Large memory and storage capacity for the price. Better-than-expected sound and webcam. Signature Edition software install minimizes bloatware.
Low-resolution (1366-by-768) display. Poor viewing angles. Wi-Fi limited to 802.11b/g/n. Weak battery life.
- Bottom Line
At less than $400, you may be tempted by the Lenovo Z50-75 Signature Edition's low price. But there are more capable (and more portable) desktop-replacement laptops for not much more money.
When you think of Lenovo laptops, you probably picture ThinkPads and other models found among the highest market segments. But Lenovo is a player in the bargain notebook space, too, as we've seen with machines like the Ideapad 110S. The Lenovo Z50-75 reviewed here is another example, even if it's not for sale at Lenovo.com—we found it for $365 at Amazon, where it's listed as "2016 Lenovo Premium Built High Performance 15.6 HD Laptop."
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Before you scoff at that description, consider that this AMD-based desktop-replacement laptop comes with double the memory and storage of most under-$400 competitors (8GB and 1TB, respectively). It may not set any speed records, and it's not powerful enough to play games—or to unseat our Editors' Choice for budget desktop-replacement laptops, the Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM). But penny-pinchers may find it worth a look.
A Tale of Two Textures
The exterior of the Z50-75 is encased in black plastic, with a fine, nubby texture that helps you get a grip on the somewhat heavy and unwieldy system. Open the lid, and you find the keyboard tray and palm rest are black brushed aluminum, which lends a touch of class. Both the 15.6-inch display and the bezel around it are as glossy as a mirror. A chrome surround strip accents the touchpad. Build quality is acceptable; there's a noticeable amount of flex if you grasp the screen corners, but not much in the keyboard.
Like most desktop replacements, especially inexpensive ones, the Z50-75 is unashamedly full-size—at 0.98 by 15.1 by 10.4 inches (HWD), it's a bit slimmer but otherwise a match for the Aspire E 15 (1.19 by 15 by 10.2 inches), and a twin in weight (5.15 pounds). A few rivals such as the Asus F556UA-AB32 (0.9 by 14.7 by 10.2 inches, 5 pounds) are a little trimmer. You can go still bigger, of course, with a 17.3-inch laptop, or lighten your load by settling for a smaller screen — Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 measures 0.78 by 12.7 by 8.8 inches and weighs 3.13 pounds.
Don't look for anything as modern as a USB-C port, but expect adequate connectivity from the Z50-75. On the laptop's left side, you'll find a connector for the AC adapter, as well as VGA and HDMI video outputs, and Ethernet, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0 ports. There's another USB 2.0 port on the right edge, along with an audio jack, an SD card slot, and a DVD-RW drive. One disappointment, however, is that the laptop's Qualcomm Atheros AR956x Wi-Fi adapter is limited to the 802.11b/g/n spec and the more crowded 2.4GHz wireless band, rather than the more contemporary 802.11ac and 5GHz band.
The webcam centered above the screen captures fairly bright and sharp images, though it missed a few fine details, such as the pattern in my shirt. I was pleasantly surprised by the Z50-75's Dolby-tuned audio—the bottom-mounted speakers didn't produce booming bass, but filled a room with crisp vocals and clear instrumentals.
Traveling Economy Class
High-end Lenovo laptops are legendary for their superb keyboards. The Z50-75 isn't part of that elite club—its keys have good travel, but a sort of plastic plodding feel instead of snappy response. The keyboard isn't backlit, which is no surprise at this price, and its layout is a mixed bag: Even as an experienced touch typist, I appreciate a little extra space or separation between the primary keys, the inverted-T cursor arrows, and the numeric keypad; the Z50-75 offers just a big rectangular grid of keys. On the positive side, the cursor arrows are an inverted T, instead of a horizontal row, as on HP laptops, and there are dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys above the keypad. The touchpad glides smoothly, though its twin buttons feel flimsy.
The nontouch display's 1,366-by-768 resolution makes icons and menus easy to read, but will dismay anyone hoping to enjoy detailed images or watch 1080p, rather than 720p, videos; the 1,920-by-1,080 screen of the Acer Aspire E 15 carries the day here. Brightness and contrast are copious, and colors, seen straight on, are clear, if not exactly popping fresh. Seen at an angle, however—especially a vertical angle, as when you lean back from your desk—colors turn from somewhat pale to photo negatives, as the twisted nematic (TN) panel shows its narrow view compared with In-Plane Switching (IPS) screens.
The Z50-75's Signature Edition status means it's free of nagging pop-ups and bloatware. Except for two Lenovo utilities, plus the Keeper password manager and a link to the Windows Store's $10 Drawboard PDF, the only extraneous programs are Windows' own (we're looking at you, Candy Crush Soda Saga and March of Empires: War of Lords).
Getting the Job Done
The Z50-75 is powered by an AMD FX-7500, a 2.1GHz (3.3GHz turbo) quad-core CPU with Radeon R7 integrated graphics; AMD calls it a 10-core APU, with four computing cores and six graphics cores. The chip is joined by an ample 8GB of DDR3 memory and a 1TB, 5,400rpm hard drive. Broadly speaking, the AMD FX-7500 easily tops Intel Pentiums and Celeron CPUs, slugs it out with Intel Core i3's, and gets schooled by Intel Core i5's.
In our PCMark 8 overall productivity test, the Lenovo's score of 2,220 is a step below the Acer's score of 2,491. Both are below the 3,000 score that we regularly see posted by more potent laptops, but still perfectly fine for programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The Z50-75 proved roughly three times as fast as the Intel Celeron-based Lenovo Ideapad 110S in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing and Handbrake video-editing tests, turning those programs from unusable to viable (though we can quibble about the value of image or video editing on a 1,366-by-768 screen).
The Z50-75 also held its own against the low-cost competition in our graphics and gaming tests, but "held its own" is a relative phrase: Even at medium, rather than top, image-quality settings, it made it only halfway to the 30 frames per second threshold for smooth gameplay in the challenging Heaven and Valley gaming tests. It's strictly for casual and solitaire games, not fast-twitch titles.
Unfortunately, the Z50-75's worst showing was in our battery rundown test, where it survived a mere 3 hours and 13 minutes, crushed by the Acer Aspire E 15's time of 9:49 and the Lenovo ThinkPad 13's time of 12:11. The battery is removable—a rarity these days—so you could theoretically buy and swap in a spare. But in this day and age, if a laptop can't last for at least five or six hours, it hardly seems worthwhile.
Ultimately, that's our knock against the Lenovo Z50-75: It feels like a dated design. Good points, like its audio, are outweighed by bad points, like its battery life. We can't even endorse it as a family-room internet and email station, due to its lack of 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Competition is tight for consumer dollars, and the Z50-75 is neither Lenovo's nor the market's best. The Aspire E 15 retains our Editors' Choice for its Intel Core i3 processor, higher-resolution screen, faster productivity performance, longer battery life, and slightly lower price.
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By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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