Lenovo Flex 4 1480 Signature Edition ideapad 80VD0007US review

For those who can’t wait:   4.5/5

So far so good – I really like this machine (despite the detailed “cons” section below) and I’ve used it fairly extensively for two months now.  It’s not perfect, but I feel like for the money, it’s an exceptional value.  I got it for $600 at Micro Center online in November of 2016. I had budgeted more, but I was looking for some very specific specifications/features. While I might have gotten a few other things with more money, I’m really quite pleased with this purchase. In fact, I might have had to pay a considerable amount more to get all the different features that I got on this machine.

I’m a freelance IT professional and my activities are extremely varied – programming, web development, server maintenance, network debugging, computer repair, light graphic design, etc.  Additionally, my leisure is often centered around a computer as well – like simple video watching, email writing (in a bilingual French/English context), light digital audio work, light photo/video work, etc.  Until this machine, I’d usually be on our desktop computer, but my wife is increasingly needing that for her creative projects and my old ASUS Eeepc netbook, reluctantly rendering what service it could (still running XP), was screaming for relief.

My basic criteria were:

  • Windows 10 Laptop
  • 12-14 inch screen
  • i5 or better processor
  • 8Gb RAM
  • 256Gb SSD
  • Windows 10

Pros:

  • Connectivity – All (3) USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, RJ45, SD Card Reader – As an IT technician, I sometimes need to have connectivity to two different networks at a time, and sometimes I need to connect and don’t have WIFI. So having both WIFI and wired connections are important and I don’t want to be carrying around dongles for RJ45 or have some low-bandwidth RJ45 adaptor.
  • Laptop, tent and tablet modes – This is important for me not so much as affording a real tablet experience but because I use this machine for at least two tablet-type tasks:
    1. As a big Kindle to read e-books – it’s actually a little big/heavy for that, but really not too bad.  I can also boost the character size nice and big and with the decent-sized screen, I still get quite a bit of text on one page.
    2. To replace paper chord charts/sheet music – When playing music, I used to lug lots of notebooks around ’cause I can’t remember the chords or words for a song when it’s not in front of me, nor the songs in a playlist when I can’t see all the titles.  I used my netbook for this but since it didn’t do the 360-degree screen swivel, I had to adjust all the music stands and it looked a bit funky.  Now, I can put this machine into tablet mode and fire up Songbook and say goodbye to heavy bags of paper!
  • SSD – I’ve never had an SSD drive in a machine before.  I think I’m in love!  I know it’s not ONLY the SSD drive that affects the speed, but I know that increasingly a spinning hard drive will be THE bottleneck in most situations.
  • Boot time – insanely fast
  • Backlit keyboard – While this wasn’t on my “basic list” of requirements, I can’t tell you how much I love having it. My house is not very “luminous”, shall we say, and, of course, I bought the machine in November.  The days are short, the nights are long and the keyboard is LIT! It will always be on my basic list of requirements from now on.
  • Touchscreen – again, I might have done without this, but with it, and the folding back screen, I can use this as a tablet.  There are other times where having the touchscreen is nice too – a quick pinch to zoom things, for example.
  • Full HD – My netbook was getting annoying with so many popup dialogs going beyond the screen boundaries.  That being said, I’d say that 1920 x 1080 is probably the minimum you’d want in screen resolution.  I could, frankly, use more but with a 14-inch screen, higher resolution would probably mean some really tiny text!
  • Fingerprint reader – again, not on my basic requirements list but it’s my second laptop I’ve owned that has it, and I REALLY love it.  Really speeds things up!  Also, I had created my machine user account as a local account and it had a fairly basic and easy to remember password.  As soon as I signed into the Windows Store for the first time however, my machine login was annoyingly converted to a Windows Live login (where I have a strong, random password).  So the fingerprint reader came in quite handy.
  • Ability to determine whether function keys work primarily as F1-F12 or the various function keys – as an IT-guy, I’m used to using F1-F12 as the primary use of those keys.  Increasingly, you have to jump through hoops to use those keys and the other functions are the primary use of the keys.  I like that Lenovo lets you choose which are the primary keys and which are secondary.
  • Build quality – I had hoped to have a business-class, metal-chassis machine but at this price range, it just wasn’t there.  That being said, I’d say that the build quality on this machine is excellent.  I’ve seen MUCH worse on consumer-grade machines.
  • Fast charge – the battery charge time is rapid.
  • Gen 7 i5 processor – This is a Kaby Lake processor.  I saw that in the CPU benchmarks, the i5 Kaby Lake out-performed i7 processors in other machines I was looking at.  Yeah, some day it’ll be old, but it’s nice to come in on this little performance boost.
  • Microsoft Signature Edition of Windows 10 – no bloatware.  There are a few Lenovo apps, but nothing really useless or redundant.
  • The Fan is quiet – if the CPU gets going, the fan WILL come on, but it’s not annoying at all.
  • Keyboard – for typing, I find the keyboard to be comfortable with good travel and feedback.

Cons

  • Right shift key – This has been talked about a LOT.  It truly is an unimaginable engineering error.  Additionally, when you see the margins between the edge of the keyboard and the edge of the machine, they COULD have given it a larger keyboard and arranged things differently.  I’m a QWERTY touch-typer but I type fairly regularly with an AZERTY layout since I live in France and work on computers here.  I tried initially to work with the bizarre placement and size of the right shift key.  It did not work.  So I installed KeyTweak and switched the up arrow and the shift key and now I’m very happy.  YES, it’s not perfect, but it really does work.  If you’re a real writer…well…maybe this will be a deal breaker, but for me, this is an acceptable workaround.  That does not change the fact that it’s an insane user experience error on the part of Lenovo.
  • Power supply – This is the other insane engineering flaw of this machine.  If you’re staying in North America, you can live with (but not easily) the included power supply.  If you’re traveling abroad, just plan now on buying an aftermarket adaptor.  I got this one and it’s great.  I can’t say enough bad about this adaptor.  I tried to leave a scathing review of it (not profane but VERY negative) on the Lenovo Shop site, but they refused to publish it.  Sure it charges fine, but it’s fairly short and ALL the weight and ALL the bulk of the adaptor is literally on the plug.  Even in a typical North American 2-outlet wall plug, putting it on the bottom plug can make it awkward for some plugs on the top.  Simply NOT thought-through on the part of Lenovo.
  • Track pad tap feel – The track pad feels like quality and the sensitivity seems to be quite good, but there is an annoying “feedback” when you tap it – kind of like something is “loose”.  I don’t think anything IS loose – nevertheless, it’s a “give” under your finger that’s pretty annoying.  It’s probably because the left/right click buttons are not separate buttons but integrated into the trackpad itself, meaning that it has to have some “give” in it to function.  I guess I would have preferred separate buttons.
  • Trackpad click noise – I’m very comfortable with using a trackpad.  I don’t have the need for an external mouse, etc.  That being said, there are times when you have to do a physical click.  On this trackpad, you can left-click and double left-click with tapping so you don’t need to physically depress the trackpad left-click zone most of the time.  BUT you DO have to right-click physically and I find that the noise and effort required in an otherwise very smooth and quiet experience to be annoying.  I do type rather heavily (old IBM terminal keyboard habits die hard), however when I make the effort to type more quietly, I still can’t do anything about that right-click noise.  Very annoying.
  • Battery Life – it’s “ok” but nothing to really shout about.  I can and do work a fair amount without the adaptor, but I certainly wouldn’t think of going anywhere without it as I can’t count on THAT much autonomy.
  • Accelerometer slow to react – When I convert to tablet mode (fold the screen back), or change the orientation of the machine from landscape to portrait or vice versa, the wait time for the screen to change is NOTHING like what I’m used to on my phone or my wife’s iPad – not even close.
  • Lenovo Yoga Mode Control – the process that turns off the keyboard when you put the machine in tablet mode is called “Yoga Mode Control” (ymc.exe).  I’ve noticed that when I switch back to regular laptop mode, ymc.exe will often just chew up CPU like nobody’s business.  It’s pretty annoying and I went out and found a utility called ServiceTray that would allow me to easily manage the service if I needed to stop/start it.  People complain about this on the forums.  Not sure that Lenovo has fixed it yet.
    (Edit: I’m not seeing this problem anymore – perhaps fixed)
  • Not a metal chassis – Not a big deal – yet.  We’ll just have to see how it wears over time.
  • Caps-lock notification icon delays typing – the caps lock key (which is also somehow annoyingly positioned in relation to the left-shift key – I can too easily hit the wrong one) displays a pop-up icon that overlays the screen when you use the key.  Depending on the flow of your typing, it can interrupt the flow.  Quite annoying and I don’t know if there is a way to adjust it.
  • Speakers – By this, principally I mean the volume – it isn’t overwhelming, and sometimes that’s not good!  We tried to watch a movie together once that we were streaming from Amazon.  The volume simply wasn’t sufficient to understand the dialog.  We had to switch to sharing a pair of ear buds!  There can be lots of variability in media volume levels and your machine needs to be able to compensate for that with strong volume levels.  This laptop does NOT have that.  Most of the time, in my personal use, I can get by just fine, but that little extra that you need for certain situations is missing. As for the quality of the sound, it’s ok – but I’m certainly not expecting audiophile quality or even booming bass from these tiny speakers.  Since you flip your screen around, your orientation to the speakers changes depending on the mode, so one needs to take that into consideration as well.
  • Combo headphone-mic jack – So far it’s not been a real issue, but I guess I’d have preferred separate jacks for microphone and headphones.  This will take more use to see if there are really any disadvantages to it (or advantages for that matter).

Trapped in Hp-double toothpicks…

It’ll be a cold day in you-know-where before I fork over any more money to Hewlett-Packard for a printer or a computer.

I don’t want to get into a war of words on product quality with one person saying that hp products are the best around and me saying the opposite. In fact, I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Hp has had a reputation of quality for decades. My printer, a 990 Cxi DeskJet prints fine. I like the features of the printer driver and the fact that I can do automatic 2-sided printing. My laptop has had plenty of troubles but it was an insurance replacement “factory refurb” so I don’t necessarily want to judge the quality of all their laptops from that.

No, it’s not their quality that I necessarily question, it’s their corporate indifference toward their customer…their business practices that makes owning one of their products more trouble than it should be. (I speak specifically of the public consumer and not necessarily the business client. I’ve no experience there.) My experience is basically the following:

  • With the laptop, and I assume it’s no different with their desktop models, one does not get full operating system CDs. One gets “system recovery” CDs. These should definitely be labeled differently. One can’t “recover” from a problem with them at all. Their is only one thing that you can do with these CDs…destroy all your data and installation customization and start from scratch. Thankfully we have 2 computers, as I have had to do this twice and have not lost much in terms of personal data because I’ve been cautious to transfer stuff to the other computer ahead of time. Time and energy and frustration however…that’s another story! What I’ve seen on their forums is that hp’s policy is to not sell you the license to XP (you are told this in their fine print), but to only give you the right to use it…on their terms. You need to re-install a .dll? You need to run a special utility? You want to exploit some feature that’s not installed but is on the XP disk? Well, unless you have access to another XP disk, you’re out of luck!
  • Printers – hp has built a reputation about their printers, but their rhetoric is growing tired. Many printers are just as good. The market is full of quality printers. That isn’t the defining selling/buying point anymore. Now it’s cost of ownership. Cartridges…need I say more? The expense of owning an hp printer is nuts. I own one. I’m nuts. I know! ;c) Because of this expense, I chase my tail trying to re-fill the cartridges (half the time in vain…printer rejects them) and buy re-cycled ones. The color cartridges are 3 colors in one so that if you run out of just red…well…you need to do something with the whole cartridge. Hp discourages re-filling by the way it designs their cartridges and their ink-level detection software doesn’t take into account any re-filling you might have done either. I’ve known for some time that my current hp printer will be my last one but have figured that I’ll wait until it dies to replace it. I’m beginning to think that that I’m wasting too much money to keep going like that. It may be cheaper to simply switch now!
  • Drivers – Is your product obsolete? Don’t expect to find drivers for it at hp.com. If you’re not up-to-date, you’re out of luck.

This sort of customer relations, which pretty much shouts “customer is hostage!” rather than “customer is king” basically turns me off and, I think, increasingly turns off the rest of consumer public. We’re looking for companies who will work with us in the complexity of computing. Complexity insures that there will be problems. I’s rather buy from someone who works with me to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.