Lenovo's ThinkPad notebooks are prized for their robust build, good security features and solid performance, and the new SL series is a cost-effective mix of performance, wireless and multimedia features. One of the star attractions of the SL series -- which comprises of the 15.4-inch SL500, the 14.1-inch SL400 and the 13.3-inch SL300 -- is built-in mobile broadband.
We looked at the SL500, which comes in two configurations: our top-end review sample (model number: NRJ4FUK) costs £823, while the lower-spec model (NRJ4DUK) comes in at £646.
The SL500 has a shiny piano-black lid that gives it a superficial resemblance to a number of other notebooks on the market. But behind this façade, it's anything but ordinary -- the design is classy and the build quality robust.
The corners and sides are particularly tough, and we especially like the rim that runs all around the lid section. Although there's no clasp between the lid and the system unit, this rim ensures a very firm fit between them when the notebook is closed.
The SL500 has a modest footprint for a 15.4-inch system (358mm by 260mm), although it's quite thick at 37mm. It weighs 2.9kg, so you'll notice it in your bag if you take it on your travels.
The screen is a major plus point. It has a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels and is very easy on the eye. The anti-glare coating doesn't stop it from being a little difficult to read when there's a light source directly behind you, but it's far easier to live with than the shiny screens we've seen on so many notebooks. The cheaper SL500 model has a lower-resolution (1,280x800-pixel) screen.
The spill-resistant keyboard has a row of full-height number keys above the Qwerty layout, and a two-thirds-height Function key row above that. The usual inverted-T arrangement of cursor control keys incorporates media playback controls via Function key combinations.
There is a fair amount of give in the keyboard, which heavy-handed typists may find disconcerting. Individual keys have a good return, though, and we found the keyboard comfortable to use. There's a fingerprint scanner on the right-hand side of the wrist rest, which we always think is fun.
Beneath the keyboard, a two-button touchpad incorporates vertical and horizontal scrollers. Above the touchpad are three further buttons for use with a trackpoint that sits between the G, H and B keys. The central button can be held down to turn the trackpoint into a vertical and horizontal scroller.
Our only real gripe with this arrangement is the touchpad itself. It's relatively small compared to the screen area and it takes the better part of three full sweeps to get from the left edge of the screen to the right. If you do a lot of work with the cursor rather than using keyboard shortcuts, our advice is to use a mouse.
To the left of the keyboard is a vertical strip of four buttons. Three of these are volume controls (up, down and mute), while the fourth opens a sidebar headed Lenovo Care. This gives access to a range of on-board and external features. For example, you can search for wireless networks within range, change the display settings, configure the trackpoint and touchpad, change power settings, backup and restore the notebook and 'get help from a Lenovo expert' -- which effectively means going online to get assistance.
Our review model, the NRJ4FUK, has a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5870 processor. The less expensive version runs on a 1.8GHz T5670 CPU.
The standard RAM complement is 2GB, expandable to a maximum of 4GB. Business users will be pleased to see that Windows Vista Business is preinstalled, although you can downgrade to Windows XP Professional if required.
Graphics in our review sample are handled by a discrete Nvidia GeForce 9300M GPU with 256MB of dedicated graphics RAM. The cheaper model makes do with Intel's integrated GMA X4500 module.