User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

User Interface

While the ThinkPad crowd is still wrestling with the forced transition, most everyone nonetheless tends to agree that Lenovo’s AccuType keyboard is excellent in its own right. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Y500’s full-sized keyboard feels great; its keys feature comfortable spacing and size, with a sensible degree of travel and good feedback. Typing is as effortless as possible once you’re used to it—and suffice it to say this may be one of the best Chiclet-style keyboards currently available. The only thing that bothered us about the actual keys is the squeaky operation of the space bar, which was annoyingly audible during typing sessions.

There’s also a full number pad included, as well as full-sized arrow keys. One minor niggle here is the cramming of the right arrow key into the bottom of the number pad, inviting confusion and making it somewhat difficult to locate without eyeballing it. Fortunately, since the keyboard is also backlit (red), you’ll be able to eyeball it even in the dark. It really looks sharp.

There is another problem with the keyboard, too, though it isn’t exactly the keyboard’s fault. After typing for any reasonable period of time on the notebook, the sharp plastic edge around the perimeter began to irritate my wrists. And I can assure you, these ain’t no girly wrists. It’s an unfortunate design decision that will likely bother anyone who periodically slumps their arms onto the notebook while typing.

While the keyboard is excellent, the touchpad is another story. It isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s also far from ideal. Sensitivity, accuracy, and size aren’t much of a problem; the touchpad performs well under most circumstances here. The issue, rather, is the integrated buttons, which feel clattery and cheap and often fail to register without first resulting in unintended pointer movement. A driver update to Synaptics’ latest version does help to rectify this to some extent (after poking around in the settings for a bit), but the fact remains that this is no comparison to a well-made set of separate physical buttons.

Display and Audio Quality

The Y500’s glossy display sure is a looker. Its 1920×1080 resolution coupled with good brightness and color reproduction is only hampered by its glossy finish, which produces obstructive reflections in brighter environments (severely limiting the machine’s usability outdoors). Viewing angles are actually pretty decent horizontally (for a TN panel), but vertical deviations quickly result in brightness inversion and washed-out colors.

Thanks to the standard JBL stereo speakers, the audio is equally impressive. Considering the fact that the Y500 doesn’t include a subwoofer, the low-frequency response of these drivers is quite good, producing a full-bodied sound that is generally only possible with a “.1”. The volume is also better than average, easily filling a medium-sized room at maximal level without much distortion.

Cooling

While the Y500 certainly looks thick, the sheer fact that it houses two discrete GPUs (albeit each equipped with its own cooling system) almost guarantees that we should see some heat. And sure enough, while the notebook is perfectly comfortable when idle, things quickly get warm once you spend some time gaming. The warmest spot on the notebook was the left-hand side (right-hand side from the bottom), but it’s also worth mentioning that, since the keyboard and touchpad also become rather warm to the touch, this really can grow annoying.

However, it takes quite a lot to stress the system to this point—and although the underside’s temperature reaches uncomfortable levels as well, under most circumstances (even while gaming), the notebook can be operated on a table or hard surface without too much bothersome heat getting in the way. The only thing we regretted when gaming normally with an external mouse was the placement of the exhaust vent on the right side of the notebook, which manages to blow heat directly onto your hand unless you slide the notebook back away from you or move your hand outward a bit.

Portability

At nearly 6½ pounds, the Y500 clearly isn’t meant to be lugged around on a frequent basis. Its weight compares to many 17” notebooks, in fact, and as such it approaches the fringes of the Desktop Replacement category. Factor in the absolutely enormous 170W AC Adapter (appropriately, it’s right around twice the size of the typical 90W adapter) and that’s precisely what this becomes.

The Y500’s battery life won’t turn any heads either. Since Optimus isn’t compatible with SLI configurations, Lenovo was forced to make do with the considerably hungrier discrete graphics instead, even when lighter tasks are at hand. As such, we find just 3:39 of battery life under minimal load (using the Battery Eater Reader’s Test with brightness at 70% and Wi-Fi on). We were able to squeeze another hour or so out of the battery with Wi-Fi off (4:36 total), but that’s it. On the other end of the spectrum, the system manages just 1:32 under full load (Battery Eater’s Classic Test).

Battery Eater Reader’s Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi on:

Battery Eater Reader’s Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi off:

Battery Eater Classic Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi on:

Software

The Y500 comes loaded with software, most of which is not very useful, but at least it’s easily removed. Leading the pack is McAfee SecurityCenter, which is always one of the first products I remove on any PC I set up. Beyond that, you’ll find Lenovo Photos and Onekey Theater (unoffensive supplementary apps that can be used to create and manage media) and SugarSync cloud backup software. There are a host of smaller items as well, but these are the major ones.

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