Overall Design & Layout
It starts with the redesigned matte lid that's soft to the touch and won't punish you for groping it the way a glossy exterior will with fingerprints and smudges. The color is an off-black (Lenovo calls it "moss-black") accented with polished chrome trim and a couple of small logos ("Lenovo" and "ThinkPad") in the lower left and right corners. At 4.1 pounds and just over an inch at its thickest point, even Ned the accountant, who wears rimmed glasses and carries paperback versions of sci-fi novels because the hardback copies are too heavy, won't break a sweat lugging the E420s to-and-fro.
In terms of construction, Lenovo says the metal hinges employed on the E420s strengthen the bond between the top and bottom shelf, "an important point given that users often pick up their laptops by the lid." Point taken, and the E420s certainly feels solidly built. We also appreciate being able to bend the screen back all the way flat (and even a little beyond), because as we've pointed out in other reviews, this amount of flexibility offers greater compatibility with laptop stands. Asus' G73 line, for example, is constructed in a way that the lid doesn't open much past a 90 degree angle, limiting your ability to plop it on an inclined laptop stand (like the NotePal ErgoStand from Cooler Master that we use) and maintain a level line of sight.
For lack of a better term, we'll resort to calling the E420s a 'sleek and sexy' laptop, an oft-used phrase to describe just about any black notebook that catches the eye. Lenovo modernized the design by avoiding plastic on everything but the buttons and speaker grill. One thing we're not as keen on as Lenovo is the 14-inch infinity glass display. We don't have any problem with the 1366x768 (16:9) native resolution for a laptop this size, but the thick bezel, while certainly replicating the TV-screen aesthetic that Lenovo touts, looks a bit odd on a laptop and results in wasted real-estate.
We're much more appreciative of the HD (720p) webcam. It boasts low-light sensitivity and is plenty sufficient for video calls via Skype or snapping quick photos of yourself.
The rubberized coating extends into the body of the E420s and provides a comfortable wrist rest when hammering out TPS reports or long-winded emails telling off your boss before deleting them (unless you work at HotHardware, in which case everyone in charge is awesome, or so the staff is told every week). ed. - This is true.
Sitting slightly to the left is a sizable multi-touch trackpad flanked by a fingerprint reader over on the right. You'll notice a pair of plastic buttons on top of the trackpad, and that isn't because Lenovo's design team built the E420s while standing on their heads. These are for when you use the TrackPoint joystick to navigate the mouse cursor (it's that little red nub nestled all cozy-like in the middle of the G, H, and B keys). Pressing and holding the center button lets you scroll with the pointing stick, and the harder you jam the nub in either direction, the faster you can whiz through your document or webpage.
Lenovo equipped the E420s with a contemporary keyboard. According to Lenovo, the "smile" you see on the top and bottom of the keys isn't just for aesthetics, but "improves accuracy by effectively creating a larger void between keys to reduce the chance of inadvertently hitting an adjacent key." Gone are the Scroll Lock and Pause keys in an effort to streamline the layout with a cleaner one, and the Page Up, Page Down, and Print Screen keys have been moved to the lower right corner for easier access. Typing is fairly comfortable with sufficient click action, and should a passerby knock over your He-Man thermos filled with Amp, you won't have to chase him down to exact revenge because the keyboard is spill resistant. Should this happen, avoid the temptation to tip the E420s on its side, as it includes drainage holes on the bottom that work when the laptop is in an upright position, or so Lenovo tells us.
On the other side of the E420s, you'll find a pair of USB 2.0 ports, one of which is powered; HDMI-output; mic/speaker combo port; and a cooling vent. The third USB 2.0 port (serves double duty as an eSATA port) occupies the rear, as does the GbE LAN port and VGA connector.
It all adds up to a well thought-out design that adds to the overall tidiness of the E420s, though we do have to shake an angry fist at Lenovo for not trusting its userbase with performing their own upgrades. There's no easy way to get into the E420s to add more RAM or service your machine.