The ThinkPad Edge series was introduced at the beginning of 2010, and was pitched as a sexier, more affordable midrange alternative to a venerable but staid ThinkPad line. Back then, its sole representative was a 13.3-inch model ThinkPad Edge with no optical drive and a low-voltage Core 2 Duo processor.

The new 14- and 15-inch ThinkPad Edge models change the equation slightly with built-in DVD drives and faster processors, but the look and feel is largely the same. The ThinkPad Edge 14 comes with either AMD or Intel CPUs; on the Intel side, it’s a full-voltage Core i3/i5. Prices vary, but start at an affordable $649 on Lenovo’s site; our configuration with 4GB of RAM is slightly higher, at $784.

An excellent keyboard, sturdiness, and reliable performance, paired with ThinkVantage software tools, could amount to a worthwhile purchase for some, but we weren’t a fan of its boxy, plastic, heavy feel. Compared with lighter, similarly priced 13- and 14-inch competitors such as the Toshiba Portege R705, the Dell Vostro 3300, and the HP Pavilion dm4, it still feels like a throwback workhorse despite its new looks.

The revamped design of the ThinkPad Edge series, with its glossy black or red lid, silver plastic edge trim, and 16:9 wide screen, is reasonably attractive but a bit clunky and boxy compared to svelte competitors such as the Toshiba Portege R705. The squared-off lid seems needlessly thick, and the base is chunky, too. The inside fares much better: a clean, crisp, centered raised keyboard and wide touch pad framed by smooth matte-black plastic invoke classic ThinkPad design with a modern spin, and stereo speakers are integrated nicely on the upper lid underneath the wide, bright 14-inch screen.

A single circular power button off to the top right is one of the only exceptions to this ThinkPad’s minimalism. There’s no number pad, but the Edge keyboard is one of the best sets of keys we’ve ever used. Curved, slightly concave keys respond better than even the classic tapered ThinkPad keyboard layout. Lenovo’s keyboard smartly emphasizes the basic QWERTY keys and eschews adding any extra side rows of keys–the Enter/Shift keys are very large and easy to access. It’s all aces, with the unfortunate exception of the red trackpoint nubbin Lenovo has kept as its trademark. Dropped between the G, H, and B keys, a single finger’s graze across this zone can gum up the typing just enough to become annoying

The trackpoint’s presence also necessitates a redundant set of buttons above the large, smooth multitouch touch pad, framing the pad with a quartet of buttons both above and below. We never used those top buttons, so all they did was reduce the space for our fingers to scroll and execute multitouch gestures. We’d prefer their removal, but there must be enough fans out there who think otherwise.

Function-reversed keys on the top of the keyboard control volume, screen brightness, and other commands with a single button-press, something we wish most laptops incorporated. The Edge 14 also has a fingerprint reader on the lower right palm rest for extra biometric security, and it’s easy to configure.

The 14-inch LED-backlit 16:9 display has a native resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, which is standard for midsize laptops. Colors seem particularly true, and brightness and clarity were above average. Documents and Web pages looked very crisp, and movies looked good as well. Viewing angles were consistent with most other 14-inch laptops we’ve seen: good, but not great. The Edge’s upper lid, notably, opens up past 180 degrees, just in case you need it for presentations or some other function that necessitates a fully flat opened-up laptop.

Stereo speakers embedded in a grille below the screen sound loud, but lack some depth because of their small size. They’re fine for basic sounds and voice chat, but for music or videos you’d do better plugging in earphones.

The included Webcam demonstrated better-than-normal light sensitivity and contrast during a Skype camera test, and Lenovo ThinkPads tend to have better audio quality for Web conferencing. A higher-resolution low-light-sensitive 2-megapixel Webcam can be added on Lenovo’s site for an extra $30. A dual-array microphone offers better conversation quality than on many other laptops, which is a good thing since the Edge 14 lacks a dedicated microphone-in jack.

The ThinkPad Edge 14 comes with an above-average selection of ports, covering the basics: USB, HDMI, eSATA, and ExpressCard are all represented. Bluetooth isn’t included standard but can be ordered up for an extra $20.

Lenovo offers a variety of processor options on the ThinkPad Edge 14, ranging from an AMD Athlon II X2 dual-core P320 to an Intel Core i5 CPU. Our configuration had a 2.27GHz Intel Core i3 M350, a CPU not currently available on the Edge 14, but it’s very close to a slightly faster 2.4GHz Core i3-M370 that is available. RAM can be configured up to 4GB, and hard drives are offered up to 500GB.

We like the Core i3 CPU as a general all-purpose processor that suits most tasks extremely well, particularly when it comes to multitasking and HD video streaming. We were able to achieve all our computing needs reasonably well and with a snappy response from the OS. The Edge 14 only comes with integrated Intel graphics, which won’t allow for gaming or fast video editing, but it’s fine otherwise for basic business use.

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