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Lenovo Ideapad 520s review – it’s the Ideapad 720s in a more affordable clamshell

Before the Ideapad 720s comes out, Lenovo has prepared a more affordable version of the notebook with little trade-offs called Ideapad 520s – the latter is bulkier, slightly heavier, misses on some of the features like Thunderbolt support and isn’t made of aluminum all around. However, the slim bezels – although not as slim as the Ideapad 720s – and the basic hardware specs of the machine are familiar – Intel Core i5-7200U paired with NVIDIA GeForce 940MX discrete GPU, 8GB of DDR4-2133 memory and a 14-inch Full HD IPS panel.

And despite being the budget-oriented version of the two, costing just a little over €700, the Ideapad 520s impresses with good choice materials, portability, performance and excellent working experience on the go. The downsides are the limited battery life and probably having less than stellar viewing experience on the budget IPS panel. But to be honest, we can’t really be too picky about this when it comes down to a reasonably priced 14-inch powerhouse.

Contents


Retail package

The notebook comes in a relatively bulky box with the usual user manuals, AC adapter and power cord for charging. Moreover, Lenovo is being very thoughtful here and has put an external optical drive if you ever happen to miss that on the 14-inch Ideapad 520s.


Design and construction

As we said earlier, the Ideapad 520s follows much of the same design language as the Ideapad 720s but has largely different dimensions and doesn’t use aluminum only but at the same time, doesn’t feel weak at all.

Anyway, the lid appears to be the same – anodized aluminum plate that’s pretty solid, doesn’t give in under pressure and it’s fairly resistant to torsion. The single hinge design seems to be pretty good as well – smooth linear travel from the very beginning allowing the user to open the notebook with just one hand. Opening the lid reveals the matte 14-inch display with pretty thin side bezels but the chin and the upper one are just about normal in size. This is one of the small differences setting the Ideapad 520s from the Ideapad 720s – the latter has a thin upper bezel as well and features a glossy screen. Also, the bottom piece is made of plastic and forms a sharp protruding edge with the aluminum base – nothing bad really but gives away the budget nature of the laptop.

The sides are thin enough to impress (just a little over 19 mm) but not too thin not to include the usual set of I/O. The left side accommodates the DC charging port, full-sized HDMI, USB 3.0, USB-C 3.1 (Gen 1) and a 3.5 mm audio jack. On the right, you will find a standard SD card reader and a USB 2.0.

The interior remains aluminum giving that premium feel when working on the Ideapad 520s and retaining that fingerprint sensor on the right side of the palm rest. Not to mention the rock solid feel of the whole base thanks to that thick aluminum sheet. Anyway, the keyboard appears to in the usual AccuType style from Lenovo with rounded bottom edge. What surprised us, though, is the fairly long travel of each key. On top of that, each keystroke results in satisfying clicky audible and tactile feedback and combined with the LED illumination, the working experience is just ideal, especially on the go. Nothing bad can be said about the touchpad as well – it’s light to click, it has buttery-smooth gliding surface and registers all gestures and swipes accurately. In fact, we can’t really tell the difference in the input devices between the Ideapad 520s and the Ideapad 720s – both are just awesome.

In the end, the trade-offs in the Ideapad 520s aren’t as big as we thought they would be in the build department. Despite the plastic used for the bottom of the base, the whole chassis feels tight, rigid and doesn’t take away too much from the portability – 1.7 kg is still pretty reasonable. The most important thing here, however, is the strong lid, smooth hinge and the excellent input devices.

Disassembly, maintenance and upgrade options

If accessing the internals is important to you, we have some good news – the bottom piece comes off easily giving hassle-free access to the hardware. You just have to remove all the screws on the bottom and gently pry it up.


Storage upgrades – 2.5-inch HDD/SSD, M.2 SSD

Surprisingly for a 14-inch laptop, the Ideapad 520s sports an M.2 SSD slot on top of the 2.5-inch drive bay. In our case, only the HDD slot was taken but you can stick inside an M.2 PCIe NVMe-enabled SSD as well.

SlotUnitUpgrade price
M.2 SSD 2280 slot 1Free Buy from Amazon.com (#CommissionsEarned)
2.5-inch HDD/SSD slot1TB Seagate HDD Buy from Amazon.com (#CommissionsEarned)

RAM

The motherboard offers only one memory slot located under the metal cover in the middle. You can go up to 16GB of DDR4-2400 memory on a single channel configuration. Our unit, however, had a Samsung 8GB DDR4-2400 stick.


Other components

The Wi-Fi adapter is placed near the screen hinge and it’s Intel 3165NGW.

The battery unit is located under the wrist rest area and takes a good chunk of the internal space. It’s rated at 52.5Wh.


Cooling system

A single heatpipe connecting the fan and both heatsinks takes care of the whole cooling process but it proved to be enough considering the undemanding hardware.


Display quality

The Ideapad 520s features a standard 14-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS panel with 157 ppi and 0.16 x 0.16 mm pixel pitch. It’s manufactured by Innolux with model number N140HCA-EAC. It can be considered as “Retina” when viewed from at least 56 cm.

Viewing angles are excellent.

We’ve recorded a peak brightness of 265 cd/m2 in the center of the screen and 250cd/m2 as average across the surface with 14% maximum deviation. The correlated color temperature at maximum brightness is almost optimal – 6550K and stays pretty much the same when going along the grayscale – 6500K. You can see how these values change at 140 cd/m2 (85% brightness) in the image below.

The maximum color deviation dE2000 compared to the center of the screen should be no more than 4.0 if you are planning to do color-sensitive work. And in this case, since the laptop is going to be used mostly for multimedia and office work, a deviation of 3.8 in the lower right corner is negligible. The contrast ratio is excellent – 1200:1 before calibration and 1110:1 after calibration.


Color reproduction

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people in HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

As expected, the display covers merely half of the sRGB color gamut so ideal multimedia experience cannot be expected.

Our “Design and Gaming” profile delivers optimal color temperature (6500K) at 140 cd/m2 luminance and sRGB gamma mode.

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc. You can check out the results at factory condition and also, with the “Design and Gaming” profile.

The next figure shows how well the display is able to reproduce really dark parts of an image, which is essential when watching movies or playing games in low ambient light.

The left side of the image represents the display with stock settings, while the right one is with the “Gaming and Web Design” profile activated. On the horizontal axis, you will find the grayscale and on the vertical axis – the luminance of the display. On the two graphs below you can easily check for yourself how your display handles the darkest nuances but keep in mind that this also depends on the settings of your current display, the calibration, the viewing angle and the surrounding light conditions.


Response time (Gaming capabilities)

We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.

We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 23 ms.


PWM (Screen flickering)

Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses, the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.

We’ve only recorded high-frequency PWM at low brightness levels (65 cd/m2) and most probably you won’t go this low. Having said that, we consider the panel safe to use for long periods of time.


Blue light emissions

Installing of our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our dedicated article on Blue Light.

You can see the levels of emitted blue light on the spectral power distribution (SPD) graph.

Conclusion

Lenovo used a budget IPS panel for the Ideapad 520s and judging by the price, we can see why. It has its drawbacks like limited maximum brightness and narrow sRGB coverage but it also carries convincing properties like high contrast ratio, no PWM above certain level of brightness and like every IPS panel out there, it has pleasant viewing angles. In any case, it’s much better than the usual TN displays.

Buy our display profiles

Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for Lenovo Ideapad 520s configurations with 14.0″ Innolux N140HCA-EAC (FHD, 1920 × 1080) IPS screen and the laptop can be found at Amazon: Buy from Amazon.com (#CommissionsEarned)

*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at bg.laptopmedia@gmail.com.

Read more about the profiles HERE.

In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia's products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.

Office Work

Office Work should be used mostly by users who spend most of the time looking at pieces of text, tables or just surfing. This profile aims to deliver better distinctness and clarity by keeping a flat gamma curve (2.20), native color temperature and perceptually accurate colors.

Design and Gaming

This profile is aimed at designers who work with colors professionally, and for games and movies as well. Design and Gaming takes display panels to their limits, making them as accurate as possible in the sRGB IEC61966-2-1 standard for Web and HDTV, at white point D65.

Health-Guard

Health-Guard eliminates the harmful Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) and reduces the negative Blue Light which affects our eyes and body. Since it’s custom tailored for every panel, it manages to keep the colors perceptually accurate. Health-Guard simulates paper so the pressure on the eyes is greatly reduced.

Get all 3 profiles with 33% discount


Sound

The sound quality is fine with just small barely noticeable distortions from time to time.


Specs sheet

The current specs sheet is for this particular model and configurations may differ depending on your region

Lenovo Ideapad 520s technical specifications table

Acer
Not available
Display
14.0”, Full HD (1920 x 1080), IPS
HDD/SSD
1TB HDD, 5400 rpm
M.2 Slot
1x 2280 PCIe NVMe M.2 slot
RAM
8GB DDR4, 2400 MHz
Dimensions
327 x 237 x 19.3 mm (12.87" x 9.33" x 0.76")
Weight
1.70 kg (3.7 lbs)
Body material
Plastic / Polycarbonate, Aluminum (Aluminum lid, plastic base)
Ports and connectivity
  • 1x USB Type-A 2.0, Sleep and Charge
  • 1x USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps)
  • 1x USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps)
  • HDMI
  • VGA
  • Card reader SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Ethernet lan
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Audio jack
Features
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Web camera HD 720p
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Microphone Dual-Array Microphone
  • Speakers 2x 2W Harman Speakers
  • Optical drive
  • Security Lock slot

Lenovo Ideapad 520s configurations


Software

We used the pre-installed Windows 10 for the writing of this review but if you wish to perform a clean install of the OS, we suggest downloading all of the latest drivers from Lenovo’s official support page.

Battery

We are pretty impressed by the results from our battery test and the main reason for the long battery life is the battery unit itself. It’s pretty generous and holds a big 52.5Wh charge that can deliver plenty of power away from the plug to the rather small 14-inch IPS display and the undemanding Core i5-7200U processor.

In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.

Acer Swift 5 53.9Wh, 4670 mAh, 3-cell

For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.

Lenovo ThinkPad E470 45Wh, Li-Po, 3-cell
Acer Swift 5 53.9Wh, 4670 mAh, 3-cell

We use F1 2017’s built-in benchmark on loop in order to simulate real-life gaming.

Lenovo ThinkPad E470 45Wh, Li-Po, 3-cell
Acer Swift 5 53.9Wh, 4670 mAh, 3-cell

CPU – Intel Core i5-7200U

download-4Intel’s Core i7-6200U is part of the 7th Generation Kaby Lake CPUs and it’s the direct successor of the Core i5-5200U (Broadwell) and Core i5-6200U (Skylake). It’s also based on the same architecture as the aforementioned chips with little differences that should bring a small performance increase and a bump in power consumption. However, the new CPU is clocked at 2.5 GHz and its Turbo Boost frequency is 3.1 GHz opposed to the 2.3 – 2.8 GHz clocks on the previous Core i5-6200U.

Anyway, we still have the 2/4 core/thread count, 3MB last level cache, and a TDP of 15W, which includes the iGPU and the dual-channel DDR4 memory controller. Speaking of the former, the chip integrates the newer generation Intel HD Graphics 620 graphics chip clocked at 300 – 1000 MHz.

You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/

Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-core-i5-7200u/


Fritz

Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i5-7200U scored 6.221 million moves per second. In comparison, one of the most powerful chess computers, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.

GPU – NVIDIA GeForce 940MX (2GB GDDR5)

geforce-940m-3qtrThe NVIDIA GeForce 940MX is a refreshed version of the older 940M mobile chip but paired with a faster GDDR5 memory and slightly higher clock speeds, which result in noticeably better performance compared to the standard 940M. However, some OEMs will still choose to use the cheaper DDR3 version of the GPU.

Announced back in the first quarter of 2016, the chip is almost identical to the standard 940M (Maxwell) but with clock speeds increased up to 1242 MHz and base 1122 MHz. Again, the memory uses a 64-bit bus and has 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM. It still supports the DirectX 12 API and Shader 5.0 feature along with the usual NVIDIA technologies – CUDA, GPU Boost 2.0, Optimus, GeForce Experience, PhysX. The whole GPU is rated at around 15 to 30 Watts depending on the clock speeds and memory used in the specific notebook.

You can browse our GPU ranking to see where the graphics chip stands: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/

For more information about the GPU, follow this link: http://laptopmedia.com/video-card/nvidia-geforce-940mx-2gb-gddr5/


Gaming tests

GTA-V-benchmarks

Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5)HD, Low (Check settings)HD, Medium (Check settings)HD, Very High (Check settings)
Average FPS85 fps40 fps– fps

cs-go-benchmarks

CS:GOHD 768p, Low (Check settings)HD 768p, Medium (Check settings)HD 768p, MAX (Check settings)
Average FPS98 fps83 fps71 fps

Verdict

Hands-down, the Ideapad 520s is one of the best budget-oriented 14-inch notebooks with little to no trade-offs. It has stable construction, comfortable input devices and fairly portable dimensions thanks to the thin bezels around the screen giving that 2017 looks.

In addition, the 14-inch form factor doesn’t mean that storage options are limited – you still get the standard 2.5-inch bay and an M.2 SSD slot like most 15-inchers. The RAM slot is also accessible but you are limited to 16GB of DDR4-2400 on a single channel. This should be more than enough for your daily multimedia, office and browsing tasks. And thanks to the huge battery capacity, you can enjoy working away from the plug for quite some time.

The only serious drawback, which is probably a result of the affordable price, is the screen. It merely covers 52% of the sRGB color space and the maximum brightness won’t be enough to ensure comfortable work outdoors. The absence of PWM and the high contrast are important factors to consider, though.

For a few dollars more, you can opt for the 14-inch ASUS ZenBook UX410UQ, which offers superior image quality and just about the same hardware. Obviously, the all-aluminum chassis is also a compelling reason to opt for the ASUS solution. In any case, if the Ideapad 520s (14-inch) falls right in your budget, be ready to settle for less than stellar image quality.

Pros

  • Sturdy and fairly portable
  • Good input devices
  • The display doesn’t use PWM above 68% brightness (65 cd/m2)
  • 14-inch form factor with M.2 SSD slot, 2.5-inch HDD/SSD bay and upgradable RAM
  • Outstanding battery life


Cons

  • Display with narrow sRGB coverage and low maximum brightness