Lenovo is probably best known for its business laptops, especially the ThinkPad range it bought from IBM, when Big Blue decided to stop making laptops back in 2005. The company also produces some more consumer-focused models, however. The Lenovo B550 falls into this category and, although it has quite a basic spec, its price reflects this. Our review model was provided by Laptops Direct, where you can buy the B550 for the relatively modest sum of £382.
Cheap and chunky
Perhaps not unexpectedly for such a cheap machine, the B550 is rather large and chunky. It measures a considerable 245 by 36 by 381mm and is relatively heavy, too, at 2.75kg. The chassis looks a little plasticky -- apart from a silver Lenovo logo on the lid, it's clad head to toe in matte black plastic. To be fair, Lenovo has tried to add a little spice to the design by using a slightly ridged pattern on the lid and wrist rest, but overall, the styling is pretty uninspiring.
The keyboard is quite traditional and uses standard tapered keys. Aside from the rather odd decision to transpose the position of the 'Ctrl' and 'Fn' keys, the layout is rather good. The company has even managed to squeeze in a half-sized numerical keypad on the right-hand side. The keyboard feels solid and the keys have a springy action, so it's easy to tap out emails at a decent speed. We also like the trackpad's matte finish and largish size. Unlike many of its rival models, the B550's trackpad doesn't support multi-touch, so you can't, for example, use multi-touch gestures to zoom or rotate pictures in Windows Photo Gallery.
The B550's 15.6-inch screen has a fairly pedestrian resolution of 1366x768 pixels, but it uses LED backlighting and has a glossy coating -- both of which help its colours to look quite punchy. Also, unlike most glossy displays, it isn't all that reflective, so you can comfortably use it indoors under bright lights. That said, its horizontal viewing angles are a little limited, but this is a common complaint with budget laptops, and only really becomes an issue if you're trying to share a movie with a friend sitting beside you.
Ample storage, deprived of ports
Lenovo certainly hasn't skimped when it comes to the laptop's storage. It's kitted the B550 out with a fairly generous 500GB hard drive that provides plenty of room for work documents as well as media files. The DVD writer will also come in handy if you want to burn music or movies to CDs and DVDs. The laptop's line-up of ports, on the other hand, is very limited. There are just three USB ports, a VGA connector and an Ethernet socket. You don't get the niceties of an eSata port, HDMI port or ExpressCard slot.
The B550 runs the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium and has just 2GB of RAM, which is basically the least you can get away with when running this operating system. Lenovo has gone with an entry-level Intel T4400 processor. It's a dual-core chip that's clocked at 2.2GHz, but it has pretty modest performance compared to even Intel's budget i3 processors. It's hardly surprising, then, that the B550 scored a lowly 3,634 in PCMark05. As a result, it's not really suited to CPU-intensive tasks like video editing, but will be fine for more lightweight fare like emailing and Web browsing.
The laptop's graphics capabilities are also very basic. It uses integrated Intel GMA 4500M graphics and only managed to score 775 in 3DMark06. It won't handle the demands of modern first-person shooters, but is sufficient enough to run older, less complicated 3D games at a decent frame rate.
The low power appetite of the B550's processor and graphics chip does have a beneficial effect on its battery life. In our Battery Eater test, it lasted for an hour and 21 minutes before it needed to be topped up with juice, which is fairly impressive by 15-inch laptop standards. This test is extremely intensive, so you're likely to get a much longer life out of it with normal daily use.
The Lenovo B550 is a very basic machine. Essentially, it represents the next step up on the computing ladder from a netbook. It's priced to reflect this, and if your computing needs are relatively straightforward, its low price tag and sturdy build quality make it a cheap, if a tad uninspiring, option. More demanding users, however, would be best to look elsewhere.
Edited by Emma Bayly