As the lightest 15.6-inch budget laptop we’ve tested, Lenovo G50 Core i3 – 4th Generation seems like a home run for commuters and frequent business travelers. And it would be, if not for its worst-in-class battery life. That makes the G50 a travel-friendly workstation only if you don’t plan to work away from a power outlet for long.
So can solid performance, a bright display and a superaffordable $299 price make up for that one big shortcoming?
Competing laptops feel like clunkers next to the Lenovo G50. Measuring 0.98 inches thick and weighing 4.6 lbs., the notebook is noticeably more portable than the 5.11-lb. Dell Inspiron 15 5000 and the 5-lb. Asus X555LA. That’s good news if you need to lug your laptop between home and the office.
Of course, the G50’s cheap design helps it achieve that light weight. It’s not a bad-looking laptop, but its textured plastic lid feels hollow, and its plastic chassis doesn’t feel as durable as what you get on some competing machines like the sturdy Inspiron 15 5000.
The G50 comes with a nice 15.6-inch screen that’s more than roomy enough for screen-intensive productivity tasks like viewing documents and editing spreadsheets. The HD display is pretty sharp, with a resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, so text looks crisp.
It also has the brightest display in its class, topping out at 238 nits of brightness. The average brightness among its closest rivals is 192 nits. That makes the G50’s screen easier to view in direct sunlight.
Keyboard and touchpad
The G50’s mediocre keyboard is typical for laptops in this price range. Keystrokes offer a reasonable amount of feedback, but it’s the shallow design of the keyboard that really hurts the typing experience, with just about 1.3 mm of travel. That makes typing on the G50 feel stiff compared to the experience on the X555LA (1.55 mm) and Inspiron 15 5000 (1.5 mm). Those notebooks are more comfortable for extended typing sessions, but the G50 is fine for hammering out the occasional email replay.
Like other 15-inch notebooks, this one comes with a full 10-key number pad to the right of the standard QWERTY layout, which is a perk if number crunching is part of your job. And I like the full-size arrow keys, which make it easy to navigate around documents.
I’m also a fan of the matte plastic finish on the G50’s touchpad, which my finger glides over easily. Mouse control was responsive, and so were gestures like two-finger scrolling. The pad itself doesn’t click down; instead, the G50 has traditional left and right mouse buttons.
The G50 features a DVD drive on its right edge, which will come in handy if you need to install a piece of legacy software via a disc. Otherwise, you get a standard array of ports, including two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, HDMI and VGA ports for connecting to monitors and projectors, a 2-in-1 SD/MMC card reader, and a Kensington lock slot for physically securing the notebook at your desk.
Hardware and performance
The G50 is powered by a 2-GHz AMD quad-core processor with 6GB of RAM. The internal hard drive offers 320GB of storage, which can be expanded via the SD card slot.
Compared to other budget laptops, I saw middle-of-the-road performance from the G50 during my testing period. Everyday business tasks like managing my email inbox and editing documents were smooth, though I occasionally saw a bit of slowdown during moderate multitasking.
That experience was reflected in the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, which measures overall performance. The G50 racked up a score of 3,756, which is solid for the price and beats the category average of 3,552. Some rival notebooks scored better, though, including the Inspiron 15 5000 (4,432) and the X555LA (4,220).
The G50 performed similarly in our multitasking test, which challenged the notebook to open a 69MB Word document while playing HD video in the background. Lenovo’s laptop completed the task in roughly 41 seconds, which beats the category average of 52 seconds. The X555LA finished in a speedier 35 seconds, though.
It’s tough to appreciate the G50’s portability with a meager battery life like this. The laptop died after just 4 hours and 22 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That’s shorter than the category average (5:10) by nearly an hour. It’s especially poor compared to competing notebooks like the Asus X555LA (5:55) and the long-lasting Acer Aspire E5 (8:10). In other words, don’t expect the G50 to last through the end of the workday, or even through a long business flight.
Our G50 review unit shipped with Windows 8.1, but you can update to Windows 10 just by running the standard Windows Update utility. Windows 10 — the latest version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system — offers a bunch of nice productivity-boosting features for business users.
Those features include a new virtual-assistant app called Cortana, which can perform all sorts of tasks, from quickly creating new calendar appointments to quickly locating files on your hard drive. You also get the ability to create virtual desktops to keep your work sessions organized, as well as the Action Center, a sidebar that groups alerts, notifications and messages in one spot. Check out our full review of Windows 10 to learn more.
A handful of productivity apps also come preloaded, including Evernote for taking and saving notes, and OneDrive for backing your files up to the cloud. A free one-month trial of Microsoft Office 365 is also included, though you’ll have to pay for the apps if you want to keep using Word, Excel and PowerPoint after the trial period.
With a low price of $299, the Lenovo G50-45 is one of the cheapest 15-inch notebooks we’ve reviewed, and it’s also the lightest overall. That makes it an enticing option for budget-minded commuters or frequent travelers. Unfortunately, its short battery life is a major shortcoming. If you can afford it, Dell’s Inspiron 15 5000 is the more well-rounded package, with a more durable design, a better keyboard and longer battery life, all for $399.
Still, the G50 is a decent pick for workers who need a large display and absolutely don’t want to spend more than $300 on a new work machine.