REVIEW: Lenovo IdeaCentre A520

Lenovo IdeaCentre A520

We invited our Lenovo Advocate, Jason Palaszewski, to review the IdeaCentre A520.

Jason grew up in rural North-Central New Jersey and has been interested in technology for as long ago as he can remember. His first experience with Lenovo dates back to his Undergraduate school years. One of his friends had a Lenovo ThinkPad R61i at the time, and it was love at first point and type. Since then he has owned two Lenovo machines, a G555 and a ThinkPad Edge E420, and both continue to work and DO perfectly to this day. He also has a passion for exotic cars, making YouTube videos, PC gaming, electric guitar, building, overclocking, and giving advice on computers and smartphones, and modding Android devices.

The very moment you take the Lenovo IdeaCentre A520 out of its large box is the same moment you realize that you certainly just got yourself a truly awesome and fantastically versatile machine. After a few weeks of use, the same excellent workmanship, build quality, and versatility I experienced on day one is still consistently apparent during every second of use. This all-in-one is a serious contender for anyone looking for the at-home general purpose Windows 8 AIO PC with a nice, large 23” display that isn’t too enormous, but is still quite roomy. As we’ll see though, this is definitely not your average AIO. I like to think of it as an AIO with a twist, or shall we say, a tilt, making it fantastic for people (at times more than one simultaneously) of all ages to have fun or inject some more DO into your life. It’s such a great overall machine with so many purposes that I can’t think of a reason anyone wouldn’t want to own one. Oh, and the beautiful brushed aluminum construction is a sight to behold on its own, too. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how this machine stacks up and how it goes above and beyond expectation in this class.

Like many Windows 8 AIOs, the A520 has a very responsive touch panel. Unlike many AIOs, however, it is not only capable of functioning as a traditional space-efficient desktop replacement, but also as a tabletop machine as well. The strong and unique hinge on the A520 allows it to go anywhere from completely flat to looking straight at you to even resting the bottom of the monitor itself on your desk, tilted slightly upward. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and the functionality here lends itself to such a wide variety of uses never seen before. We’ll see later how Windows 8 is the perfect OS to use with this form factor, and how exactly it works so well with this machine’s versatile hinge.

I’m very picky about screens, as I almost always calibrate mine manually and am never perfectly happy with color balance, gamma, etc. However, I’m very pleased to announce that the panel itself on this particular machine is certainly of excellent quality. You get a roomy 23” gloss-finish 1920x1080 resolution IPS LCD panel with a gloss black bezel that contains capacitive controls for HDMI input or PC input, screen color adjustment with 3 modes, volume, and brightness. I found the movie color mode the most accurate and very pleasing, even rivaling some professionally calibrated displays. Up top is also a stereo microphone and HD webcam integrated into the bezel, both which I found to work adequately for voice and video chat programs like Skype.

Integrated right into the machine’s base are two speakers that honestly don’t look too special at first glance, but boy do they pack a lot more power than anticipated. This is largely in part to the great Dolby Home Theater v4 audio enhancement suite, which really works wonders for audio quality on speakers of all kinds. Lenovo has many products with Dolby integrated, and all of them sound much better than you get out of your average laptop or AIO built-in speakers. There is a nice selection of automatic equalizers with preset curves and a manual equalizer for fine tuning. It sounds as though the speakers have been specifically calibrated using the Dolby enhancement, as there is a huge difference in turning the Dolby effects on and off while using them. It also means you’ll be getting some awesome audio quality on any pair of external speakers or headphones, since you have a full suite of Dolby enhancements at your disposal regardless of what speakers you’re piping the sound through. I’ll admit the built in speakers aren’t perfect and do lack some bass which is to be expected due to the size of their drivers, but Dolby definitely makes the most of them. Of course, you always have the option of using external audio.

The included wireless mouse and keyboard set were great to use. I’m an extremely fast typer, as I learned how to type the proper way back in 7th grade and stuck with it all the way until the present. I’ve been typing for a very long time using proper home row technique and in most cases I can type at around 100-120 words per minute on most decent keyboards. The A520’s included wireless USB keyboard gives you quick access to media via an orange Fn key in conjunction with secondary labeled controls on the function keys, as well as dedicated volume up/down/mute buttons. I found the key travel pretty short, but the keys are very responsive and also very clicky, making for a comfortable and fast overall typing feel. At the site where I usually do my typing speed tests, I had, a result of 126 words per minute on the very first try. Needless to say, this is a great set of keys, as is expected from Lenovo’s consistently excellent tactile keyboard designs they are so well known for.  The mouse, although basic, functions well and has ample DPI from its invisible laser sensor that helps you get you around the desktop with no issue and very low latency. I also think it’s fantastic that both the wireless keyboard and mouse both connect to a single very tiny USB adapter. This is much better than having to plug in and utilize one USB port for each peripheral.

Speaking of USB ports, there is a nice selection of ports on the base of the A520. On the front, you get a conveniently located card reader that handles MS, MS Pro, MMC, SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards. On the left, there are HDMI in and out ports for incoming and outgoing video and audio streams and a USB 3.0 port for lightning fast connections to various peripherals. On the rear, you get a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, and two analog audio jacks, one for headphones/speakers and one for a microphone. On the right side, Lenovo provides a DVD burner or Blu-ray drive. It’s great to see two USB 3.0 ports on hand here. Lenovo is certainly keeping with the times.

My review unit has the Intel Core i5-3230M CPU, 6 GB of DDR3 1600 RAM, an integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics chip, and a 1 TB hard drive on tap. I was very pleasantly surprised by the overall performance of the machine, considering that I am used to using my own self-built desktop containing a beefier i5-2500K and 8 GB of RAM. Needless to say, the A520 was a pleasure to use on a daily basis, and the Ivy Bridge 3rd generation architecture of the CPU no doubt helped quite a bit, while the 6 GB of RAM keeps as many applications as almost any average user would want to have on hand quickly accessible at all times. Startup and shutdown times always under 30 seconds, which was fantastic. Windows 8’s performance optimization has reached new levels, even to the point where people using 5-7 year old hardware have begun upgrading to this OS. It’s snappy on just about any hardware, and the A520 as expected had zero problems to speak of during my testing. Lag really is a thing of the past on this machine. It’s also worth noting that the integrated graphics are much faster than you would expect, as Intel has been making great strides in their integrated GPUs in recent years. The 3rd generation Core series processors come with some really great graphics performance for both desktop applications and even some modern games. The integrated HD 4000 graphics certainly aren’t like having a GTX 690, but they sure are great for moderate gaming resolutions and graphics settings, which has never been the case before recently.

I’ve been using and observing technology with awe since I was 2 years old. Even just a few years ago I think I speak for everyone when I say that we never thought touchscreens would become ubiquitous for many, many more years. Even just a few years ago we all viewed them as something incredibly futuristic, especially in terms of being implemented as a part of our everyday Windows experience. Well, folks, thanks to Microsoft’s decidedly strong push for touch interfaces with Windows 8, touch has officially arrived. We’re starting to see the computer user interface make some drastic changes to complement the availability of touch, and Windows 8 is a great example of this. The Lenovo IdeaCentre A520 is no exception to this new push by Microsoft, as it offers a highly responsive, super low latency (as per Microsoft’s strict touch capability specs), 10-finger multitouch touchscreen.
And wow, there’s quite a bit you can do with it. Lenovo has provided some great games that function well in both single and in-person multiplayer to demonstrate the capabilities of this AIO, which both my significant other and I alike found to be an absolute blast. Built on the innovative Lenovo Snowflake game architecture which allows for easy 1, 2, or even 4 player mode and easy switching of sides at any time, these games really showcase what this machine can do. One example of the preloaded games on the A520 is “Wong,” which is a pong-like touch game involving two players where users take turns creating paddles of varying size with two fingers on each end of the play area to deflect a ball that increases in velocity over time. “Air hockey” is another example but with support for 2 or even 4 players! This is a real blast to play with 4 friends who are over and really showcases the power of multitouch in Windows 8.

“Piano” is another great piano app that allows two people to play simultaneously on opposite sides of the screen, which I found to be really cool as well. Internet Explorer 10 is fantastic in its full screen app UI and allows for super fast page loads, gestures, and very smooth scrolling. I did not get the chance to test a touch version of video editing software, but I can quickly imagine how touch would make it easy to resize clips, rearrange them, and edit with precision of the hands that you can’t get from the touchiness of a mouse. So much is possible with the Windows 8 full screen app UI that I cannot wait to see what the future brings to the table, as this is only the beginning. And, of course, the A520 is well-prepared for that future.

All of these great experiences I’ve had with this machine, both in a more traditional sense of interaction and with touch, have really left an astounding impact on me since I am a first time touchscreen PC user. The A520 is quite unique in its anywhere-from-table-to-desktop style of versatility and it is beyond perfect when married to Windows 8. The performance, the user experience, the looks, and the bundled human interface devices all come together to produce a unique experience unlike any other currently on the market. This machine has me excited about the future of touch. I can already see a future world full of elegant Lenovo IdeaCentre A520s in every household.

Video review here: