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The Lenovo LaVie Z Makes Your MacBook Air Look Fat

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

The Lenovo LaVie Z (Photos: Daniel Howley/Yahoo Tech)

The first time I picked up Lenovo’s new LaVie Z laptop, I thought the company rep who handed it to me was playing one of those hidden-camera jokes. “There’s just no way this laptop is real,” I thought.

Why the disbelief? Well, it’s because of how little the LaVie weighs.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but at less than two pounds, the LaVie Z is incredibly lightweight. Seriously, it’s almost as light as the original iPad.

Yes, it’s that light.

But a great laptop — something you can actually use on a daily basis — has to be more than a featherweight. It has to be powerful, have a great screen, and come with battery that lasts all day.

While the LaVie Z meets some of those standards, it falls short on others. It’s a powerhouse laptop in a tiny package. But the lightweight construction feels flimsy, and the display is less than stellar. And at $1,500, it’s one of the priciest portables around.

Lighter than (the) Air

I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating, the 13-inch LaVie Z is really lightweight. I’ve been fighting the urge to use it as a Frisbee all week.

Ever since I received my review unit, I’ve be playing a game in which I give people a 13-inch MacBook Air and then hand them the LaVie Z, just to see the look of shock on their faces.

Battle of the featherweights: in the left corner, the MacBook Air; in the right corner, the Lenovo LaVie Z. 

It’s not like the Air is a heavyweight, either. At 2.96 pounds, it’s one of the lightest laptops in the world. But at just 1.87 pounds, the LaVie Z is in a class all its own. It even undercuts Apple’s new superthin 12-inch MacBook, which weighs a paltry 2.03 pounds.

Lenovo got the LaVie Z to be so light by building it out of a magnesium-lithium alloy. The company claims that the material is lighter than aluminum yet just as sturdy as the standard magnesium used in today’s laptops.

But the LaVie Z also feels flimsy. You can actually see the screen bend when you open and close the laptop. And forget about accidentally sitting on it or tossing it in a bag that’s going to get knocked around. Apple’s aluminum MacBooks, on the other hand, are far more rigid and sturdy.

The LaVie Z’s looks don’t exactly get the blood pumping, either. Unlike the sleek industrial designs of the MacBook and MacBook Air, the LaVie Z looks like a black slab. While that’s basically Lenovo’s go-to design, it would still be nice to see one of its most interesting products get an equally interesting design.

A not-so-distinguished display

The LaVie Z comes with an extremely sharp 13-inch display. With a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, the LaVie Z’s screen is crisper than the one found on Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air, which has a resolution of 1440 x 900. The 12-inch MacBook’s 2304 x 1440 resolution screen, however, is just as clear as the LaVie Z’s.

Unfortunately, colors viewed on the LaVie Z screen certainly didn’t pop nearly as much those on the MacBook Air and MacBook.

I watched trailers for all of the games announced at last week’s E3 video game conference using both laptops. The LaVie Z’s colors simply couldn’t match those on the MacBook Air or MacBook. Everything I looked at seemed like it had a gray tint.

The biggest difference between the LaVie Z’s screen and the displays found on the MacBook and MacBook Air is that the LaVie has a nonreflective matte finish that makes it easy to view outside or under bright office lights. 

Apple laptop displays, on the other hand, have glossy finishes that are much harder to see under some lighting conditions.

Regardless, I’m not a fan of matte screens, as they tend to look dimmer to me than their glossier siblings.

Trouble with the keys

I type for a living, which means I need a comfortable keyboard. And out of all of the laptops on the market, Lenovo’s are almost always the best. But not this time.

The LaVie Z’s keys have far less travel and feel mushy. Certain keys like the Enter and Backspace keys are also undersized, which makes it harder to avoid typos. The MacBook Air’s keyboard is far more comfortable to use, with nicely spaced and sized keys. Apple’s MacBook has an even larger full-size keyboard than the Air.

And while the MacBook Air and MacBook come with backlit keyboards, the LaVie Z doesn’t, which makes it a pain to use in dimly lit areas, like on the train on your way home from the office or on a plane when the cabin lights are dimmed.

Petite powerhouse

Despite being so super lightweight and thin, however, the LaVie Z  can do things like edit photos and video — a heck of a welcome change from the current crop of underpowered, superlight laptops on the market.

Take Lenovo’s own Yoga 3 Pro and Apple’s MacBook, for example. Both laptops come with Intel’s power-efficient Core M processor, which is designed for use in thin notebooks and laptop-tablet hybrids.

Unfortunately, that processor is seriously slow. I mean, even using the Yoga Pro 3 to play simple browser-based games was a chore.

But the LaVie Z comes with Intel’s powerful Core i7 series processor. Add to that 8GB of system memory, and you’ve got a notebook that can do pretty much anything you’d want it to do, except perhaps play high-end video games that require capabilities like dedicated graphics chips and large amounts of RAM.

Apple’s MacBook Air offers a similar processor and amount of memory but does so in a larger package.

On the flip side, the LaVie Z comes with just 256GB of storage, which you’ll probably fill up in no time if you use the laptop to store  photos, movies, and music. Both the MacBook Air and MacBook can be equipped with either 256GB of storage or 512GB.

Most-of-the-day battery

Lenovo says the LaVie Z’s battery will last up to nine hours while watching videos. In everyday use, though, which includes web browsing, music streaming, and more, the LaVie Z lasted roughly six hours. That’s about the same amount of use I regularly get out of the MacBook Air’s battery.

Apple’s MacBook, though, gets a staggering nine hours of battery life. That’s thanks largely to its power-sipping Intel Core M processor.

And that’s the classic tradeoff when it comes to superlight laptops. You can have a powerful machine or a superlong-lasting battery, but you can almost never get both at the same time.

Should you buy it?

The Lenovo LaVie Z is a ridiculously lightweight laptop with the kind of power you need for most everyday tasks and a decent battery life. And the shock on your friends’ faces the first time you hand them the LaVie never gets old. What does get old, though, are the LaVie’s mushy keyboard and flimsy chassis.

At $1,500, the LaVie Z is also on the pricier side — $50 more expensive than a comparably equipped MacBook Air and $200 more than the base MacBook. If you’re looking for something that’s nearly as lightweight as the LaVie Z but significantly less expensive, you might want to check out the Dell XPS 13 Nontouch. Starting at $800, the XPS 13 is fast, thin, and packs a gorgeous display.  

The bottom line is, if you want an incredibly lightweight Windows laptop with enough horsepower to meet all of your computing needs, the Lenovo LaVie Z is a solid, if not entirely sexy, choice. But if you don’t mind carrying around an extra pound of weight, want a laptop with a sturdier design, and aren’t beholden to a particular operating system, get the MacBook Air.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.