Lenovo IdeaPad 720S
£899 inc VAT from fave.co/2ft5LYM
The Lenovo IdeaPad 720S is a laptop with it all. It looks great, feels expensive, is powerful enough for most people’s needs and is even much better at gaming than virtually all style laptops twice the price.
Those desperate to be negative could call it a jack of all trades. And, sure enough, you can find lighter, longer-lasting models if you look. However, at the price this is a jaw-droppingly versatile machine that is extremely likeable and a fantastic buy if you like to unwind with a game or two on occasion.
While a lovely laptop even without its extra gaming credibility, the Lenovo’s discrete GPU is a key reason
to buy. You don’t often see laptops this slim that can handle games reasonably well.
The IdeaPad 720S we’re reviewing costs £899, which gets you a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. This is the classic style laptop core spec for models hovering between £800 and £1,000, although Dell charges £1,149 for the closest Dell XPS 13. You can upgrade to the Core i7 model for £1,199, although as there’s no additional upgrade to the SSD or RAM, we don’t consider it as value-packed as the base model.
Looks are subjective, but we think the 720S is a stunner in this class. Lenovo has a knack for making simple but attractive premium laptops. This is a great example of one. It’s all-aluminium apart from the keyboard keys and the glass over the screen, and unlike Asus and Acer rivals, Lenovo hasn’t embellished the 720S with any extra textures. Everything has a relaxed anodised finish.
Some may find it boring, but we see new laptops all the time and to our eyes it’s clean, and has enough Lenovo flavour to avoid looking generic. Look at the shape of the keys: Lenovo’s have an almost cutesy roundness that’s different from a Dell, Apple or Asus laptop.
The 720S is also one of the first slightly more affordable laptops to have a very slim screen surround. While we know £899 is still a significant outlay for anyone, this is an alternative to laptops that cost well over £1,000.
With just a 4mm between the end of the display and the edge of the laptop, the Lenovo fits a 14in screen into the footprint of a traditional 13in slim laptop, like the older generation HP Envy 13. It’s rapidly becoming the norm for higher-end portable laptops, although the new Acer Swift 3 still has a thicker surround.
Svelte display design aside, though, the 720S doesn’t try to compete with the thinnest and lightest laptops around. It’s 16mm thick and weighs 1.55kg (our review model is 1,492g according to our scales). That’s a couple of hundreds grammes heavy than some, but light enough for every day portable use.
And, let’s not forget, it also has a discrete graphics chipset to weigh it down.
Build quality is excellent for a sub-£100 laptop too. The screen doesn’t flex and the keyboard area is extremely rigid, similar to that of a MacBook. There are even some neat aesthetic touches we don’t expect in a laptop that keeps an eye on the budget. For example, the cut-outs for the connections on the sides are all bevelled rather than square-cut, exposing tiny slivers of bright, non-anodized aluminium. It demonstrates real attention to detail.
Ports and connections
The 720S also has connectors commonly being removed from today’s most fashionable laptops. As well as a Thunderbolt 3.0-compatible USB-C port there are two full-size USB 3.0 sockets, a full-size HDMI and an SD card slot.
Your experience may vary, but it’s everything we look for in a portable laptop used daily for work.
Other light laptops are starting to use USB-C to function as both power connector and data socket, but the 720S still has a separate cylindrical power plug.
Keyboard and touchpad
We’ve already mentioned that the keyboard looks a little different from the crowd thanks to their curvy keys. However, the typing experience is familiar.
The keys are slightly shallow, but have decent definition and reasonable resistance. Those desperate
for a meatier feel should look at the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, although we’re confident most will get on with the 720S’s just fine.
It also has a backlight. Press the Fn key and the space bar and the under-key LEDs cycle between two intensity levels, providing a soft white/blue glow for late-night typing.
We’re also rather impressed by the trackpad. This is one of the more affordable laptops we’ve seen recently to use a textured glass pad rather than a plastic one. It offers a smoother glide. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s is softer and smoother still, but that laptop also costs £800 more.
Next to the pad sits an indented fingerprint scanner. It lets you login to windows securely with a quick press, and is among the more reliable we’ve used.
Laptop finger scanners are often a little flaky, requiring a few attempts to work. However, the Lenovo seems to work every time.
Like the Acer Swift 3, one feature the 720S lacks is an ultra-high resolution screen. 1080p resolution across 14 inches makes pixilation fairly obvious if you look for it. However, most rivals charge more for a true high-res
panel, including the Dell XPS 13. The HP Envy 13 has even dropped from 3200x1800 resolution to 1080p in its latest iteration. Strangely, it was easier to get a sub-£1,000 high-res laptop a year or two ago. This isn’t a touchscreen, despite having a tablet-like glossy, glass-topped finish. This is a laptop without even a hint of hybrid to it.
Colour and contrast are good, however. The 720S covers a respectable, if not truly impressive, 80.9 percent of the sRGB colour standard, 57.6 percent of Adobe RGB and 60.3 percent of DCI P3. It’s not deep enough for design pros, but thanks to very good contrast it’ll do the trick for the rest of us.
Contrast is 1023:1, enough to make blacks look convincing even in a low-lit room.
Given the glossy surface, though, we’d have liked to see slightly higher brightness. The 720S reaches a respectable 305cd/m2 at max backlight, but others get closer to 340- to 350cd/m2. This will be useful on a sunny day. However, it is still significantly brighter than the new Acer Swift 3.
The Lenovo has a 7th generation Intel Core i5-7200U processor with 8GB of DDR4 RAM. For an extra £100 you can upgrade to the i7-7500U model.
For the kind of uses that suit this portable laptops best, though, many may not notice that much difference between the two.
This a quick and responsive laptop. Day-to-day this is improved by the responsive and reliable finger scanner, and fast all-SSD storage. The 256GB drive
reads at 1558MB/s and writes at 595MB/s. While not the absolute fastest by current SSD standard, it’s enough to make the laptop feel much quicker than any hard drive model. There’s enough power and RAM to let you use apps such as Photoshop, and to browse away with far too many windows open without the 720S slowing to a crawl.
We did notice, however, that benchmark scores are slightly lower than some laptops we’ve reviewed with the same CPU. For example, it scores 6940 in Geekbench 4, where the Acer Swift 5 managed 7424.
Geekbench 4 results vary a little between attempts, but a consistent slight lowering of performance suggests some throttling. This will be in order to keep temperatures at manageable levels.
The fan system is reasonably quiet even under stress, and in our experience its revolutions per minute (speed) doesn’t jump about too much. This helps it avoid becoming too intrusive. However, like most slim laptops the fan has a relatively small diameter, so does become high-pitch under pressure.
This is among a new wave of laptop with real, if modest, gaming abilities. As well as a Core i5 processor, the 720S has an Nvidia GT940MX GPU with 2GB RAM.
It makes playing modern games for more enjoyable than most other slim laptops, with up to double the frame rates of a machine using an integrated graphics chipset. For example, Alien: Isolation runs at an average of 64fps at 720p, low settings rather than around 30fps.
This gives you much more headroom to make the game look better. At 1080p, maxed settings it runs at
an average 26.4fps. That’s below the ideal minimum of 30fps, but shows that if you fiddle with the settings a little you’ll be able play comfortably in Full HD.
A more demanding game such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution shows that the GT940MX isn’t a replacement for a higher-end rig, though. At 720p resolution, low graphics, the game is playable at an average 29.2fps. However, at 1080p ultra it plays at a very slow 10.3fps.
Given the laptop is 16mm thick, 1.55kg and not ridiculously expensive, we think this sort of gaming performance is great.
However, there’s just one issue: the GT 940M is now an older chipset, and Nvidia has already released a next-generation follow-up, the MX150. We haven’t reviewed a laptop with this graphics processor yet, but early indications suggest a worthwhile 33 percent
boost. HP already uses the MX150 in its 2017 model Envy 13, which is £100 more expensive than the 720S but otherwise looks very appealing.
That’s something to think about if you’re intending on playing games.
The 720S has a four-cell 56Wh battery, a non-removable unit of solid if ‘normal’ capacity. It had us worrying the use of discrete graphics might lead to uninspiring battery life. We needn’t have worried.
When playing back a 720p video on loop, the Lenovo IdeaPad 720S lasts 12 hours five minutes, a very respectable upper-ranking result. As long as you keep the exertion level reasonably low, you’ll easily get a full day’s work out of a charge.
Unusually, this is when the laptop is used at 79 percent screen brightness too. This isn’t something to
get excited about, though. The Lenovo IdeaPad 720S uses a rather odd brightness curve that only reaches our test level of 120cd/m2 at that point. It’s the sort of brightness you might use indoors.
The speakers are solid too, if a little too reliant on their Dolby Atmos processing. This maximizes the impression of volume using dynamic compression: so the solo guitar into to a song might sound very loud, only to drop in volume as the rest of the band come in. Actual volume isn’t close to that of a MacBook, but there is at least enough richness to the sound to avoid a thin, ugly tone.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 720S is a laptop that proves you can sometimes get more if you pay less. Its more versatile than a lot of £1,000-plus portable laptops because it has a separate graphics card, making it a passable gaming machine.
That it adds this without ruining battery life or portability is excellent. It is one of the most versatile portables around.
The one regret is that the laptop doesn’t have Nvidia’s latest GeForce MX150 graphics, using the older 940MX kind instead. However, maybe we shouldn’t complain too much if such a move would have added substantially to the price.