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Lenovo thinkpad e570 NZ

Lenovo serves up a mid-price, not-so-small business laptop. The ThinkPad E570 is so traditional it borders on retro. It will please laptop conservatives. If you need greater mobility, look elsewhere.

Lenovo ThinkPad E570 at a glance:

For: Configurable
Latest processor
Against: Heavy
Large
Build quality
Maybe: No touch screen
Removable battery
Verdict: Mid-price large screen laptop. Will appeal to small business owners.
Price: From NZ$1100. Review model NZ$1300.
Website: Lenovo NZ

By 2017 standards, the Lenovo ThinkPad E570 is bulky. The review model weighs 2.4Kg. It measures 376 by 262 by 34 mm at its widest, broadest and deepest.

Part of the heft is because the case includes a large, bright 15.6-inch display and a DVD drive.

There’s a lot of plastic around the edge of the screen. Indeed, there’s a lot of black plastic full stop. It’s chunky and robust which adds protection but you’ll need a backpack to move it.

Another reason for the bulk is the battery and studs rise the base a few millimetres off a desktop. This gives breathing room so air can flow through vents. There’s also a heavy-duty fan vent on the left side of the case too.

Rough in places

An E at the start of a product number indicates the E570 is from the lower-price ThinkPad range. That means you get a lower quality finish than you’d find on more expensive models. It’s a little rough in places and the matt black plastic picks up smudges with a vengeance.

The front of the lid doesn’t sit flush with the bottom part of the computer. This makes it easier to open. The hinge has a small amount of give, but nothing to trouble anyone.

While the case is not pretty, it does look like Lenovo made the computer to do business. If you like the red and black ThinkPad look, you’ll be happy with the effect.

Desktop replacement

Given size and weight, you won’t want to carry the E570 all the time. If portability is important get something else. It makes a fine desktop replacement that can travel at a pinch.

A big case means there’s room for a full-size keyboard and numeric keys. The layout takes getting used to. A week or two of reviewing was not enough time to master the keyboard idiosyncrasies.

Among other things, having two backspace and one delete key in the top right corner is strange. Also odd is the off centre touchpad and the small space bar.

TouchPad

Because there’s no touchscreen, you’ll use the touchpad a lot. It’s small by 2017 standards. The little red signature ThinkPad cursor joystick is some compensation. In practice the touchpad is erratic, that could be a Windows 10 driver problem.

If you owned this computer and used it often, trackpad aside, all these things, would be no trouble after a few weeks.

The lack of a keyboard backlight is disappointing.

As already mentioned, there is no touchscreen. The display is 1366 by 768 HD format. There is a FHD 1920 by 1080 model that, at the moment, costs $100 more than the review computer.

It comes with a faster processor and a better video card, that’s a lot of extra value for $100.

One minor worry about the display is that the default setting is 100 percent brilliance. While that’s fine, there’s nothing extra for when you need a boost.

Video and everyday Windows apps work fine with the display. It’s not state-of-the-art, but its good considering the price tag.

Kaby Lake

The review model has an Intel i5 7200U processor running at 2.5GHz. That’s a Kaby Lake chip or the seventh generation of Core processors.

Intel says they are faster than last year’s processors, enough for users to notice. They are video optimised and should be more power efficient.

Lenovo says you can get eight hours on a single charge. As always, the manufacturer’s claim is pushing it. In practice, it works for a little over six hours before power supply nagging starts. Battery life isn’t so vital in a computer that will sit on a desk most of the time.

There’s a DVD drive, which feels anachronistic, but will please many users. There are three USB ports — again, that pleases some users not others. Lenovo also includes HDMI, Ethernet, a multi-format card reader and an audio jack.

ThinkPad E570 feels old fashioned

Despite a state-of-the-art processor, the ThinkPad E570 is, in many ways, old-fashioned. It’s been a long time since a review non-touch Windows PC with a hard drive instead of SSD has turned up here.

The question is how the specification trade-offs work with value for money. The biggest downside is the quality of finish. You can find better-made computers at the same price, although they may not have the same mix of features.

At first sight it looks as if Lenovo charges a premium for its 15.6 inch display. On a more positive note, you get a lot of processor performance for your money. It would be a good choice if you crunch numbers on a spreadsheet all day.

It’s clear the $1400 top of the line model with a Core i7 processor, higher resolution screen and better graphics card is better value. This is a promotional price and may not be available for long.

You might want to swap the 1TB hard drive for a 256GB SSD, that would add around $170 to the list price.

Not everyone prizes slim and light over big screens, full keyboards and processor power. The Lenovo ThinkPad E570 isn’t for the kind of person who works from cafés or airport lounges. There are many who still want DVD drives. This will hit the spot for some demographics.

surface book
Microsoft Surface Book

Is it time to swap your Mac for a Windows laptop? 1

You don’t have to look hard to find similar stories elsewhere. A number appeared after Apple launched the MacBook Pro in late October.

Other Apple users used social media to wonder out loud about jumping to Windows or to announce an actual move.

And Windows users are thinking of moving to Mac.

On one level moving is easy

This level of fluidity is unprecedented. In many respects it has never been easier to move from Mac to Windows or Windows to Mac.

Yet switching from one to the other or for that matter to Linux or a Chromebook can be trouble. It can be so much trouble that you need powerful reasons to move.

A missing HDMI port is not enough reason.2 At least not on its own.

Wrenching…

Wrench number one is that most long-term computer users have invested in one or more expensive apps that don’t make a good journey to the alternative operating system.

This is less of a problem now that many apps are cloud-based or purchased as a subscription. It’s not going to worry anyone who uses, say, Xero.

If, say, you move from a Mac to a Windows machine, and use Microsoft Office then you can kill the MacOS account and download the applications to your new Windows computer in a matter of minutes.

Cloud

You can keep your iCloud account active long after moving to Windows. Likewise, Microsoft OneDrive works well on Macs.

More specialist applications and games can be more troublesome.

There aren’t many third-party hardware devices still limited to only Apple or Windows. Printers, back-up drives, routers and so on can make the switch in minutes.

If you like a big screen or typing on a mechanical keyboard your old devices will all work with your new computer. Although you may need to buy a dongle to connect them to the ports on the new machine.

Phones

You may run into unforeseen compatibility problems between devices like phones or tablets. iPhones and iPads play nice with Windows PCs and Macs, but the experience is much better when you are all Apple.

Likewise, the flow between your Android phone and your Windows laptop will be different if you switch to a Mac. Maybe not worse; different.

There will be minor niggles.

Standardisation and convergence mean from a hardware and software point of view moving from Windows to Mac or Mac to Windows isn’t a big deal.

Brain

However, moving your brain from one way of thinking to another is harder.

This isn’t so much of a problem for casual users who don’t dive too deep into their operating system. There will be frustrating mysteries in their new system, but there already are in the old one.

More sophisticated users can struggle. All of us who work many hours each day with computers develop habits, learn shortcuts and productivity hacks to get more done in less time. These rarely translate from one operating system to another.

You’d be surprised how many you have accumulated over the years.

Peak productivity

It can take hours to get used to the basics of a new operating system, it can take months to get to peak productivity.

This is why moving can be trouble.

Within hours of firing up a new computer with a different OS you’ll take delight in features that were missing from your old one.

Not long after you’ll start to wonder why simple things that were so easy with your old computer are suddenly hard — or even seem impossible.

You have to build this learning curve into your planning before moving.

If you are unhappy with what you have, if your frustrations have reached boiling point or if you like the look of that fancy new computer then by all means move to another operating system.

While changing may be rewarding in the long-term, in the short-term it could be harder than you expect.


  1. Spoiler alert: After testing the Surface Book Hern is not moving. ↩︎
  2. If you’re a disgruntled MacBook Pro user you’d have to be crazy to spend up to NZ$6000 on a Surface Book because of a missing port. In comparison dongle costs are nothing. ↩︎

Surface Book

Microsoft’s Surface Book is as good as it gets for hybrid devices. You can’t buy a better one, even if it still has a few irritating bugs.

Hybrids are popular. They are the only growing PC segment. There is no doubt they are what many people want from a computing device.

And yet there is something wrong with the hybrid format. Wrong could be the wrong word here. Perhaps unsatisfactory better fits the bill.

The problem is that all hybrids involve some form of compromise. In most cases you don’t get the best laptop experience, nor do you get the best tablet experience.

Many users are happy to tradeoff these experiences in return for having two devices in one package.

This tradeoff plays out in a different way with the Surface Book. As my earlier post says, it is an excellent Windows 10 laptop. In practice I found once the review was over, I only ever used the Surface Book as a laptop.

Sure detaching the screen is clever. But I never need to do this apart from testing to see how it works. [1]

And there’s the problem. The Surface Book is a great Windows laptop, the extras that turn it into an OK tablet add a lot to the cost. Prices start at NZ$2750. That’s $1000 more than you’d pay for something with the same specification that doesn’t double as a tablet.


  1. I also found I almost never use the touchscreen. It helps that the Surface Book has a great touchpad that means you don’t need to make uncomfortable reaching movements.  ↩

 

surface book
Microsoft Surface Book

A year ago Microsoft launched its first laptop. Last week the Surface Book had a refresh. It remains the best take on a 2-in-1 computer, but at a high price.

All Windows computer makers offer riffs on the laptop-cum-tablet format. There are many designs to choose from at a range of prices. Yet twelve months after it first appeared, Microsoft’s Surface Book still offers the best balance of features.

Hybrids and 2-in–1s are everywhere. For the last two years they have been the fastest growing PC segment. Scrub that, they are the only growing PC segment in recent times.

Most 2-in–1 devices involve compromise. Often you end up with something that is not the best laptop, not the best tablet. Many hybrids feel like tablets with keyboards attached as an afterthought.

Microsoft takes a different approach with Surface Book. It more than passes muster if you only use it as a laptop.

Laptop first

Some Surface Book users may never move beyond using it as a conventional laptop. Yet that misses something. Hit a key to unlock the screen. The Surface Book becomes a large Windows 10 tablet similar in many respects to the 12.9 inch Apple iPad Pro.

While most hybrids are tablet first, laptop second, the Surface Book is laptop first.

If you think the distinction between tablet first and laptop first is splitting hairs, think again. The Surface Book is a first class laptop.

Feature for feature it matches, often beats many premium Windows laptops. Most people reading this would be happy with its performance, design and weight

None of the rival hybrids come close in that department.

First-class Surface Book

Although the original Surface Book is a year old, it still runs fast. The review model has a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of memory and a 256GB solid-state drive. It sells for NZ$2750.

Well-heeled users can push the specification of the original Surface Book. Go all the way with 16GB of memory, 1TB of SSD storage, an Intel Core i7 processor and a separate Nvidia GeForce GPU. That will cost NZ$5800.

Newer Surface Books are faster. They have a more powerful graphics processor and longer battery life. The new top of the line will set you back by NZ$6000.

Pleasing to typists

You get an excellent back-lit keyboard. The keys are well spaced. They have enough travel to please touch typists. As a writer I’d consider buying the Surface Book for the keyboard alone. I haven’t seen a better laptop keyboard in years.

Microsoft has also chosen a great trackpad. It’s bigger than many Windows laptop trackpads and is responsive. This makes it easier to navigate the screen without taking your hands off the keyboard. It reminds me of the old-school mechanical Apple MacBook trackpads.

Microsoft has packed such a full compliment of ports into the Surface Book that it feels almost retro. The power port doesn’t do double duty as anything else. There are two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, a Mini-DisplayPort and 3.5 mm headset jack.

The Surface Book is thick and heavy by MacBook or Ultrabook standards. It weighs 1.5kg. That’s more than we’re used to and a touch uncomfortable at times. You’re compenstated for extra heft by a better than usual combination of keyboard, touch screen and battery life.

Detachable screen

When you use the Surface Book as a laptop, a locking system holds the screen in place. Hit the detach key or the right onscreen icon and the muscle wire system releases the tablet. You have to have power to do this, the release mechanism is both mechanical and electronic.

You can turn the screen around on the keyboard base to use as a display. Fold it all the way over and it becomes a tablet with the keyboard still attached.

It sounds unlikely, but you may want to do this. The bottom, keyboard part of the Surface Book has all the ports along with extra battery capacity. You can also put a graphics card in this section.

Windows tablet

Surface Book has an excellent screen. The display is as sharp as iPad and it has the 3:2 aspect ratio. At 13.5 inches it is larger than the 12.9 inch iPad Pro in size or roughly the size of an A4 magazine.

Microsoft has included great speakers which mean the tablet is ideal for watching video.

Although the tablet is thin — just 7.5mm — it houses the computer electronics. This makes it bigger and heavier than most tablets, but in one sense it can do more. In another sense it can’t. That’s because it runs Windows 10.

Whatever your views on Windows 10, it lacks the depth and quality of pure tablet software you can find on the iPad. There also seem to be less tablet software options than Android.

You won’t get as much battery life from the tablet part of the Surface Book as from other tablets. In practice it lasts between 3.5 and 4 hours depending on your applications.

The big picture

At 13.5-inch, the display is bigger than the 12.9 inch iPad Pro or the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet. Microsoft. Uses the 3:2 screen ratio, which feels better than 16:9 when used as a tablet.

Resolution is 3000 by 2000 pixels, this makes for stunning images. While it is more generous than most tablets or laptops it doesn’t match the 4K displays. Unless you’re using it to edit 4K video, you won’t notice the difference.

Microsoft includes a Surface Pen with the Surface Book. In practice this works best when you use the device as a tablet. Clicking the pen fires up OneNote, just like on the Surface Pro.

The Surface Book has two batteries. There is one in the base and one in the screen. When you use the device as a laptop you get close to two working days, about 15 hours. That’s enough for the longest flight. When used as a tablet you only four hours, which is lower than most tablet-only alternatives.

Niggles

In use I found the Surface Book wouldn’t automatically switch to tablet mode when released from the keyboard base. And a couple of times it fired up even with a closed lid. On many occasions I’d close the lid and it would continue to chime notifications.

One last positive. Because it’s from Microsoft, there’s no bloatware.

Verdict

You get a beautiful screen and great performance with the ability to switch to a tablet when that helps.

Microsoft managed to fit a useful new device format into a gap no-one could see. For want of a better name, it’s a premium hybrid PC, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you want a powerful Windows laptop that doubles as an occasional tablet and have the budget, this is by far the best option.

In mid–2013 I needed a new computer. Like many others I chose A MacBook Air instead of a Windows laptop.

It wasn’t my first Apple. In 1984 I bought one of the first 128k Macs. There were others.

Yet for twenty years my work had revolved around Microsoft Windows.

A vote against Windows

So why throw away the skills and software investment?

It came down to three reasons.

First, the 2013 MacBook Air’s all day battery. At the time no other laptop came close to this. With care you could eke out 12 hours. The best Windows laptops of the day could manage, perhaps, six hours. And that’s being generous.

Second, the MacBook Air is light and thin without compromising on the keyboard or touchpad. While many rival 2013 laptops were as light and thin, there were compromises.

Microsoft misstep

The third consideration is more complicated. It wasn’t so much that Windows 8 was an annoying, hard-to-use mess. Although that is true.

It was that Microsoft’s misstep opened the door to alternatives in ways earlier Windows upgrades did not.

Moving from Windows 8 was not going to be a wrench.

At around this time Windows 8.1 arrived. It was another dog’s breakfast. Microsoft doubled down the madness.

Windows 8.1 was meant to fix 8. It changed nothing.

The move from Windows 8 to OS X Mountain Lion proved less jarring than the move from Windows 7 to Windows 8. There was no going back.

There could have been going back.

Surface Pro
Surface Pro

Surface Pro

In mid–2013, Microsoft’s first Surface Pro was a promising alternative to the MacBook Air.

True, it was underpowered and overpriced. The first Surface models needed expensive add-on keyboards that are fine for casual use, but painful after hours of touch-typing.

Microsoft’s second generation Surface Pro was better. The keyboard wasn’t perfect but was usable.

Had they arrived a few months earlier, a Surface Pro may have graced my desk instead of the MacBook Air.

This may sound contradictory given the earlier comments about Windows 8. There is a simple explanation.

Windows 8 didn’t make sense on a two-year-old desktop computer. Nor did it make sense on a 2013 Ultrabook. Windows 8 was almost as bad on an ordinary 2013 touch screen PC.

Glimpse

You could see what Microsoft was trying to do with Window 8 when you tried it on a Surface.

Windows 8 still wasn’t great. Yet on a Surface it showed occasional glimpses of logic. There were hints of elegance.

As Apple might say; it just works.

Maybe it doesn’t work well as you’d hope. Yet on a device that acts as both a laptop and a tablet Windows 8 was no longer incoherent.

Coherence isn’t the first word that springs to mind with Windows 10. Yet, for the most part, that’s what distinguishes it from Windows 8.

If you’re using Windows 10 on a laptop without a touch screen, you won’t find yourself accidentally dropping into tablet mode. It acts like a laptop operating system.

A laptop operating system that acts like a laptop operating system shouldn’t be a big deal. But that was the problem with Windows 8. It didn’t act like a laptop operating system or a PC operating system.

Apple operating system

When I chose the MacBook, I turned to Apple for the hardware and stayed for the software.

It took time to warm to OS X.

The first thing I did after taking my new MacBook Air out of its box was install Windows 7.

For a while the MacBook Air was a Windows laptop. It may have been the best Windows possible laptop of the time. The MacBook was snappier, lighter and had longer battery life than anything that came with Windows installed.

Over time I moved to OS X. It was a revelation. Life was easier, work was easier, everything was easier. My productivity soared.

Robust alternative

OS X, or macOS as it’s now called, isn’t perfect. It has flaws and annoyances. On the plus side it is robust in ways that Windows never was. You can go months without rebooting. Try doing that with Windows 8.

These days a lot of computing takes place in the browser. You can do almost everything there.

That’s the thinking behind the Google Chromebooks. They use a browser as an operating system. With so much software now being delivered as an online service, operating systems take a back seat.

This is an area where Windows will struggle to recapture its greatness. When everything revolved around operating systems, Microsoft called the shots in the computer industry. Apple carved out a niche.

Browsers, clouds

Now the PC action is all in and around the browser and cloud computing. Today’s main battleground is with phone operating systems.

Microsoft is strong in cloud. It has first class cloud apps, but it lost the plot with phones.

You can still get phones that run Windows 10. Almost no-one buys them. Microsoft has little interest in selling Windows Phones. That may undermine other parts of the business.

Integration

In contrast Apple not only has the popular iPhone, but has found ways to integrate the iPhone with its laptop operating system.

It feels like magic when an incoming iPhone call gets the Apple Watch tapping your wrist and a notification appears on the MacBook. You can answer the call or respond to a text message on any of these devices. They act as a coordinated team.

Windows 10 fixes a lot of the Windows 8 problems. It’s the operating system Microsoft should have had in 2013.

The damage from a failed version will echo down the years at Microsoft. And elsewhere. While it isn’t the reason why PC sales plummeted in recent years, the Windows 8 debacle did not help.

Big numbers

Last month Microsoft trumpet that 400 million computers now run Windows 10. It’s an achievement. But let’s not forget in most cases Microsoft gave the software away.

Today it costs more than $100 for an everyday user to buy a Windows 10 upgrade. At that price Microsoft missed $40 billion in revenue.

It’s not just the money. Nor is it the loss of prestige or the distraction. There’s also a loss of momentum. Above all these, there’s the dawning realisation that Windows is no longer centre stage.

Nothing is going to fix that.