Today I’m writing a mini-review of Lenovo’s new(ish) Ideapad 720S 15. This laptop has flown almost entirely under the radar – no Lenovo Yoga-esque marketing campaign, no plethora of tech site reviews, et cetera – but could be a worthy contender for your next notebook purchase.
My selection criteria were influenced by my last few lapwarmers. Coming from a Skylake XPS 13 and a MSI GS60 gaming laptop before that, I wanted something in between. The XPS 13 was rock-solid in build quality (though weak in component longevity), could run for a marathon session on a single charge, and was professional enough to take to any client site or lecture. For its part the MSI laptop sported a large, vibrant screen and enough gaming oomph to offer space sim distraction during a business trip or a shoot-em-up weekend while visiting friends. So I was looking for a blend between the two: professional aesthetics, solid battery life, and a GPU that could game on the go.
Laptop research is tough! Not only are most reviews very perfunctory – few touch throttling, for example – but dealbreakers often don’t turn up until a million monkeys get their paws on the product and tease out any flaws. For example, the Gigabyte Aero 15 loses keystrokes if you hold down multiple modifier keys, and the Dell XPS 15 is notorious for throttling in games. The Lenovo 720S 15 managed to check all my boxes on paper, but how is it on my lap?Aesthetics and Build Quality
This notebook is presents a pleasant first impression. It is clad in dark silver metal, with a subdued “Lenovo” etched on the top right of the lid. Coloring and material are mirrored on the bottom of the unit, which is free of unsightly stickers save for the mandatory Microsoft badge. The top surface is covered by a thin layer of metal instead of the thick metal plate of the XPS line, and it can bend a little bit if opposing forces are placed on the right and left edges of the screen.
Opening it up, you’re greeted with a generously-proportioned keyboard in the same hue, replete with a numpad and variable-intensity blacklighting (off-low-high). This keyboard resides on a metal backplate and does not flex with keystrokes. The trackpad is solid and smooth, though it discards the physical right and left clickers of the Thinkpad line for the common “invsible-button” design. (Some owners have reported the trackpad becoming sluggish after extended use, but I have not experienced this at all.) Of note on this laptop is an oddly sharp edge on the top of the inner surface. While this area is not uncomfortable during use I could see it as a potential site for scratches and chips. Also of note is a small gap between the bottom plate and the laptop body. This looks like a design decision instead of a manufacturing defect, but it is less pleasing than a seamless join. There is also a bit of creaking from my unit when the upper right quadrant of the body is manipulated. The rubber feet – a failure point on every other laptop that I’ve owned – are quite rigid and very firmly affixed to the base of the unit.
(The aforementioned gap.)
All-in-all, I would call this “Tier 1.5” build quality: better than many laptops but not as rugged as an XPS 13 or as gorgeous as the Surface Book 2. I was comfortable slinging my XPS 13 around in a backpack full of textbooks, whereas the Lenovo 720S might be safer with a reader of novels.Form Factor
At 0.70 (17.95mm) and 4.18 lbs, this laptop is lighter than Dell’s XPS 15 line and comfortable to carry or move with one hand. Bezels are slim, and the camera is where it should be – above the LCD. Logging in is a breeze with an inconspicuous fingerprint reader.Ports and Connections
A laptop is only as useful as the number of ways you can bridge it to the outside world. This is one area where the 720S 15 requires compromise, given that ports are limited to 1xTB3 (2 lane), 3.5mm headset, 1xUSB C, 1xUSB A, and SD Card. If you’re like me and use a Logitech mouse adapter, any further USB A peripherals would require a trip to dongletown, as would any kind of video out. There is no lock hole for those who work in shared spaces. (The odd square port is the AC adapter.)Screen and Speakers
The screen on this laptop is quite nice, even at 40% brightness with battery saver mode (my default settings on the go). Viewing angles are excellent and colors appear vibrant. There have been reports of excessive backlight bleed on the FHD model, but my laptop is reasonable in that department (see below). This display runs at 60hz without any obvious ghosting issues. The speakers are on the bottom front of the laptop and are acceptable, though they will be muffled on a quilt or other enveloping surface.Software
Lenovo was mercilessly light on the installed software cruft. I removed the standard antivirus trial and the Windows 10 games, but overall this was a cleaner install than is typical on consumer hardware.Battery Life
One of the differentiators between this laptop and others with similar features is its 79 watt hour battery with legs. While I have yet to run the battery down in one sitting, I am currently sitting at 72% after 2 hours and 45 minutes of browsing, writing, and streaming. 8.5-10 hours of battery life would seem to be a safe estimate for time available on a single charge. (This is at 40% screen brightness in battery saver mode, with -150mV of undervolting applied.) Thermals and Fan Noise
Fan noise is reasonable. While the fan appears to always be audibly running, it is quieter under gaming load than other discrete graphics laptops that I’ve used. This could be due to the MaxQ design or the 15.6” form factor.
This laptop does throttle under load at stock settings. As you can see below, running Doom 2016 at high settings with the stock voltage curve eventually causes the GPU to throttle. Frustratingly, it throttles from ~1,680MHz to ~1,150MHz and stays there instead of dynamically choosing a middle ground. This behavior only becomes apparent when running the GPU near full load continuously (e.g. Doom @ high settings, and less demanding games or graphical settings do not cause any noticeable throttling).
With -150mV CPU and -100mV GPU undervolting applied, this laptop becomes a completely different gaming machine, sustaining a GPU clock of 1,772MHz! Note that the CPU is still thermal throttling, (green peaks in Intel XTU), but that the magnitude of said throttling is quite benign and still results in a four-core clock of 3.3-3.4GHz. I need to do more testing under sustained loads and may back off on the max clock to something like 1,700Mhz to ensure that I could game for hours without
This laptop responded very well to undervolting, breezing through Prime95 and Intel XTU at -150mV on the CPU. The GPU is running at -100mV without crashes or frame dips. I have not tried to push these voltages lower, as the current values allow for steady boost clocks in games and an excellent battery life.Performance
The differentiator between the Lenovo 720S 15 and <insert generic sleek laptop here> is the 1050Ti Max-Q. The new Max-Q designs allow for excellent performance in this form factor, and I have comfortably played DOTA 2, Fortnite, Overwatch, Killing Floor 2, and Doom 2016* at medium or high settings at 60 FPS. With undervolted settings, observed GPU temperatures max out at 71C under load. The CPU performs very well under load when using the Intel 620 IGP for productivity tasks. 3DMark Time Spy benchmark is 2,307 with undervolting applied – 2,165 Graphics and 3,672 CPU.
(*Note that the laptop runs into an odd quirk in Doom where a handful of rooms dip down to 45-55FPS unless either shadows or lights are turned to “Low,” regardless of other video performance settings. This could be an issue with the MaxQ driver.) Value
When sold at $1,500, the Ideapad 720S 15 I purchased (FHD/8GB/512GB) trades blows with the XPS 15 series. That said, Lenovo has been offering aggressive coupons for the 720S 15 line, and my SKU was down to $1,200 the week that I bought it. The i5/8GB/256GB SKU is a bargain at $999, as is the UHD/16GB/1TB
SKU at $1,600
(why oh why wasn’t this offered in 1080P?!). Without discounts, this laptop is uncomfortably close to the excellent 14” Gigabyte Aero 14W and discounted Razer Blade 14. Both of those models come with a better GPU and more RAM, with some tradeoffs. If gaming is your main concern, you can trade up to a GTX 1060 MaxQ at a lower price with something like the Inspiron 7000 Gaming from Dell.
It would also be prudent to wait until May 2018 for the full wave of new 8th-generation i7s laptops, especially the Kaby Lake G versions with integrated Vega graphics. These could offer goodies like more cores or better battery life and should trigger sharp discounts on i7-7700HQ models. Jack of all Trades
The Ideapad 720S 15 is a satisfying all-rounder laptop for those of us who want to work and play on the same device without breaking the bank. You get the professional aesthetics and battery life of today’s thin-and-lights with the gaming chops of yesteryear’s desktop replacements. The meaty battery life and good thermals (post-undervolting) of this design stand out in a sea of flawed offerings, though you will want to purchase this laptop with a coupon or sale. At the end of the day, this is a great hybrid-purpose laptop for the geek that is willing to tweak a few voltages.The Good:
-Excellent battery life
-“Tier 1.5” build quality
-1050Ti Max Q handles today’s AAA games well
-Large and vibrant screen
-Relatively cool and quiet under gaming loads
-Great results from undervolting
-No need for a reinstall to purge bloatware
-Full-sized keyboard with numpad
-Fingerprint reader and properly-placed cameraThe Bad:
-Just one USB A port and no direct video out
-“Tier 1.5” build quality
-A Lenovo discount or promotion is required to get the best value for the middle SKU
-Jack of all trades: dedicated units are faster at this price point
-Chassis readily picks up fingerprintsThe Ugly
-Throttling is an issue in demanding games with stock voltages
-Kaby Lake G and 8th-generation mobile i7s are right around the corner