There are literally hundreds of 14-inch laptops on the market. If you want your kit to stand out, it's a sector where innovation absolutely matters. Lenovo hasn't thrown traditional laptop design out of the window with the IdeaPad 720S, and nor should it have done, but this is far from a run of the mill machine.
If anything, the 720S – also known as the Lenovo IdeaPad 80XC – seems poised for a bare-knuckle battle with Dell's slightly-dinkier XPS 13, probably one of the best all-around laptops in the world.
It has a similar slim bezel design, a comparatively compact, luxurious frame, and even goes one better with a discrete graphics solution on board. But is it punching above its weight?
Price and availability
The IdeaPad 720S pushes itself out of the mid-range bracket in terms of its cost. In the US comes with an MSRP of $969.99, though hunt around and you'll find it slightly cheaper. The UK price is £949.99 which obviously includes VAT and the typical UK markup, although again, it's potentially available for less if you shop around. And it's not yet available in Australia, though we'd expect a price somewhere in the region of AU$1,600 when it does land.
There's a single specification on offer, so you'll take your Core i5 and like it, though this is a highly-engineered device so we'll forgive Lenovo's skimping on the options. In terms of the competition, it's cheaper than a similarly specced model of Dell's XPS 13 ($999/£1,149/AU$1,599), handily squashes HP's thinner and far lighter Spectre Pro 13 ($1,169/£1,362).
That said, it's not the cheapest Kaby Lake Core i5 machine on the market by any means. Asus's 15.6-inch VivoBook Slim, for example, can be found for a full £200 less, and sports the same processor and the company's similarly-tight Nano Edge screen.
Despite its 14-inch panel, the 720S is incredibly compact – a heavily reduced slim bezel (not quite the equal of the XPS 13, but still immensely handsome) means more machine in less space.
The reduced keyboard has a few compromises; while it's neatly backlit, it stuffs the directional arrows into the space of three keys, and inexplicably includes the power button as a keyboard key directly next to Delete and Backspace. It's not instantly triggered on pressing, so this isn't as boneheaded as it sounds, but it's still an odd choice.
There's still room for a large multitouch trackpad, a fingerprint sensor, and just enough ports that it doesn't seem neutered. And the aluminium case itself is clearly squashing some serious hardware inside, as the 720S weighs in at a not inconsiderable 3.4lbs. It's not back-breaking by any means, but definitely unusually weighty for a machine of this size.
Screen and sound
One thing seems to play off against another on the 720S. On one hand, the IPS screen has tremendous viewing angles; on the other, it tops out at a resolution of 1920×1080, not even tacking on the extra 120 vertical pixels that many modern panels manage. Yes, we're being picky.
There's also a decent JBL-engineered, Dolby-infused sound system on board, with surprising audio thickness for such a diminutive laptop, but you'll often struggle to hear it over the wind tunnel blast of the 720S's infernal fan cooling system.
It's one of the loudest laptops we've ever used when under stress. To be fair, that cooling really works – the 720S barely even gets warm to the touch – but it whirrs at a truly irritating pitch.
It's easy to find fault with the 720S before even using it. The 256GB SSD space, with no additional storage on board, is going to fill up very quickly. It has discrete graphics but, as our benchmark results show, the GeForce 940MX really can't keep up with modern gaming.
But as a package? This thing is nice. It's a great machine on the desktop, it's slick and efficient to use, it's perfect for media and working on the move.
Older games run smoothly enough, and that Kaby Lake processor is an impressive number cruncher. We used this as a family laptop for a week and it never faltered once, as adept at Minecraft as it was at Microsoft Word.
Though it's nowhere near as quick to drain as a typical gaming laptop, we suspect the battery was the first component to get shaved down when squeezing all this tech into such a small shell.
A typical three and a half hours (using the integrated graphics) is a disappointing result, and that time drops even lower if you're gaming. Drop the brightness and stop hammering the CPU, though, and you'll get a bit longer out of it.
This is, as a package, an absolutely brilliant little laptop. It feels classy, it rarely feels less than powerful, and the reduced bezel means you get much more screen than most machines with this footprint.
It's a great machine, if you forgive a few niggles.
Those niggles, though. The noisy fan, the middling battery life, the underpowered GPU, the awkward keyboard.
They're small, but push the 720S away from perfection.
Whether this particular meets your value expectations really depends on what you want from a laptop. Reviewer's cliché, perhaps, but one that's particularly relevant; if you're looking for gaming joy, there are beefier but uglier machines at this price point.
If you're more of a worker, there are lighter machines with larger screens that might suit you better. But if you fall in the middle of those two camps there's no way you'll be disappointed with the 720S, particularly if you can find it for less than its asking price.
- Check out our list of the best laptops in 2017