If you’re after a portable all-round laptop and you’ve got around $1000 / 1000 EUR to spend, the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s should be on your list.
We’ve spent some time with it in the last weeks and gathered all our impressions below, with the good parts and its quirks, so by the end of the article, you’ll know if this is the right computer for you or if you should turn your attention towards something else.
What you should know from the beginning is that this notebook is a thin-and-light option built on Intel Core U hardware and entry-level Nvidia dedicated graphics. That makes it capable of handling everyday tasks smoothly and most games at FHD resolution with Medium-High details, but it’s definitely not as fast as some of the beefier laptops you can get at this price point. It is however compact and portable, weighing about 3.3 lbs in the reviewed configuration and packing a 14-inch screen inside the body of a 13-inch laptop. It also doesn’t skim on the build quality, the keyboard, the IO or the battery, so overall there are very few compromises you’ll have to accept for the sake of portability.
Among those are the high case temperatures and noisy fans in demanding loads, a glossy non-touch display and a rather slow wireless out-of-the-box. More about these and all the other aspects of the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s in the in-depth article below.
Specs as reviewed
||Lenovo IdeaPad 720s-14IKB
||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, glossy
||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U CPU
||Intel HD 620 + Nvidia 940MX 2GB GDDR5
||16 GB DDR4 (1x DIMM)
||512 GB M.2 NVMe SSD (80 mm)
||Wireless AC (Intel AC 3165), Bluetooth 4.1
||2x USB-A 3.0 , 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, card-reader, headphone/mic jack
||56 Wh, 45W charger
||321 mm or 12.62” (w) x 223 mm or 8.77” (d) x 15.9 mm or 0.62” (h)
||3.26 lbs (1.48 kg)+ .34 lbs (.155 kg) charger and cables
||backlit keyboard, VGA webcam, stereo Harman Kardon speakers
Lenovo also offers an updated configuration with a quad-core Core i7-8550U processor and Nvidia MX150 graphics. It’s listed at $899 as of November 2017, making it one of the most affordable ultraportables with MX150 graphics.
Design and first look
This laptop is very well made and you’ll immediately acknowledge that from the moment you get it out of the box. It just feels strong, with not flex or give in the lid cover and only a tiny amount in the keyboard deck, as it’s still not an unibody construction and gets a plastic inner chassis. But even so, I feel it can can stand next to the best of the best in terms of build quality.
The entire exterior is made from smooth matte metal, the same finishing we’ve seen on many other Lenovo laptops. It feels great to the touch, doesn’t show any smudges on this color version and should age well. It also looks nice in a simple, non-obtrusive way. The few branding elements blend in with the casing, both the Lenovo logo on the hood and the subtle Lenovo, JBL and IdeaPad logos on the interior. There are also no lights and flashy elements, except for the status LEDs on the left side and the slightly annoying power key that’s part of the actual keyboard and always lit on. All in all though this laptop would be a great pick for school and work environments with stricter design policies.
There is however one aspect of the construction that I have to nitpick on: the edges are rather sharp, both the beveled ones around the interior, but especially the ones around the screen. You’ll feel their bite when grabbing the laptop and when opening the screen. There are no other sharp bits though, not even on the underside where the back-panel attaches smoothly to the main-body, leaving no exposed dents like on some other laptops with a similar build.
Down here you’ll notice the rubber feet, the speaker cuts and a large intake grill alongside the entire cooling system, with hot air being blown through some proper sized cuts behind the screen’s hinge. That’s a pretty standard approach for laptops like this one.
The IdeaPad 720s is a clamshell notebook. Its screen is hold in place by a fairly stubborn hinge that requires both hands to open, but otherwise keeps it well as set-up and allows it to lean back flat to 180 degrees. That’s an important aspect for those of us that don’t often use their laptops on a desk.
And since we’re talking about using the laptop, I have to say that I had a good time with this IdeaPad. The sturdy metallic build and even the edges remind me remind me of my XPS 13, which is one of the best ultraportables out there. This one is a bit heavier, weighing in about 3.3 lbs in our reviewed configuration, but it’s still as compact as it can be, as you can tell from the narrow bezels around the 14-inch display. The display is however covered in glass and it lacks touch, which is a combo I’m not a fan off, as it adds unneeded glare outdoors and in brighter rooms without at least the benefit of touch.
As far as the IO goes, there’s nothing missing here. You get two USB Type A ports and an USB Type C connector with Thunderbolt 3, full-size HDMI, a card-reader and the headphone jack. That Thunderbolt 3 port is especially important, as very few other laptops with similar traits offer one. Lenovo advertises up to 40 Gbps speeds, but from what I can tell in HWinfo this is just a PCIe x2 connection, but do correct me if I’m wrong.
All in all, if it weren’t for the glossy non-touch screen, this would be one of my favorite 14-inch laptops available in stores right now, as it’s very well built, nice looking and fairly practical, with distinctive traits like a complete IO and a display that can go flat to 180 degrees. It is also a little heavier than the competition, but I could live with that and its somewhat sharp metallic edges. The glossy non-touch display though, this one is a deal-breaker for me.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard and trackpad are just what Lenovo offers on most of their 13 and 14 inch IdeaPads and Yogas and most potential buyers will find them quite good.
I for one found the keyboard a little bit soft and spongy, but after a few thousand words typed on it I can place it in the upper half in terms of the experience it provides. I was able to type in fast and mostly accurately, with occasional mistakes caused by the fact that the keys put too little resistance and it’s easy to press something else while floating your fingers across. The stroke is pretty short too, but that’s a given with ultraportables these days.
This keyboard is also quiet to type on and backlit, with two brightness levels to choose from. The illumination system is activated when swiping your fingers across the touchpad, or by hitting a key.
The layout is mostly fine, but the fact that the Up and Down arrow keys are so short needs time to get used to. There’s also the fact that the “Enter” and “\” are bound together, which is a little odd, but a convenient way to accommodate different layouts on the same interior design.
For mouse Lenovo went with a large Synaptics clickpad, slightly lowered into the frame and separated from the palm-rest by a beveled edge. It has a nice feel to it and allows the fingers to glide easily on its surface, although it’s perhaps not as fast as some of the glass clickpads out there.
Overall though I don’t really have much to complain about its performance and feel. It handles swipes, taps and gestures smoothly and consistently, with no jerkiness or stuttering, and it also came well calibrated out of the box and I didn’t had to tweak its behavior in any way whatsoever. The physical clicks are in the lower left and right corners and they’re fairly smooth and quiet.
Lenovo also integrates a finger sensor in the right-side of the palm-rest, beneath the arrow keys, which works well with Windows Hello.
I mentioned earlier than the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s gets a glossy non-touch screen with a pretty good 14-inch IPS panel beneath a protective layer of glass. I’m definitely not a fan of this approach that adds unneeded glare and reflections in bright environments, but as long as you’re going to keep this mostly indoors and in dimmer rooms, you might actually appreciate the stronger build and the lack of that specific graininess associated with matte panels.
Lenovo went with a FHD 14-inch panel made by AU Optronics, a pretty solid option that’s also available in a bunch of other mid-tier laptops like the Acer Spin 5 and Spin 7, or the Asus Pro B9440. You’ll find more details below, taken with a Spyder 4 Sensor.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO353D (B140HAN03.5);
- Coverage: 96% sRGB, 70% NTSC, 75% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 290 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 860:1;
- White point: 6300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.34 cd/m2.
Aside from the fact that the colors, gray levels and gamma are a bit skewed out of the box, which you can mostly address by calibrating the panel or using our calibrated color profile, there’s a lot to like about this screen.
I haven’t noticed any obvious light bleeding around the edges either, but one thing that I found quite odd is that you have to cram the brightness to at least 70% to get to 120 nits, which is what I find adequate for indoor use in my office. Not an issue, just and oddity I noticed.
Hardware, upgrades and performance
Lenovo offers the IdeaPad 720S in a bunch of different configurations and we got to test the highest one available, with an Intel Core i7-7500U processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB NVMe SSD and Nvidia GTX 940MX graphics with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory.
The Nvidia chip makes this a fairly capable gaming ultraportable, as it’s the improved version with GDDR5 memory and not the GDDR3 model available on the Asus Zenbook UX430UX and a few other laptops in this class. It’s still not a match for the newer devices with Nvidia MX150 graphics like the new Acer Aspire Swift 14 and the Asus Zenbook UX430UN though, as you’ll find out from this dedicated post about the Nvidia MX150 chip. For now, I can’t tell whether Lenovo plans to update the 720s to MX150 at some point, but I’d reckon it will happen.
As far as the hardware goes, the CPU and GPU are soldered on the motherboard, but you can get inside to access the RAM and M.2 SSD, as well as the wireless chip and the battery if needed. For that, you’ll need to get past the back panel, which is a simple task as it’s only held in place by a few Torx T5 screws, all clearly visible. Keep in mind that the RAM slot is placed beneath an aluminum shield that you’ll have to remove by loosening the pins that hold it in place.
Before we jump to high load and gaming performance I should also mention that this laptop can handle everyday tasks smoothly, while running cool and fairly quiet. The pictures below show details on speed and temperatures with browsing, typing and watching multimedia content.
Things change a bit with demanding loads, but you should take our findings with a grain of salt as we’re testing an early sample of the IdeaPad 720s and things might change with newer drivers and software updates on the retail models.
Our review unit struggled to maintain full CPU and GPU Turbo speeds in benchmarks, demanding loads and games (details in the pictures below) and that’s why some of the results below are lower than what the hardware platform is capable of.
- 3DMark 11: P2687;
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 6373, Fire Strike – 1890, Time Spy – 634;
- 3DMark 13 – Graphics: Sky Driver –6680, Fire Strike – 2051, Time Spy – 574;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3612;
- PCMark 10: 3923;
- Geekbench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 2841, Multi-core: 6119;
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4017, Multi-core: 7565;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 51.76 fps, CPU 3.22 pts, CPU Single Core 1.32 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 70.52 fps, CPU 292 cb, CPU Single Core 117 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 98.77 fps, Pass 2 – 19.08 fps.
For comparison, the Asus Vivobook S510UQ gets the exact same hardware platform and manages 5-10% higher scores in multitasking and graphics tests, while the Zenbook UX430UQ scores higher in CPU tests and lower in GPU tests, because it squeezes more from the Core i7-7500U processor, but only gets the slower GDDR3 version of the Nvidia 940MX chip.
As far as gaming goes, here’s what we got on our test unit.
||Nvidia 940MX – FHD low
||Nvidia 940MX – FHD high
||Intel HD 620 – FHD low
|Far Cry 4
|NFS Most Wanted
The fact that the GPU cannot even maintain its default speed of 1.088 GHz and only averages .900 to .950 GHz in prolonged sessions takes a toll on performance, but even so the 940MX with GDDR5 memory is at least a 20% bump from the GDDR3 940MX used on the Zenbook UX430UQ and at least twice faster than the Intel HD 620 chip integrated within the CPU. Final retail units should show improvements over what we got in our tests, as the mid 60s temperatures on the CPU and GPU in games leave plenty of headroom for Lenovo to optimize performance in their final products.
I also find it weird that the results above are better than what we got on the VivoBook S510, despite the fact that the GPU ran at ~1.2 GHz on that one and significantly slower here.
All in all though, if you’re after the best gaming abilities in a thin and affordable package I must once more stress that your money would be best spent on some of the Nvidia MX150 notebooks right now.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
There are two fans inside the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s, with a minimalist cooling system with just one heatpipe that spreads on top both the CPU and the GPU. The large intake on the bottom and proper output grills sure help though.
The two fans are not individually controlled and spin at the same time. They remain inactive with very basic activities, like watching a movie, but kick in with the slightest traces of multitasking or the moment you launch Chrome. They’re usually fairly quiet and barely noticeable even in a completely silent room, but they do occasionally ramp up for a little while and then quiet back down, and then ramp up again and so on. I measured noise levels of around 38 dB at head level with everyday multitasking, with a base room noise level of 33 dB. There’s no coil whining or electrical noise, so overall this laptop runs quiet and cool with daily use.
The fans ramp up with games and the outer case gets above mid 40s in certain spots, which is uncomfortable for gaming on the lap, but otherwise normal for a laptop with this kind of waist and hardware inside. The fans can get a little loud at this point though, at up to 45-46 dB at head level, somewhat noisier than on the Zenbook UX430UQ that only averaged 43-44 dB, but on par with most other devices in the class.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Far Cry 4 for 30 minutes
For radios Lenovo went with Wireless AC and Bluetooth. Unfortunately they included the lower-end and rather slow Intel 3165 chip on this laptop, so as a result the review unit would only get up to 50 Mbps speeds in everyday use, even when close to the router. The wireless chip can be easily replaced with one of the newer Intel options if you want to. There’s a service manual here that should help. On the other hand the wireless antennae do a decent job at longer ranges, the laptop being perfectly usable and 30 feet with 2 walls in between, with no obvious buffering or any drops.
Update: As of early December 2017, it looks like the retail versions of the IdeaPad 720s sell with a much better Intel AC 8265 wireless module in most parts of the world. That translates in superior Wi-Fi performance and negates the need to swap the Wi-Fi chip yourselves.
There’s a set of stereo speakers branded by JBL on this laptop and they’re decent, but not impressive in any way. We measured maximum volumes of about 74 dB at head level, and while the sound is clean and without distortions, is not very rich. Low end is identifiable from 95 Hz and up in some of the Youtube tests I tried.
I should also mention that the speakers are placed on the bottom and their cuts are small and easy to muffle when using this laptop on the lap or on any other surface that covers them, so you might want to pay attention to that if you care about audio quality.
As far as the webcam goes, well, it’s an HD camera placed on top of the screen and is pretty bad, grainy in poor light and with a tendency to greatly overexpose in good light, as you can see above. The mics are placed beneath the screen, just on top of the hinge, and that’s why they have a hard time cancelling out typing noises.
Lenovo puts a 56 Wh battery inside the IdeaPad 720s, which is a little bigger than on most other 14-inch laptops with similar traits. Combined with a FHD screen, this laptop can last for quite a while on a charge. We set the screen’s brightness at around 120 nits, which in this case was 70% brightness.
- 7.2 W (~7 h 45 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.5 W (~8 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.6 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.2 W (~9 h of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 13.2 W (~4 h 10 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 34 W (~1 h 30 min of use) – Gaming on battery, High performance Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON.
I’ve seen other reviews complaining about battery life on this laptop and based on the numbers above our sample is more aggressive than other laptops with Core U hardware and a FHD screen, but the bigger battery compensates and thus 4-5 hours of real-life daily use and 8-10 of video are not bad for this class if you ask me.
The charger provided in the package is compact and light, but also surprisingly small at just 45 Wh. The battery takes at least 2h and 15 min to fully charge, and longer if you’re playing games during this time.
Price and availability
The IdeaPad 720s is available in most regions of the world as of August 2017.
In the US Lenovo offers a mid-range configuration with the Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB PCIe SSD and the Nvidia 940MX graphics chip for under $900, which is pretty solid pricing for what you’re getting. There’s also a similar configuration, but with a Core i7 processor, for $950 on Lenovo’s website. Higher end configurations get a Core i7 processor, up to 16 GB of RAM and larger SSDs.
As of November 2017 the IdeaPad 720s is also available with quad-core KabyLake-R processors and Nvidia MX150 graphics. This configuration is listed at around $900 in the US, with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD.
Follow this link for more details and updated configurations and prices at the time you read this article.
This laptop is really interesting and unlike other laptop with similar traits, is actually available in most regions as of August 2017.
The build, hardware and overall good value for the money put it on the map. Lenovo didn’t skim on the craftsmanship, the keyboard/trackpad or the IO, while inside they put the most recent hardware available at the moment, leaving room for upgrades, and a pretty big battery. The Nvidia 940MX chip is also a fair performer as it’s the improved GDDR5 version, but those of you interested in gaming on an ultraportable should primarily turn their attention on the Nvidia MX150 configurations. Right now there aren’t many of those available though, so if you need to buy something this Back to School season, the 940MX is your best bet.
On the other hand, there are two main aspects Lenovo should have done differently here imo. One is the glossy non-touch display. It’s a pretty good one with a decent IPS panel, but the glare corroborated with average brightness make it a tough sell for those that plan to use the laptop outdoors, and that’s why I would have preferred a standard matte screen. The other is the slow Wireless chip that comes bundled (or at least came on our sample), but this one can be easily replaced with a faster model if needed.
And if we’re on this topic, I will also add that this IdeaPad is a little heavier than the competition and fairly noisy/hot in demanding loads. The high temperatures are just the norm with this kind of hardware and form factor, but other laptops run a little quieter in games and heavy use.
We also ran into some performance issues on this particular sample, with both the CPU and GPU not at their best in demanding loads, but you should take this with a grain of salt and read other opinions, as our sample was a pre-release model and not a final retail unit. And even so, while discrepancies were noticeable in hardware logs, they didn’t have a significant impact on the laptop’s performance in actual use.
As far as competition goes, the Asus Zenbook UX410UQ is the closest rival available right now, but this one doesn’t sell worldwide. It’s available in Europe and gets a proper matte screen, but on the other hand there’s a smaller battery inside and no Thunderbolt 3 port. More details in our in-depth review. There’s also the more expensive and more portable Zenbook UX430UQ to consider, but both of these only get Nvidia 940MX chips with GDDR3 memory, so are about 15-20% slower in games.
If you don’t need the dedicated graphics there area a few other well priced compact 14-inchers you should check out, like the Acer Swift 3 or the Asus Pro B9440. But if graphics performance is crucial, I’ll once again stress that you should turn your attention towards devices like the Asus Zenbook UX430UN, Acer Swift 3 2nd gen and other ultraportables with Nvidia MX150 graphics.
All in all, Lenovo did a great job here with the IdeaPad 720s. If you need a sturdily built laptop with very few compromises, good everyday performance and the ability to tackle games better than most thin-and-lights, this should be on the map. Just make sure you’re fine with the glossy display and preferably replace that Wi-Fi chip to get better wireless performance.
With that in mind we’ll wrap this up here, but the comments section below is open for your feedback, impressions and questions, and we’re around to help out if we can.
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