Thursday

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 review

We’ve only just finished looking at the HP Z1, which is pretty much the pinnacle of all-in-one PCs. However, if you don’t have £1,700 plus change burning a hole in your pocket, you don’t want a beast that weighs over 20kg, or indeed if you want an all-in-one (AIO) with touch, it’s not for you. In that case, the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 might be just the slim, sleek and frankly gorgeous AIO PC you’re after.

With that out of the way, how does the IdeaCentre A720 hold up? Well, Lenovo has made this 27in all-in-one something special. Its screen may not be the 2,560 x 1,440 IPS affair found on the 27in iMac and HP Z1, as Lenovo has opted for a Full HD MVA panel instead, but everything else certainly impresses. 


To begin with, that ‘frameless’, glass-fronted display supports simultaneous 10-point multi-touch – unlike most touch-enabled all-in-one PCs so far, which merely support two points. It’s mounted on one of the most elegant, flexible chassis we’ve seen, which allows the A720 to fold flatter than any other AIO – giving you a comfortable touch position.


The A720 is also backed by some pretty impressive specs, from its quad-core Core i7 processor and dedicated GeForce graphics, to 8GB of RAM as standard, an optional Blu-ray drive, and digital TV tuner. 

Design

Lenovo IdeaCenter A720 wallpaper 2012 Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 Review 
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 is hailed as the world’s slimmest 27 inch all-in-one, and based on what we’ve seen and the screen’s sub-30mm thinness, we certainly wouldn’t argue – though Lenovo does ‘cheat’ just a little by integrating many of the gubbins into the PC’s base, and by giving its A7-series a massive external power brick.


Still, there’s no denying that the design is truly special, with beautifully sleek, minimalist lines. Thanks to its entire chassis consisting of flawless anodised aluminium, it’s reminiscent of nothing so much as Apple’s own 27in iMac, but the design here is both more flexible and more convenient. Lenovo has also gone for similar ‘unibody’ appeal, and only where the A720’s leg touches its base and display rear will you find a seam. 

Build quality is, in a word, great. There’s a bit of give at the rear of the screen, but this is the only minor downer on a machine that otherwise feels every inch as premium as it looks. 






Display



Oh how it pains us that Lenovo went for an ‘ordinary’ 1,920 x 1,080 resolution for this otherwise so premium 27in all-in-one. Everything from its design and specs to its touch implementation is great if not class-leading, but compared to the 2,560 x 1,440 IPS displays found on most of its rivals, its screen just doesn’t cut it. 

Mind you, the MVA panel Lenovo uses is still vastly superior to the TN panels found in many budget displays and AIO PCs. Only a little colour shift prevents viewing angles from being flawless, dark detailing is superb, blacks are deep and colours vibrant. Backlighting too is very even and there’s no sign of bleed.

However, the glass coating brings with it the inevitable reflections, and a ‘mere’ Full HD resolution on a display this size makes things look a little grainy up close. Still, these are failings of the finish and resolution rather than anything to do with the screen’s quality.

Touch



It’s probably fair to say that most premium AIO PCs sport touch, but not like Lenovo’s IdeaCentre A7 series. The majority, such as the HP TouchSmart family, use infra-red based sensors set in the screen’s bezel. This means you can use anything as a pointing device, from your finger to a banana or toothpick. However, it doesn’t properly support multi-touch and isn’t quite as responsive as the capacitive touch generally found on phones and tablets. 

Capacitive is exactly what the A720 uses to great effect, supporting up to 10 fingers at once – great for collaborative projects, finger-painting, and local multiplayer gaming. The low resolution helps here as even the smallest buttons are large enough to press by default.

Of the TouchSmart 610, we said it was the first all-in-one where touch made sense due to its ability to fold nearly flat. Well, taking this a step further and throwing in capacitive tech, the A720 is the first AIO PC where touch is a real pleasure rather than merely functional. We could touch this thing all day…

And it’s not just its ability to effortlessly fold flat, essentially turning it into a giant tablet. It’s also that Lenovo has provided a software touch suite of apps and interfaces that actually makes using your fingers a lot of fun. Classics such as Angry Birds are pre-installed, as are multi-player titles like Wong and Air Hockey that will result in many a wasted hour with friends. There’s even an eye-toy-like mini games collection that uses the 720p webcam. Suffice to say we haven’t had as much fun on lunch breaks in quite a while.

Windows 7 is pretty usable, but the A720 will really come into its own with Windows 8, which has been designed for touch. It’s an upgrade that should only set you back less than £15, and will be fully supported by Lenovo.

Adjustability


Like the HP Z1, Lenovo’s AIO PC can fold completely flat so that the screen is horizontal, but not only does the A720 have multi-touch to make the most of this, it’s also far easier to actually make the adjustments. 

In fact, it requires just one hand to push the screen down and out or to fold it down altogether. So not only does the A720 go beyond offering height adjustment, it does so with finesse to complement its looks. All of which makes it quite simply the most flexible all-in-one we’ve yet seen.




Connectivity

 
The IdeaCentre A720 doesn’t skimp on connections, and they’re all easily accessible in the unit’s base. On the right are both HDMI in- and outputs, for hooking up external devices like consoles/tablets etc or for playing back content on a second monitor/your TV, along with a speedy USB 3.0 port. On the left you’ll find the slot-loading Blu-ray drive with physical eject button and multi-format SD card reader. 

The rear hosts the rest of the connectivity, with a TV antenna jack, headphone and microphone jacks, a second USB 3.0 port, twin USB 2.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack along with the power socket and Kensington lock slot. Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0 are on hand for wireless duties.

Accessories


 
Like most all-in-one PCs, the A720 comes with its own bundled wireless keyboard and mouse. Usually, these included peripherals are at best instantly forgettable, but thankfully that’s not the case here. 

While the ambidextrous mouse is not particularly impressive, it looks the part, features notched feedback on its broad, rubberised scroll wheel and, best of all, uses a laser sensor rather than the usual optical affairs. It requires a single AA battery which can be replaced with a rechargeable model, and stores the micro USB dongle that connects both it and the keyboard inside its battery compartment. 

The keyboard, meanwhile, is one of the more attractive non-Apple models we’ve encountered. Made from strong, lightly textured silver plastic that superbly matches the chassis’ aluminium contrasted by black keys, it certainly looks the part. Even its unusual battery cover has been carefully thought out to minimise negative visual impact.

It didn’t quite supply the supreme typing experience we’ve come to expect from Lenovo products, but was nonetheless very usable, with its concave-shaped keys helping to guide your fingertips.

There’s also a generic Windows remote, which can be used to control the IdeaCentre A720’s media and TV functionality. It’s comfy in the hand but uses inconvenient cell batteries.

Controls


 
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 has a large, physical power button on its left side, and a range of white LED-illuminated touch controls in its lower bezel. From the left we have a handy ‘button’ for turning the screen off, an input selector, shortcut to preset touch-based launchers, volume and screen brightness controls. 

They’re easy to find in the dark as the ‘screen on/off’ button is constantly backlit, and the others light up if you press anywhere to its left. They’re all reasonably responsive, and if you dislike them the keyboard and remote both offer volume controls.



Speakers


 
Good sound seems to be becoming the norm on ever more laptops and all-in-one computers, and the IdeaCentre A720 is no exception. Lenovo has integrated some reasonably powerful stereo speakers in the base that produce a clean and detailed soundstage with a bit of body. 

Though they’re not a patch on those of the HP Z1 due to underwhelming bass and lower maximum volume, on the plus side they don’t distort either.


Specs And  configurations 
Lenovo has certainly gone for an impressive base spec, with the headliner being a quad-core Intel ‘Ivy Bridge’ Core i7-3610QM. This CPU runs at 2.3GHz by default but will turbo clock up to 3.3GHz, and supports hyper-threading for up to eight virtual cores. Though it won’t match the power of its desktop counterparts, it’ll happily chomp through most things you’d care to throw  


Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
Dell XPS One 27Asus ET2700I
Price$1,449$1,599$1,399
Display size/resolution27-inch, 1,920x1,08027-inch, 2,560x1,44027-inch, 1,920x1,080
CPU2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M2.8GHz Intel Core i5-3450S2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S
Memory6GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics1GB Nvidia Geforce GT 630M2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
Hard drives500GB, 7,200rpm1TB, 7,200rpm1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical driveBlu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combodual-layer DVD burnerBlu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo
NetworkingGigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wirelessGigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wirelessGigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating systemWindows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)



It’s backed by a whopping 8GB of RAM, which should be plenty even for power users. For storage, meanwhile, there’s a 750GB hard drive. This can be upgraded (when buying direct from Lenovo) to a 64GB SSD with 1TB HDD for speedier boots and general performance. 

Graphics are not as impressive as the rest of the spec, but the dedicated GeForce GT630 with 2GB of RAM does let you play 3D games at decent settings. Sticking to our standard test settings, the IdeaCentre A720 breezed through Stalker, and even at the screen’s native 1080p it was still smoothly playable.




System configurations
Apple iMac 27-inch
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 (second generation); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Asus ET2700I (Core i7, April 2012)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Dell XPS One 2710
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-3450S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce 640M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
HP Omni 27 Quad
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M ; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Sony Vaio L Series
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3120M; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD 4000 embedded graphics chip; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive
Conclusion
A number of readers have asked me to try the Windows 8 Release Preview build on this system to see how well Microsoft's new interface plays with the IdeaCentre A720's multitouch screen. I'm curious about that as well, but with the prerelease OS and the potential for conflicts with present-day drivers and other software, the results might not reflect the experience of buying this PC now and updating via the final Windows 8 upgrade path. For that reason, I will write about my Windows 8 experience in a separate post, and the results will have no bearing on the score of this review.
That does not mean that the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 exists in some kind of bubble. Windows 8 is coming in just a few months, and I anticipate several other vendors having large, multitouch-capable all-in-ones at the ready. That coming competition makes it difficult to recommend that you purchase this PC today. I'm also wary of the IdeaCentre A720's value compared with that of other present-day all-in-ones.
Perhaps this system is a good fit if you're taken with its design, and if you have faith that Microsoft will succeed in its push toward touch-focused computing. For everyone else, I recommend that you wait before spending for a high-end Windows all-in-one like this one.
Performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.