Lenovo Z560 Core i3 15-in Notebook Review
Build Quality and Design
The Lenovo Z560 makes a good first impression. Although $700 dollars is not a small sum of cash, most laptops that are in this category tend to feel a little cheap. The Z560 mostly avoids this because of one simple design trait – a piece of aluminum that covers the palm-rest and extends all the way up to the speakers (which are above the keyboard), fully covering almost every surface of the laptop’s interior not devoted to the user interface. This is not unheard of in a laptop in this price range (Acer does this with the TimeLine, I believe), but the aluminum in the Z560 feels and looks particularly nice. It is as smooth as glass, but it is semi-gloss, so it continues to look good even after heavy use. The aluminum also serves to make the palm-rest feel more solid than it really is, giving an impression of durability that you can’t often find in laptops of this price range.
The rest of the chassis doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the Z560’s beautiful use of metal, but still feels better than average. Holding the chassis by one end results in minimal flex even when the laptop is held on the side containing the DVD drive, a traditional chassis weak spot. I detected no groans of protest from the laptop’s plastics when I purposely held it in awkward ways. I also noticed that the lid feels firm and is resistant to being bent out of shape when the laptop is closed. This isn’t Thinkpad-level quality, but this isn’t a Thinkpad. I’m impressed that Lenovo is offering a chassis that feels this robust at an affordable price.
The keyboard would not be entirely out of place on a Thinkpad built three years ago. There is some flex, but you have to press hard to find it, and the keyboard provides good tactical feedback. The trackpad has a rough texture that feels strange at first but won me over after a few hours. The trackpad buttons are nothing special, but they do their job well enough.
My only major gripe about the user interface concerns the keyboard’s layout. The Z560 has a full size keyboard and numpad, but there is absolutely no division between where the normal keyboard ends and the numpad begins. The enter and backspace keys have been shortened to accommodate the numpad and the arrows keys have been awkwardly wedged in between the keyboard and numpad. As a result the right ctrl key is off-set from its normal position and the numpad 0 key has a reduced size. These sacrifices are not uncommon on 15.6” laptops that include numpads, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. I often found myself accidently hitting keys on the numpad when I thought I was pressing the enter or backspace key.
While the Z560’s build quality is very impressive overall, I must point out that it is terribly un-hip. The black gloss lid is apparently the only option. Combine it with the dull grey-and-black interior and you end up with a decidedly dreary looking piece of hardware. Not everyone cares about this, but I’m not sure why Lenovo didn’t make more of an effort in this respect. The Sony EB Series, for example, manages to look much more exciting without compromising build quality. The Z560 is also far from the thinnest laptop in the world, as it measures about 1.4” throughout most of the chassis, tapering off only at the very front and rear.
Display and Sound Quality
The Lenovo Z560 has a 15.6" widescreen display that, as you might expect, is limited to a resolution of 1366 x 768. That’s it – a higher resolution is not available as an option.
The display is nothing special. It has a glossy coating that looks a bit cheap – in fact, I’d say the display is the only part of the laptop that actually looks less expensive than it should. Because the resolution is fairly low you don’t end up with much usable screen real estate. I previously reviewed the 13" MacBook and, despite being much larger, the Lenovo Z560 didn’t offer much advantage in terms of productivity because the display resolution isn’t much higher.
Image quality is average. Black levels are poor, and white saturation is also unimpressive. The contrast is nothing special. Viewing angles are poor, with even the slightest change in vertical viewing angle resulting in a washed-out look. I was able to see a slight screen-door effect when viewing websites with a solid white background.
The Z560’s display is bright, but reflections can still be annoying if you use the laptop near a window during a sunny day. Using the laptop outside is more or less hopeless – you can sort of see what you’re doing, but you have to squint so hard that you’ll be blind before you finish checking your email.
If this all sounds negative, well, it is. However, the Z560’s display is par for the course on a laptop of this size and price. It would be nice if a better LCD was available as an option, but Dell is the only company I know of that consistently offers upgraded displays as an option on laptops in this price range.
The Z560’s sound quality, on the other hand, is certainly better than average. There is (predictably) very little bass to be found, but the mid-range sounds crisp and clear. There is no indication of a muddy sound, nor is there any indication that the speakers are straining to reproduce bass sound they’re incapable of. The volume is loud enough to fill a small room, and might even be enough to carry a college room party. No one will mistake you for a DJ, but you can make do with what the Z560 offers.