If you're a commuter or frequent business traveler, you might know the back-breaking feeling of lugging around a hefty laptop. That's the immediate appeal of the LaVie Z 360 – it seemingly weighs almost nothing. And amazingly, it doesn't sacrifice power in order to achieve its superlight 2 lb. build, with Core i7 power. Its flexible 2-in-1 design just seems like icing on the top.
Unfortunately, the keyboard is so bad that it nearly overshadows all of the Z 360's good points. And at $1,699, I’m not sure that this machine does enough to justify its high price point, making the standard, nonconvertible LaVie Z a better – if still flawed -- option for business users.
The best business notebooks are built to last, with tough, durable designs. But those machines aren't half as portable as the LaVie Z, which is so light that it actually feels kind of flimsy. In fact, the machine feels like it's made of cheap plastic, with a lid and deck that bend and flex with shockingly little effort.
Actually, the Z 360 is not plastic but rather made from the same ridiculously light magnesium-lithium alloy that NASA uses in rockets. The material weighs half as much as aluminum, and is 25 percent lighter than standard magnesium. That doesn't change the fact that this machine feels a bit like a toy compared to the durable business-class notebooks in Lenovo's own ThinkPad line.
The look of the machine isn't half bad, though, with a no-nonsense matte black finish that will be right at home in a conference room. And some strategically placed beveled edges add a bit of flair to the otherwise boxy design.
Weight and dimensions
The LaVie Z 360 looks basically identical to the standard LaVie Z, though if you can believe it, that machine weighs even less, at just 1.7 lbs. That’s mostly because it lacks the touch panel that boosts this model's weight up to 2.04 lbs. In fact, the standard version is easily the world’s lightest laptop.
With that one exception, is there anything out there that's as light as the Z 360? Indeed, Apple's new MacBook matches its weight exactly at 2.04 lbs., though it offers a smaller 12-inch display, lacks a touch screen, has only a single USB-C port, and runs on a much less powerful Intel Core M processor. To be fair, the MacBook's all-metal construction feels much sturdier than the Z 360's dainty build.
Otherwise, the Z 360 weighs less than every other challenger, including HP's Spectre X360 (3.26 lbs.) and Dell’s Inspiron 13 7000 (3.63 lbs.).
What separates the Z 360 from the standard LaVie Z model is a flexible hinge that lets you fold the display back a full 360 degrees, so you can use the notebook like a tablet. I generally think this is a pretty nice feature in a business notebook, since it makes viewing media and using touch-screen Windows apps easier, especially in cramped quarters like on an airplane.
At least, it usually does. Unfortunately, the Z 360 has a few quirks that make its convertible design far less functional than most 2-in-1s. For starters the notebook can't be used in the partially unfolded "stand" or "tent" modes, because the picture remains upside down and doesn't flip until you've rotated the lid fully into tablet mode. Secondly, the keyboard isn't disabled when you're using the notebook in tablet mode, like it is on most convertibles, which will lead to a lot of errant keystrokes.
That brings us to the other big thing you need to know about the LaVie Z 360, which is that its keyboard is a nightmare for touch typists.
For starters, the keys themselves are quite shallow and don't offer much in the way of feedback. Plus, the keyboard deck itself tends to flex when you press on it, so the whole keyboard feels a bit mushy. To be fair, those are the same issues I see in other ultrathin notebooks, and many users won't mind.
What they probably will mind are the misplaced keys. The worst offense is probably the right Shift key, which has been shrunken down and placed to the right of the arrow keys. When you go to capitalize a word, get ready to hit the up arrow key instead about half the time.
The backspace key is also tiny, and a baffling "FWD Space" key – which redundantly replicates the space bar – has been placed beside it. Speaking of redundancies, an extra backslash key has been inserted to the left of the unusually small spacebar. The Enter key is also too narrow, and Delete has been reduced to a tiny sliver of a key to the right of the space bar.
So how did Lenovo – which is known for producing industry-leading keyboards in its ThinkPad line – mess this one up so bad? Like the standard LaVie Z, the Z 360 was actually designed by Japanese manufacturer NEC and licensed by Lenovo for sale outside of Japan. That's explains the quirks; this is actually a Japanese-style keyboard that’s been relabeled with English characters.
For all that's wrong with the keyboard, the touchpad is actually pretty nice. It sports a smooth matte plastic finish that makes it easy to glide your finger across. Mouse navigation felt accurate and responsive, and so did gestures like two-finger scrolling. The buttons are built into the pad, which is fine. Some people prefer dedicated buttons beneath the touchpad, but integrated buttons allow for more space to move the mouse.
The Z 360 isn't just thin and light – it's really fast, too. In fact, no other machine on the market – aside from the standard LaVie Z – offers such an impressive combination of power and portability. The laptop runs on a blazing-fast 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-5500U processor, with 8GB of RAM and a reasonably generous 256GB of speedy solid-state drive (SSD) storage.
It packed a wallop on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, racking up an awesome score of 6,550. That's a lot better than the ultraportable average (5,085), and it easily beats the Intel Core i5-powered HP Spectre X360 (5,614) and the Intel Core M-powered Yoga 3 Pro (4,571). The Core i7-powered Dell Inspiron 13 7000 SE came closest, with a score of 6,085.
Indeed, the Z 360 felt really, really fast during my testing time, zipping along no matter how many documents and Web browser tabs I opened.
You can't opt for lesser components to cut down on the price of the machine; this $1,700 model is the only configuration Lenovo sells. You can, however, opt for the standard LaVie Z, which offers identical specs but a nonconvertible design for $1,500.
Like the rest of this notebook, its display has plenty of high points and low points. First the good: the 13.3-inch touch panel offers a super-sharp Quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. That's nice, because a sharp screen lets you view more content on screen at once, which is key for tasks like editing spreadsheets and viewing documents side-by-side. I also like the matte finish on the display, which dulls colors a bit but does a good job of blocking annoying reflections from overhead office lighting.
Now the bad. Viewing angles are a bit limited, as the picture starts to wash out when the screen is viewed from the side. Our tests also showed that the screen's color accuracy was a bit off. And topping out at 224 nits of brightness, it's dimmer than the ultraportable average of 262 nits. That’s perfectly fine for indoor use, though.
The touch screen is as responsive as you'd expect. The trouble is that I'm not sure it adds enough useful functionality to the Z 360 to warrant an extra $200 over the standard LaVie Z.
Ports and connectivity
For a notebook that feels like it's barely there, I'm impressed by its decent array of ports. That includes two USB 3.0 ports for connecting accessories, a full-size HDMI port for linking the notebook to a monitor or projector, and an SD card slot for expanding the notebook's 256GB of internal storage.
Combining a powerful processor and battery-sucking touch display in a machine without much room for a battery is sure to produce mediocre battery life, and it does in the Z 360. The notebook ran for about 6 hours and 33 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 100 nits of brightness. That's well below the ultraportable average of 8:05. Competing notebooks last even longer than that: The HP Spectre X360 ran for 9 hours and 28 minutes on our test, while the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 SE clocked a very respectable 8 hours and 26 minutes.
HP's Spectre X360 ($999) offers similar performance and a more premium design at a lower price compared with the LaVie Z 360, but it's really heavy at 3.26 lbs.
Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 ($999) offers good performance and a solid design, but at 3.7 lbs. it's also way heavier than the Z 360.
Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro ($1,250) hybrid has a better keyboard and similar dimensions to the LaVie Z 360, and it's just a half-pound heavier at 2.6 lbs., though it's pricier than the above options.
The standard LaVie Z is a niche product, and the Z 360 even more so. After all, the standard model is the world's lightest notebook, and its $1,500 price tag is steep but more reasonable than paying $1,700 for the Z 360. That's especially true since the convertible model isn't as versatile as other 2-in-1s, making it hard to justify the extra cost and weight.
But even if you absolutely must have the lightest laptop around, it's difficult to recommend either model to business users. That's mostly because the unusual keyboard makes typing a chore for serious typists.
I think there is still a market for this notebook, but it mostly includes hunt-and-peck typists who want the lightest notebook around, and have enough disposable income to shrug off the high price. For everyone else, the HP Spectre x360 ($999) or the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 SE ($999) are more well-rounded work machines.