Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 Review - Where to Buy

By on June 22, 2012

Power delivered in an unconventional design.

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Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 Review
It seems that desktops PCs went through a bit of evolution over the last 20 years or so. In the early 90s they were dull beige boxes that just sat under your desk or under your monitor and went about their business. As the years flew by they became sleeker but still hung on to their drab metallic colors. Once people recovered from the Y2K hoopla, desktop PCs morphed into something more attention-grabbing. They took on new designs and shapes. They adopted glossier finishes and more appealing colors. And in recent years, they have grown even more compact while still delivering impressive performance. And then came the all-in-one (AIO) – a PC that didn’t have anything but a screen, keyboard, and mouse, with all off the essentials hidden cleverly away. This meant less cable clutter and less desk space was required, and we found ourselves a winner. While in recent times we have seen a few manufacturers putting out some pretty decent AIO machines, none of them have so far wowed us here at the t-break labs.

That is of course, until the Lenovo A720 came along.


Design & Build Quality


Even without unpacking it, I can tell that the A720 is a AIO after my heart. Sliding it out of the box and setting it up was as simple as removing the packaging and plugging in a power cable. The A720 looks absolutely beautiful from whatever angle you look at it, and it’s the gorgeous 27” screen that first catches your eye. The super-slim frameless touch display is just beautiful and only 24.5mm thick, which gives credit to Lenovo’s claim that this is the world’s slimmest AIO.

The huge display is connected to a ridiculously strong aluminum hinge, and when I say strong I absolutely mean it – this thing was built to take a fair bit of abuse as the screen can tilt at a variety of angles to make the touchscreen experience more comfortable. When fully upright the screen looks like a regular desktop monitor; tilt it at a slight angle and it looks more like something you’d see at an artist’s studio. Lie the screen fully flat and it’s a 10 point touch surface that’s great for playing games with other people (or the piano).



The base of the A720 looks quite ordinary, but it’s here where all the magic is hidden away, so that the screen can achieve its super-slim profile. The base houses the CPU, graphics card and HDD, and is where you’ll find all of your connectivity options. On the right side of the base is a slot-loading DVD or Blu-ray drive and a memory card reader, as well as a large power button on the right side of the display. The back of the base sports ports for Gigabit Ethernet, power, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, audio jacks, and an optional TV tuner card. The right side of the base has another USB 3.0 port as well as separate ports HDMI in and out. That’s right – the HDMI In port allows you to connect any HDMI compatible device such as a gaming console and use the gorgeous 27” screen with a simple touch of a button. It’s a very handy feature to have for anyone to use however they see fit, whether they want to connect a console or another PC.



One thing I would have liked changed on the A720 is to have the HDMI ports moved to the back and have the USB and audio ports brought to the side. It was a bit finicky to have to keep getting up and hunting down a free USB port at the back each time I wanted to connect something.

Screen & Keyboard


The display has no physical buttons (except for the power button on the right side) and has small ambient indicators on the lower left for power, HDD activity, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. On the lower right you have touch controls for swapping input sources, adjusting volume and brightness, and also for turning off the screen without powering off the unit.




You’ve got 1080p support with a resolution of 1920x1200, which is a bit disappointing as I would think for a screen that gorgeous they would be able to pack in some more pixels for a slightly higher resolution. And while the screen is great to look at, I found that it was a bit too glossy for my liking. When setup in a room with even a little bit of sunlight in the room, I found that I kept seeing my reflection in the screen when working with dark images or playing Diablo III. At night or under artificial lighting this became less noticeable, but tilting the screen a bit made my mug shot visible again. A friend of mine said that this is a similar issue he faced on his iMac, and had to buy a special film to attach to his screen that would make it less reflective. I can understand that Lenovo had to make the screen both durable and glossy on account of it being a touch surface, but I had to say that it’s hard to play games when you keep seeing your face staring back at you (especially mine).

Given the sleek design and immense care that was put into the A720, I was utterly shocked by the flimsy keyboard and mouse that was bundled with my unit. The keyboard was well spaced and full-sized, but the keys often felt less resistant to my typing, and I found myself having to depress the spacebar quite hard when typing. What’s also very irritating is that the left Control key has been swapped around with the ‘Fn’ function key, so I was almost always pressing Fn+C instead of Ctrl+C when typing. You really don’t understand how much you use the Control key until some genius decides to go and mess around with a keyboard layout. The rest of the keyboard is fairly plain, with volume controls and a mute button at the top left, as well as a tiny indicator that tells you when the two AA batteries need changing.



The mouse is also rather boring and felt very cheap in my hands compared to the overall grandeur of the A720. It’s almost as if Lenovo found the lease expensive mouse they could find and stamped their logo across the top. What’s particularly confusing is that the keyboard and mouse operate using a standard wireless receiver, so there’s one of your USB ports taken up. Given that the machine bundled with Bluetooth, it would have made more sense to have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and keep the USB port free.


Specifications


Lenovo certainly tried to cram as much tech into the A720 as they could, and my review unit came with plenty of firepower under the hood.



You can opt to have an SSD installed into the A720 instead of a regular HDD, but other than that there seems to be enough tech crammed in specifically so you don’t have to go tinkering around to upgrade parts. Getting into the A720 is a bit tricky, and involves removing screws at the base – clearly Lenovo didn’t want people tinkering around in this unit themselves.

Benchmarks & Performance


Running benchmarks on the A720 was a breeze, and while it would be great to compare it to another AIO, the only other one that we’ve tested was the HP TouchSmart 610 last year. Of course, the two are vastly different in terms of hardware and it would be grossly unfair to try to compare them.

Overall the A720 did quite well in our tests, with PerformanceTest producing a score of 1888 and Geekbench spitting out a rating of 9969. 3DMark churned out framerates of 36 – 49fps during the 3D tests, resulting in a final score of 7621. WinRAR and 7-zip came out with scores of 6,508 and 18,340 respectively, which would of course be different if the device had an SSD in it.



Following the regular benchmarks, I fired up Diablo III and cranked everything in the graphics department to a max. The game was a bit uncomfortable to play at times due to the reflections from the glossy screen, but graphically it looked absolutely brilliant. Spell effects, flying limbs and murky dungeons all took on a life of their own, and I had absolutely no issue with the game stuttering or frame drops. I then tried out the demo of Spec Ops, which is based on Unreal Engine 3, so it was a great benchmark to run. Again with everything cranked to max quality and resolution, the game looked phenomenal – lighting effects and character models were pulled off with ease, and the game had some of the smoothest framerates I’ve seen. Clearly this machine can take what you throw at it, so doing things like video production or editing photos will be quite painless.



In terms of audio performance, the A720 is loud enough to behave like a mini-home theatre if it’s in a medium sized room, but if you move it to the living room or to a larger space, you might best connect a pair of larger speakers. The speakers at the base of the unit may look tiny, but deliver a surprisingly powerful range of tones. Bass was a little disappointing at times, but overall you can quite comfortably watch movies or stream music from the A720.


Touchscreen & Windows 8


The touchscreen is a fancy addition at best, and of course there are plenty of apps installed that you can use to test it out. I can share one thing with you, there’s no greater fun than playing Angry Birds on a 27” screen. Lenovo bundles plenty of other games as well as educational apps such as a paint studio and a two-person piano app, so you’ll certainly get a lot of use from the touch screen if you’ve got younger family members. I had some fun with a DJ app in Chrome that let me mix some songs together with the A720 lying flat like a virtual turntable.



When poised at a slight incline, I tried to do a bit of work in Photoshop, but I found it too cumbersome to make precise adjustments to files, so I assume that if you had a stylus you might have better luck. I put together a simple video clip in Windows Movie Maker which was slightly easier to use thanks to its mostly drag and drop interface. After swiping around and playing Fruit Ninja for a good fifteen minutes, I came away with a rather sore finger, as the touchscreen has quite a bit of friction to it. The other confusing thing with the touch software is that every so often it would just completely die out and stop working – even after several attempts I couldn’t get it working again without a reboot, which was a bit unfortunate. I certainly hope that this is going to be a rare occurrence or users might not end up using the touchscreen at all.



While I appreciate that Lenovo is trying to show everyone how awesome a 27” touchscreen can be, there is far too much software plodded on to this device when you first boot it up. There’s a launcher that resides to the right of your screen, as well as a larger launcher you can open up to get to the various apps. The bundled Cyberlink DVD software is also a bit of a resource hog, so my advice is to switch to something a bit more streamlined.




Since the A720 runs Windows 7 and has a touchscreen, it was only obvious that I fired up Windows 8 Release Preview on it, and sure enough about 20 minutes later I was staring at the familiar Metro interface. Using Windows 8 on a large screen certainly makes a difference from running it on a laptop or tablet, and browsing through the various apps was extremely easy to use. I still have my hangups about the Metro interface, but regardless it ran flawlessly on the A720.

Heat and Noise levels


Given that the A720 was packing some serious power, it does tend to heat up quite often. The left side of the base unit (where the ventilation is) was warm to the touch when the unit was left idle or when watching some light video clips, registering a core temperature of about 52C. But during my benchmarks when I was really pushing the internals, the temperature rose to around 76C and the fan did kick into high gear for a short time to bring the temperature back down. Under normal operating conditions, the fan noise was down to a gentle background hum, so unless you are doing some very technical work that taxes both CPU and GPU, the unit remains mostly cool and quiet.

Conclusion


The Lenovo A720 is certainly an impressive piece of tech. If you’re not floored by the sheer size and beauty of its screen, it can pull off a few yoga poses of its own to impress you thanks to its almost industrial-strength hinge. The touchscreen is an added bonus, but at the end of the day it remains to be seen how much quicker you can get things done using the touchscreen over a keyboard and mouse. But at its heart, the Lenovo A720 is a powerful machine that not only looks great, but delivers some very good results no matter what you throw at it.
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