Looking for a good TV for your lounge and also need a powerful new computer, but don't have the room for both? Step this way, friend, and check out the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 all-in-one.
The A720 offers an enormous 27-inch, Full HD screen that's just begging to show off your hi-def movies with the Blu-ray drive. Inside my review model was the latest generation Intel Core i7 processor and a hearty 8GB of RAM.
Better yet, it offers sleek, minimalist stylings and an extremely thin display that won't look out of place in your living room.
It's available from July for £1,299.
Design and build quality
Many all-in-one PCs arrive sporting cheap, shiny plastic bezels and big, clunky stands that really only make them suitable for a darkened office space. Lenovo however appears to have been studying its style guide closely as the A720 is a considerably more attractive piece of kit.
With its 27-inch display it's a very wide machine, so you'll have to clear a space on your desk. If you intend to keep it in your living room, you'll need plenty of room either side. It is also extremely slim however -- Lenovo claims that its 24.5mm thickness makes it the slimmest all-in-one in the world -- which probably won't help with its placement, but it does make it look very sleek.
In order to achieve such diminutive dimensions, a lot of the main internal components are housed in the base. That naturally makes the base chunkier than the stand on Apple's 27-inch iMac, but it's hardly fat and its small footprint means it can sit on a fairly narrow surface. It's certainly worlds apart from the gargantuan HP Z1 Workstation that needs an enormous plastic stand in order to support its epic bulk.
Both the base and the chassis of the screen are constructed from a matte silver metal with a very minimalist design and sharp, angular edges. I personally found the IdeaCentre extremely attractive and would be more than happy to have it in any room of my house. Others on the CNET team were less keen however, arguing that it looks "bottom heavy" and "too slanty". It's likely then that you'll either love the minimalist look or loathe it.
The front is dominated by an enormous sheet of glass that runs edge to edge, so there's no tacky plastic bezels in sight, which gives it a premium feel. It can also be adjusted to lie totally flat, which when combined with its touch-screen capabilities make it seem like an enormous tablet sat on your desk.
The touchscreen is of the capacitive variety, so you don't need to ram your finger into the glass to get it to respond, and I must say it's one of the more accurate touch-displays I've used on an all-in-one. It's not faultless though, and trying to hit small icons like the minimize buttons can be a tough task, but it's great for moving windows around, opening folders or prodding the media controls on the Blu-ray player.
Once Windows 8 launches however with its tablet-like Metro interface, the touchscreen on the A720 will become crucial. Swiping through the big, live tiles will be a joy and using the various touch-gestures to view open programs or settings will be enjoyably easy. If the A720 appeals to you now, you should be very excited by the thought of getting Windows 8 on it.
The port selection on offer includes two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, headphone and microphone jacks and an Ethernet port. It's also got HDMI in and out ports which means you can plug in your games console as you would with a normal TV -- very handy if you plan on using it as your main screen in your living room or bedroom.
It also comes equipped with a wireless keyboard and mouse set which are pretty standard. The metal frame and chiclet styling of the keyboard is definitely reminiscent of Apple's keyboards, although it's not quite of the same quality. They do the job, but if you want a more comfortable experience when working on long documents then you should consider upgrading to a better set.
The A720 is dominated by its 27-inch display. It offers a resolution of 1,920x1,080-pixels which is both good and bad. On the one hand, it's exactly the right resolution to enjoy Full HD videos and Blu-rays at their best, and its size makes it ideal for use with your Xbox 360 or PS3.
On the downside, the sheer vastness of the display means that icons, text and windows appear much bigger on the screen than they usually would, which results in them often being noticeably less sharp. This causes no problems whatsoever when you're watching movies from a distance, but when you get up close to do some work, the fuzziness becomes somewhat more noticeable, although it's still perfectly usable.
All-in-ones like the HP Z1 and Apple's 27-inch iMac use higher-resolution displays to ensure that text and images stay pin-sharp, although they do cost considerably more than the A720. A screen with a resolution that high isn't necessarily the best option anyway -- unless you work professionally with graphics.
The display is bright and bold, making it great for popping in a Blu-ray disc and flopping back onto your bed or sofa. Given the size, I personally found it to be an appealing option for a main screen in a living room or perhaps a student's bedroom. It's big and vivid enough to enjoy all your flicks on, and the digital TV tuner and HDMI-in ports mean it can function exactly as your regular telly would.
Stuffed inside the A720's base is a meaty lineup of specs including an Intel Core i7-3610QM processor clocked at 2.30GHz paired with 8GB of RAM. The processor is from Intel's latest range, known as Ivy Bridge, which promise significantly improved built-in graphics over the previous range, known as Sandy Bridge.
To see how it stacks up against other all-in-ones, I fired up the Geekbench benchmark test, and with reckless abandon, hit the 'Run' button. Shortly afterwards I was shown a score of just over 13,500, which is extremely impressive. By comparison, the HP Z1 Workstation achieved around 15,000 on the same test and yet costs nearly two grand more. Apple's 27-inch iMac from 2010 managed to rack up 12,000 and is also quite a bit more pricey.
Benchmark scores aren't everything of course, so I gently persuaded it to encode my 1080p footage into 24fps H.264 video, which it managed to do in the lightning-fast time of 4 minutes 40 seconds. That's almost identical to the length of time Apple's new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display took to complete the same task. Given that I found the Pro to be extremely capable of handling even the most intense and demanding of applications, I have no doubt that the A720 would be a machine well-suited to those hoping to work with high-resolution images and videos.
I loaded up a very high-resolution TIFF image taken on the astounding Canon EOS 5D Mark III into Adobe Lightroom 4 and was very pleased at the A720's performance. Loading the image was very quick and switching between library view into editing mode was instantaneous and free of annoying lag. Applying image-wide effects such as Gaussian blur and exposure tweaks was easy to do and at no point did I feel that the computer was struggling to keep up.
It's not just about the processing power though -- this thing packs an Nvidia GeForce GT 630 graphics card with 2GB of VRAM to help you munch through games with ease. I took my rally car for a spin around the Finnish hills in Dirt 3 and was fairly chuffed with the average 35 frames per second that the A720 was able to sustain.
The game was being played at full 1080p resolution with shadows and texture detailing set to high. If you want to up the frame rate for a slightly smoother experience then you can turn some of the quality down and enjoy around 50fps, but all but the most hardcore of gamers will find 35fps perfectly passable.
If tackling the latest glossy games aren't your thing, you can always put the touchscreen to good use and try your luck at the classic Angry Birds or the apple-attacking, banana-bashing, kiwi-killing Fruit Ninja -- both of which are included as standard.
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 offers an expansive, yet extremely slim screen, as well as a much more attractive look than most all-in-ones on the market. It's particularly suited to operating as a TV replacement in a living room or student bedroom. The latest Intel processor on-board helps it easily handle intense tasks like photo and video editing.
If you're after a computer that can tackle all the work you can throw at it, with a screen big enough to show off your movies at their best, the A720 is a great choice.