours of battery life.
ThinkPad E420 Input and Output Ports
The input and output ports you get on a laptop is of course an important aspect. The E420 has a generous array of ports that will fulfill most student needs. We’ll take a tour around the E420 and detail what port is located where:
On the left side you get a VGA monitor out port, 3 USB 2.0 ports one of which is a combo eSata / USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port, headphone/microphone combo port and media card reader slot.
On the back of the laptop you just get an Ethernet port, it is Gigabit enabled
On the right side you get a 34mm ExpressCard slot for expansion, 1 USB 2.0 port that is powered so you can charge devices such as a SmartPhone via USB even when the laptop is turned off. The powerjack is on the back right side. Notice the optical drive is here on the right side too.
There are no ports located on the front of the Edge E420, the forward facing speakers are located here
The only thing I can think that some people might miss is having a USB 3.0 port as that’s the latest and greatest in USB technology. However, having an eSata port will allow for fast data transfer with external storage devices and the HDMI port will give you fast video output transfer so for most this port selection will suffice.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Heat & Noise
The Edge E420 uses a large vent on the back left side and since this isn’t an extremely thin laptop there’s plenty of ventilation for the components inside which results in an overall cool running laptop and legs that remain burn free. The fan rarely came on during normal everyday usage, so you won’t have problems with being that person in the classroom with a laptop that distracts everyone due to its noise.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Review Conclusion
If you’re on a budget, as a majority of students are, then the Edge E420 with its quality build and latest Intel processor technology is a great buy in the mid $500 range. As a student it doesn’t make sense to buy a $2,000 laptop that may or may not survive the rigors of 4-years on campus, after all it’s a lot of money to replace a $2,000 laptop if it gets stolen (common on college campuses) or simply gets used and abused so much it breaks down on you. The E420 is simply a practical laptop for those on a budget but who still want something that’s going to last and won’t be outdated technology wise in two years. Even though it’s a little more modern with its design than the classic ThinkPad, it’s still probably not going to turn heads in public. If you want something more flashy looking you’ll likely need to look at a consumer and not business targeted laptop, but then you lose the advantage you get with build quality and support offered by business class laptops. It’s really up to the individual as to what’s more important to you in a laptop, but if you’re a practically minded person looking to get the most for your money and don’t need something terribly flashy then the ThinkPad Edge E420 should be on your short list of laptops to consider for school.