Lenovo LaVie Z 360: Insanely thin and light (hands on)

The laptop from Lenovo and NEC surprises everyone who picks it up, as it is as light as the MacBook yet has a bigger display and a powerful Core i7 processor.

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CNET
The first impression of the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is that it is made of flimsy plastic. That's not the case as it is constructed of a special magnesium alloy designed to be lighter than most metals used for laptops, and it is quite sturdy.

Lenovo and NEC formed an alliance in 2011 to jointly make and sell laptops in Japan, and the LaVie Z is the first to be sold in the US. It is made by NEC and has the Lenovo brand, which explains why it looks nothing like laptops made by Lenovo.

The LaVie Z comes in two models, one a standard laptop form and the LaVie Z 360 with a touch screen that rotates a full 360 degrees for use as both a laptop and a tablet. The 360 is the review unit supplied to ZDNet.

CNET review: Lenovo LaVie Z 360

The 360 is insanely thin and only weighs 2.04 pounds (non-touch version less than 2 pounds), making it the lightest laptop with a 13.3-inch display. It is roughly the same weight as the new MacBook while offering a bigger display than the Mac's 12.5-inch screen. That makes it even more impressive.

The Intel Core i7 processor in the LaVie Z 360 is powerful and the laptop is one of the fastest ultra-thin models I've tested. There are no lags during operation, and it handles Windows 8.1 handily.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-5500U Processor( 2.40GHz 1600MHz 4MB)
  • Display: 13.3" WQHD (2560 x 1440) LED (touch panel)
  • Memory / storage: 8GB / 256GB
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader, audio
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Battery: 5 - 7 hours
  • Dimensions: 12.56 x 0.67 x 8.35 inches
  • Weight: 2.04 lbs
  • Price: $1,699

The hardware

Picking up the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 surprises everyone due to the light weight. This, coupled with how thin the laptop is brings a smile to their faces, especially when you mention the Core i7 processor. It doesn't seem possible that a laptop could have Core technology and fit in the skinny 360.

There must be a fan inside due to the Intel Core i7 but in testing I haven't heard it. The laptop gets noticeably warm with activities requiring heavy processing, but never alarmingly so.

In addition to cramming the Core i7 processor inside, Lenovo has managed to provide a respectable number of ports. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a full size HDMI port, and a full SD card slot. It is a well equipped Windows laptop and only 0.67 inches thick, which is quite a feat.

The 13.3-inch display is very resolute (2560 x 1440) and nice to use. The touch screen works better than many laptops I've used and is very precise during touch operation.

The screen rotates 360 degrees so the LaVie Z 360 can be used as a tablet with the keyboard rotated behind the display. It's large for tablet use but is better than expected due to the relatively light weight and thin form.

This rotation is not without controversy, as early buyers were understandably upset that even though this supports Lenovo's typical 4-mode operation, only two (laptop and tablet) actually work on the 360. The stand and tent modes that work on every Lenovo laptop with a display that rotates 360 degrees do not work on the LaVie Z 360. Lenovo has offered buyers a small refund as a result. Personally, I rarely use the non-functional modes and do not miss them on this laptop.

The keyboard is not typical quality for Lenovo laptops. The right shift key is very small and takes a while to get used to. The backspace key is also small, and has a key to the left of it that is a "FWD Space" key. The keys have a low profile and are a little squishy when typing rapidly. It's not a bad keyboard, just not as good as it should be. In spite of these odd design choices the over-sized Enter key is appreciated.

Battery life is not the best, although it's not bad for a laptop with a Core i7 processor. I regularly could get just over five hours on a charge, up to seven with stringent power management. It's not quite an all day battery, but close enough for a laptop without a slow mobile processor.

Using the Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is a nice experience. It weighs about the same as an iPad Air 2 in a keyboard case and takes only a little more room in the backpack.

Performance is quite good and using the touch screen with Windows 8.1 is very productive. The system never bogs down, even with lots of apps going and with resource pig Chrome running with lots of tabs open. This is helped by the 8GB of RAM and the fast 256GB SSD.

I find I use the 360 as a touch tablet more than I thought I would. Such large tablets are usually not comfortable to use, but the light weight and thin package lessen that to a great extent. I regularly set the tablet in my lap and use it for extended periods with ease.

Pros:

  • Intel Core i7 performance
  • Thin, light form
  • Decent tablet usage
  • Good trackpad

Cons:

  • Non-standard key layout
  • Expensive
  • Battery life

Reviewer's rating: 8.6 out of 10

Bottom line

The Lenovo LaVie Z 360 is a powerful laptop in a form that is highly portable. It competes admirably with the MacBook and most Windows laptops. If I was shopping for a Windows laptop, I'd consider the 360.

It is available from Lenovo for $1,699 for the model as reviewed (LaVie Z 360) and for $1,499 for the standard laptop version (LaVie Z).

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