Lenovo G580 – 15.6" – Core i5 3210M – Windows 8 – 4 GB RAM – 500 GB HDD

There is no glory in being basic or entry-level when it comes to laptops. Yet, for many of us, all the computer that’s needed is something that spends most of its time in one place and handles Web browsing, social networking, e-mail, word processing, streaming music and movies, and maybe some light photo and video editing.

The Lenovo G580 is that laptop. Or at least the version of it we tested was, powered by a speedy third-gen Intel Core i5 processor. The G580 comes in several configurations, not all of which are equipped to handle these tasks as smoothly. And even our G580 configuration, while good, is currently not the best you can get for the money from Lenovo.

So, while we like the G580 in general, we wouldn’t pay more than $500 for the configuration we tested, and we’d skip the base models running on Intel Celeron processor.

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The Lenovo G580 looks the part of a simple bare-bones laptop. The lid is a glossy, glittery, deep dark brown polycarbonate that, as long as you clean your fingerprints from it, would look very nice sitting on a home office desk. The dark brown continues inside, while the bottom of the chassis is nondescript matte black. It’s definitely a laptop that blends in with its surroundings.

Compared to all of the slender and light ultrabooks we’ve seen lately, the G580 is a giant. Generally speaking, the lighter and thinner a laptop is, the higher the price, so the G580’s less travel-friendly dimensions make sense. It’s not a system you’ll necessarily want to hump around everyday, but fine for room-to-room excursions around the house or office.

You get a full keyboard and number pad with the G580. One benefit of having a thicker body is that you actually get a decent amount of key travel when typing compared with the island-style keyboards on thinner models. It’s not a lot, but at least it feels like the keys are moving. The size and shape of the keys are overall very good, though the right Shift key is shrunken, which took some adjustment. It’s also not backlit, which is to be expected at this price


Above the left side of the keyboard are the power button and another button with a small arrow on it. This launches Lenovo’s OneKey Recovery software for system backups and recovery. It’s a nice extra for an entry-level laptop that requires almost no effort to use.

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The G580’s touch pad is seamless with the palm rest, set off by a rectangle of microbumps above its two large mouse buttons. It’s just large enough not to be frustrating to use and plenty responsive to handle Windows 8 functions like opening the Charms bar on the right or flipping through open applications. It handled palm drags while typing pretty well, but it would sometimes recognize a finger drag as a double tap, which could inadvertently launch an app or drag files or Start menu tiles around accidentally.

The glossy 1,366×768-pixel native resolution LCD is good, but in a world filled with high-resolution displays, it looks dated. Off-angle viewing isn’t great, but viewed directly head on or just off to the sides is fine and it gets reasonably bright for its class. It’s not a touch screen, though, so the Windows 8 experience isn’t the best; check out the Acer Aspire V5, which is about the same price, but adds a touch screen.

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Above the screen is a built-in Webcam that did well in our Skype tests. White balance was better than we’ve seen from competing models, so even in incandescent or fluorescent lighting, our room looked bright and white and not yellow. It did well in low-light conditions, too; noisy, but reasonably so.

The front-firing stereo speakers were another surprise. They delivered loud and full sound for a budget laptop, and not the thin, tinny audio we’ve come to expect. A decent set of headphones or external speakers would still be more enjoyable, but for casual music listening and video watching they were good.

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