BEELINE TO THE FUTURE:Lenovo Essential 570

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, I prefer Macs to PCs; however, I recently bought a new windows laptop. The primary reason is that I just started a new job as a computer trainer at a public library, teaching technical classes with an emphasis on Microsoft Office and Windows. I will eventually have the flexibility to add classes on iOS and maybe Macs, but the emphasis will be the Microsoft software people use in most offices. Although the library provides me with a desktop, I felt I should have a Windows laptop at home to practice and use the software I’ll be teaching.

I picked the Essential because Lenovo has a reputation for producing quality, well-made computers with great full-sized keyboards. I wanted a budget laptop since the computer supplements my iMac at home and the desktop computer at work, and I also own an iPad, iPhone, etc., and couldn’t justify spending a thousand bucks. The Essential laptops are Lenovo’s budget computers, but despite that the computer’s specs are quite good: an i5 processor, a 15.6 screen, 4 gb of RAM, and a 750 gig hard drive. The only real slouch in the specs is the integrated processor, which is not a problem for me because I don’t play 3D or graphics-intensive games. I like text-based games such as Out of the Park Baseball and Stratomatic football, but these games are not processor intensive. I intend to eventually double the RAM, which will only cost around $40, and if the laptop is still not speedy enough I’ll put a faster hard drive in it.

Immediately I faced some of the issues that annoy me about PCs. The laptop has some preinstalled software: two different antivirus programs, a preview version of Office 2010, and some webcam software; all of which I uninstalled. It also had some “helpful” Lenovo programs such as Lenovo boot optimizer, which the first time I let run (thinking it would increase boot time in the future) spent ten minutes turning the computer on and off until I couldn’t take it anymore and hit escape, at which point it chastised me in a popup that the computer currently takes 47 seconds to bootup because I would not let optimizer complete the optimization. Steve Jobs would fire programmers over asinine software like that. I checked online and a number of people have had problems with the boot optimizer; the program appears to have a common bug. After trying it several times with similar results, and dealing with it automatically coming on every time I started the computer, I uninstalled it. I know enough about computers to get rid of a lot of crapware and bloatware, but when my students come to my Openlab for computer help a lot of them have windows popping up, and programs telling them you must pay x amount a month to protect your computer, and this nagware causes them anxiety (as well as money).

Nonetheless, I persevered, and found Windows 7 to be a huge improvement over Vista. The Mac-like taskbar is a nice feature. Windows 7 contains lots of eyecandy, and good personalization features with different desktop backgrounds. The speed is improved, especially after the sometimes glacial speed of Vista, and Windows 7 networking tools constitute a major step forward. It’s easy to set up a network of Windows computers in your home. If I didn’t already have a Mac network, I would find this very useful because I usually have multiple computers and devices going at any given time. I also find the layout of commands and tabs for Office 2007 logical and easy to use (and yes I know that Office 2010 is out, but I haven’t upgraded because my job still uses 2007).

The laptop’s keyboard is a sunken island-style chiclet keyboard with a full number keypad. The keys are slightly rounded at the bottom and widely spaced. Overall, I like but don’t love the keyboard. I’m an excellent touch typist, and would prefer the keys to be a tad larger. I would also like the keys to be firmer with more tactile feedback. The delete and right shift keys should be slightly larger. The best laptop keyboard I’ve ever used was on the Pismo laptops of the late 90s, two of which I still own and use for word processing. For a three hour typing sessions there’s nothing quite like the large, firm keys of a Pismo. However, the Essential’s keyboard is more responsive and gives better tactile feedback than the keyboard on the Dell Inspirons or HP laptops I’ve used at work over the years.

The touch pad is big for a laptop with two large mouse buttons. The multitouch gestures like two-finger scrolling and pinch to zoom work, but imperfectly, which is true for all Windows laptops. The touchpad is acceptable for a budget laptop and again better than the Dells and HPs I’ve used; however, it’s still not clear to me why PCs can’t produce trackpads as good as a Mac’s.

The Essential’s plastic body is sturdy, although it does not have the build quality of Lenovo’s more expensive laptops like the IdeaPads or ThinkPads. It’s an attractive laptop, but it’s not going to turn heads at Starbucks, if that’s your thing. The lid is plain black and devoid of much in the way of design; it also picks up fingerprints too easily. The only complaint I have about the build quality is that the screen hinges are flimsy, making the screen feel a little wobbly.

The Essential weighs 5.3 pounds, so it’s not a thin and light, but it’s extremely portable and easy to hold in your lap.

The laptop’s glossy 15.6 display is bright and sharp, and what you would expect of a laptop of this price range, but it’s not as good as the screens on more expensive laptops. The battery life is average for its price range: nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about either. The speakers work, but that’s the best you can say about them; when I’ve played music, the volume has been reasonably high but flat and lifeless. The laptop has a solid array of ports: four USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, VGA, Ethernet, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack. It lacks a USB 3.0 port.

Overall, this laptop impresses as well above average for a sub-$600 budget laptop; most of its limitations are inevitable for a laptop of this price range. I prefer it to the Dells and HPs I’ve used over the years (although I’ve never used one of the higher priced Dells or HPs). If money was more copious in the Bee household, I would have bought a Mac and dual booted it on Windows, but that would have cost an extra $500 or so. For an extra couple hundred bucks, you can also upgrade to Lenovo’s excellent IdeaPad line.

There are cheaper choices out there, but remember many of those computers have unusable keyboards, atrocious trackpads, and are slow, slow, slow. So if you’re looking for a solid, functional laptop, and you’re on a budget, the Essential line stands out as a good choice. I will put in one proviso: I can’t guarantee that the Essentials are the absolute best budget laptops. Unlike Consumer Reports or gadget websites, I can’t buy and test every conceivable laptop in a category and pick the best. I’m glad I bought the Essential: it fit my budget, and I’ve used it extensively and comfortably. Unless you’re a heavy duty gamer, or planning on doing a lot of video editing, this laptop will meet your needs at a reasonable price.