Classic Design Meets Innovation
It’s been more than a decade since IBM stopped making ThinkPad laptops, yet you’re still likely to see them in the halls of industry. That’s thanks to Lenovo.
The company formerly known as Legend Computers of Beijing, China, still produces the well-regarded laptop line, with its beloved AccuType keyboard. And indeed, a big part of the ThinkPad’s longevity has to do with those rugged, inimitable keyboards. But Lenovo machines nowadays range well beyond the classic black ThinkPad slabs.
Rather, year after year, Lenovo continues to innovate with radical designs. Take the rotating-screen Yoga family, which influenced the other major PC manufacturers (notably, Dell and HP) to adopt its basic mechanism in their own 2-in-1 convertible laptop designs. Or the Miix models, inexpensive tablet/laptop detachables that give Microsoft’s Surfaces a run for the money.
The Big Divider: ThinkPad, or IdeaPad?
If you’re looking at Lenovo machines, though, your essential choices start with an early fork in the road. Most (though not all) of Lenovo’s conventional Windows-powered laptops are centered on two main model lines: ThinkPads and IdeaPads.
ThinkPads are Lenovo’s classically styled, business-oriented laptops, with a wide range of configurable features: touch screens, cellular connectivity, biometric login hardware, docking options. Their primary commonality? They almost always come colored solely in Lenovo’s classic, basic-black matte coat. These machines tend to offer more in the way of IT-friendly features for monitoring, management, and business-oriented wired and wireless connectivity. To help position certain models within the larger laptop market, Lenovo divides its ThinkPads into a host of sub-classes indicated by a letter. These include the high-end ThinkPad X, the more mainstream ThinkPad L, and the mobile-workstation-oriented ThinkPad P.
IdeaPads, on the other hand, are aimed mainly at consumers, though design-forward business users may gravitate toward using an IdeaPad as a primary PC. You’ll find some preloaded apps on many IdeaPad systems, particularly those bought from big-box stores. Look for IdeaPad models prepped by the Microsoft Store (“Microsoft Signature” versions) if you’re dead-set on avoiding preinstalled bloatware.
Lenovo also offers a few chromebooks, which are popular choices for buyers on a budget. Google’s Chrome OS is simple to manage and use, since it centers on the Chrome Web browser and related apps. Lenovo’s chromebook lineup includes inexpensive consumer models, as well as more rugged ThinkPad-branded chromebooks for businesses and schools.
Yoga, Flex, Miix: Lenovo’s Hybrids
Under the larger ThinkPad and IdeaPad umbrellas falls most of Lenovo’s big range of hybrid systems, which can function as both laptops and tablets: the company’s Yoga and Flex laptops. The early versions of these machines pioneered the 2-in-1 convertible-laptop movement.
Yoga laptops have the ability to flip into one of four positions: a conventional laptop mode, a video-viewing stand mode, a game-playing tent mode, and a reading-oriented tablet mode. The screen rotates on its hinge around 360 degrees to make this possible. Note that you will find some Yoga models classed as ThinkPad Yogas, indicating their higher-end, business-minded target audience.
The Flex models, meanwhile, are broadly similar but tend to be cheaper than Yogas. In the U.S., at this writing, the Flex machines are marketed as their own line, not under the two bigger Lenovo brands.
With these machines, the screen stays attached to the keyboard. In contrast, if you’ll want to use your laptop more as a tablet than as a clamshell notebook, check out one of the company’s Miix models. These are consumer-oriented, and generally inexpensive, 2-in-1s whose screens detach fully from the keyboard.
Legion: Meet the New Gamers
Finally, to keep up with the growing popularity of PC gaming, Lenovo launched an all-new laptop line, the Legion family, in 2017. It did this to differentiate its gaming systems from the main IdeaPad line. Before Legion launched, Lenovo’s gaming machines lived under the IdeaPad line, designated as “IdeaPad Y” models, and it was hard to differentiate them from the rest of that line by name alone. “Legion” is all-gaming and encompasses both laptops and desktops.
The “Y” designation still sticks around; the midrange Legion Y520 was the first out of the gate. The pricing, given its specs and feature set, was attractive, setting a good tone for Lenovo’s new gaming initiative. Legion now includes a wider range of models and prices, a mix of distinctive designs, and more features specifically aimed at a gaming audience than the gaming-oriented IdeaPad Y models ever did.
For more of our favorite machines (that is, ones outside the Lenovo sphere), check out our 10 favorite laptops overall, as well as our lists of the best cheap laptops and business laptops. But for our current list of Lenovo favorites, scroll on down.