The gaming laptop segment is exploding right now, bucking a general downward trend in the PC business. This is one of the few product categories in which manufacturers don't have to struggle to make everything thinner and lighter or lower cost, and it's also benefitting tremendously from Intel and Nvidia's latest products which deliver gaming-grade power without too many tradeoffs. Mainstream PC brands including Dell, HP, Acer and Lenovo are trying to push into this market, and even component makers Asus and MSI are capitalising on the opportunity.
This is such a big deal that many companies, afraid of being perceived as old-school and staid, have spun their gaming products out into separate sub-brands. Acer has its Predator line, Asus has the Republic of Gamers, Dell uses Alienware (and Inspiron Gaming), and now we have Lenovo moving its Y series laptops under the new Legion banner. On one hand, this tells buyers that they are getting something out of the ordinary, but on the other, it seems that everyone has the same cliched idea of who gamers are and they want. Hopefully, Lenovo's new Legion Y520 can stand on its own merits.
Lenovo Legion Y520 look and feel
Okay, we get it. Being a gamer means you must like lots of red accents, aggressive lines, exposed vents and a vaguely military/ industrial/ motorsport aesthetic. Lenovo, like most other companies, has certainly checked all the boxes when it comes to the stereotype. If you just want powerful minus all the design flourishes, look elsewhere.
That said, the Legion Y520 isn't over-the-top garish. The lid is all black, with a matte carbon-fibre-textured finish and a stealthy embossed Lenovo logo in one corner. It picks up smudges very easily, and they aren't easy to wipe off. The hinge is a barrel in the centre of the back, leaving space on either side for fairly large speakers, which have thick grilles that are angled right towards the user. At 25.8mm thick and 2.4kg in weight, the Legion Y520 is fairly portable by gaming laptop standards, but it's still bulky. The edges aren't very smooth and the front lip is angled rather than flat, which makes carrying this laptop a little difficult.
Flipping the lid up, the first thing we noticed was that if felt rather flimsy. The lid bends and flexes, and there's nothing to keep the screen from warping. The centred hinge also means that it isn't anchored along the entire bottom edge. We found that the screen frame could easily be pried apart from the lid. The construction here and the quality of the plastic used aren't up to the mark - we're concerned about how this laptop will hold up long-term.
Every single key on the keyboard has red sides and red printing, with the WASD cluster getting extra-thick red borders just to make sure we know this is a gaming laptop. There are also red lines around the trackpad and power button, and a small red Legion logo in the lower front corner. In line with the gaming stereotype, keyboard backlighting is red (while many competitors now offer RGB lighting) and there are only two brightness levels to choose from.
Generally speaking, we aren't fans of unconventional keyboard layouts because there's always something that suffers, especially the arrow keys. In this case though. Lenovo has pulled off a very interesting design that allows for a full-sized arrow cluster as well as a number pad. Media shortcuts and even the lesser-used Pause/Break have been accommodated as secondary functions, and you can use like normal keys with Num Lock turned off. However, some of the number pad keys don't have secondary functions, which renders them useless when the Num Lock is off - and we still have to use the Fn modifier for more common functions like Home, End, Page Up and Page Down.
In terms of comfort, they keyboard is quite good. The rows are slightly more offset than usual, which makes the WASD position just a tiny bit uncomfortable. The right Windows shortcut key has been replaced with a button that immediately triggers Lenovo's screen recording software, and we found ourselves activating this unintentionally way too often. You can configure video quality and the file storage location, but you can't turn it off. We think this button should have been placed outside the usual typing area, and besides, Windows 10 has screen recording built in, so this feature is redundant.
The trackpad has an awkward trapezoidal shape, for no reason other than to work some angles and edges into the Legion Y520's design. It's comfortable enough and accuracy is not a problem at all. However, the trackpad buttons are extremely difficult to use. They're angled downwards and are for some reason anchored in the middle so you can only click the extreme left end of the left button and the right end of the right one.
On the left side, you'll find Lenovo's trademark flat power connector, an Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm combo audio socket, as well as a pinhole reset button that lets you reset the BIOS or boot into Windows 10's system recovery tool. On the right, there's an HDMI output, two USB 3.0 ports, and a third USB 3.0 Type-C port, and an SD card slot. Thankfully all hot air is pushed out the back. You can clearly see copper heatsink fins through the vents on the back, which we're sure is intentional.
Overall, while they keyboard layout is a clever touch, we're disappointed with the looks as well as the material and construction quality of what should be a premium laptop. Lenovo has many competitors doing better at this price level.
Lenovo Legion Y520 specifications and software
The combination of an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or 1050Ti GPU seems to be pretty common right now. It's exactly what we saw with the Asus ROG Strix GL553V, MSI GP62 7RD Leopard Pro, and Acer Aspire VX15, and seems like a good balance for full-HD gaming at this price level. The Legion Y520 is available in two variants, one with a GeForce GTX 1050 and 8GB of RAM at Rs. 92,490, and the other with a GTX 1050Ti and 16GB of RAM at Rs. 1,04,990. Everything else about the two is identical, and we're reviewing the more expensive one today.
Lenovo has matched these core components with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive which should be more than enough for most people. We're happy to see that the SSD wasn't overlooked - even with a low capacity, having one makes a huge difference. The 15.6-inch screen has a full-HD resolution and thankfully also has a non-reflective matte surface. Rounding off the spec sheet are a 45Whr battery rated for four hours of use, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth, and a 720p webcam.
The Legion Y520 comes with Windows 10 Home, and the Creators' Update was already up and running on our review unit. There's a bit of preinstalled software, the most prominent of which is Lenovo's Nerve Sense which is pinned to the Windows taskbar and automatically does things like disabling shortcut keys and prioritising network traffic when you launch any game. You can also control screen recording settings and manually push the fans to full speed from here.
Lenovo Settings is a dashboard that lets you manage various things including the webcam, battery profile, and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. One interesting feature is that you can trigger different profiles based on which wired or Wi-Fi network you're currently connected to, but the only things you can change are your Microsoft Edge homepage and default printer, which makes it fairly pointless. Lenovo App Explorer is a spammy app store which tries to make you install all kinds of adware and games with in-app purchases - there's even an entry for Whatsapp which says you can "quickly send and receive messages right from your desktop" but is nothing but a link to the Whatsapp website.
Lenovo Legion Y520 performance
When it comes to everyday usage, the Legion Y520 is exceptionally snappy. Windows boots quickly and apps load without any fuss. Windows 10 was set to 125 percent scaling by default which made the desktop look crowded, and we got rid of all the icons for Lenovo's bloatware to get some breathing room. There were regular popups for some of Lenovo's utilities plus the bundled McAfee security software and Microsoft's Cortana voice assistant.
The display is somewhat grainy compared to the Retina-class screens on most premium laptops and smartphones today, but it's perfectly fine for gaming and watching videos. Colours don't really pop but viewing angles are good. The speakers are very good, especially for voices and game sound effects, but music does get distorted at higher volumes.
Benchmark tests targeting the CPU, storage and memory subsystems all showed great results. We got 659 points in Cinebench R15, and 3,777, 4,613 and 3,468 in PCMark 8's Home, Creative and Work test scenarios respectively. Sequential read and write speeds for the SSD were 1.54GBps and 748.44MBps respectively. 3DMark's Fire Strike Extreme test gave us 3,561 points, and the DirectX 12 Time Spy test gave us 2,415. Unigine Valley running at the native 1920x1080 using the High quality preset gave us an average of 43.1fps, and the Star Swarm simulation managed 56.24fps.
We then ran the built-in benchmarks that a few games have in order to compare scores across different hardware directly. Rise of the Tomb Raider managed a pretty impressive 53.04fps average at 1920x1080 with the High preset, and the newer Deus Ex: Mankind Divided pushed out 33.3fps with the same choices and with DirectX 12 enabled. Based on visual quality, most of today's popular games should be comfortably playable at Medium to High settings. Ashes of the Singularity crashed on load several times, which is something that happens on many systems. Metro: Last Light Redux managed 76.21fps using the High preset with SSAA turned off.
Manual run-throughs gave us an idea of how far the settings can be pushed in each game, and how image quality actually stacks up in terms of even frame pacing and stutters or lags. Doom is one of today's most generous games when it comes to the hardware it will run on, and we had no trouble pushing a smooth 60-80fps without any trouble whatsoever at the High setting using OpenGL. Rise of the Tomb Raider was also extremely smooth, averaging 41fps with hardly any dips under the 30fps threshold indicating that there was very little variance from the average. Finally, we loaded up Far Cry 4, which is now a classic. This game pushed out an average of 85fps at its High setting, and while the average stayed well above 60fps there were a few occasional torn frames.
We were happy to note that the Legion Y520 didn't get too loud at any point during our game tests. In fact, we could hardly hear its fans at all. The area under our left hand and wrist stayed cool throughout. This is better than we were expecting given our experiences with some other gaming laptops in this segment. Battery life worked out to roughly the four hours promised by Lenovo, with light everyday usage. You're going to need to stay plugged in when gaming, though.
Lenovo has put forward a strong effort, but we like the insides of the Legion Y520 a lot more than its outsides. Styling is a subjective matter, but we can't help but wish that Lenovo hadn't gone quite so literal chasing after the "gamer" cred. The flimsy lid is a huge cause for concern, and the trackpad is an ergonomic misstep. We'd also like to see Lenovo ease up on the bloatware.
All that said, performance is excellent and you get a lot of bang for your buck. With an external mouse, gaming was quite a pleasure. We can also see ourselves carrying this laptop around with us, thanks to its manageable size and weight. A little bit of polish will take Lenovo a long way.
Other manufacturers offer very similar packages at this price level. While the core hardware seems to be roughly the same in all cases, look out for the exact GPU you're getting - the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti is a step better than the plain GTX 1050 - as well as the SSD capacity and amount of RAM. You might want features like an RGB backlit keyboard, or you might simply prefer the looks of some of the other options, so do look around before spending your money.
Price (MRP): Rs. 1,04,990
- Very good specifications
- Games run very well at 1920x1080
- Runs cool and quiet
- Good speakers
- Flimsy lid
- Uncomfortable trackpad
- Lots of bloatware
Ratings (Out of 5)
- Design: 3.5
- Display: 4
- Performance: 4
- Software: 3.5
- Value for Money: 3.5
- Overall: 3.5