Lenovo IdeaCentre B320: HDTV, Budget All-in-One, or Just Confused?

Pros

  • Good performance
  • Built in TV tuner

Cons

  • Video quality isn’t great

Bottom Line

The Lenovo B320 seems to be confused about its mission: is it a multimedia powerhouse, budget all-in-one, or business-oriented PowerPoint machine?

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On its website, Lenovo bills the IdeaCentre B320 as a “sleek desktop” with “two extreme missions” — to be an HDTV and to be a PC. Unfortunately, like many things with multiple “extreme missions,” the B320 spreads itself too thin, and fails short on both counts.

Our review model, priced at $ 899, features a Core i5-2500 processor, 4GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card. It has an impressively large 2TB hard drive–an interesting choice for a computer that’s supposed to double as an HDTV, but you’ll be able to fit plenty of your ripped movie files on it. It also carries a webcam, a microphone, speakers, and a DVD-RW drive–all built-in. There’s no Blu-ray drive, but this is a budget all-in-one PC, after all.

In PCWorld’s WorldBench 6 benchmark testing, the B320 received a score of 126–a top mark in the budget all-in-one category. Graphics performance was merely okay: The B320 managed a frame rate of 32.7 frames per second in our high-quality Unreal Tournament test (1680-by-1050-pixel resolution), but just 13.1 fps at the same resolution and quality in our Dirt 2 test. Those frame rates, though not excellent, are fairly standard for the category.

I don’t particularly like the B320′s design, mainly because I’m not a big fan of large, obvious speakers located below the screen. However, the B320′s chassis is sleeker than those of other all-in-ones I’ve seen with similar speaker designs. A thin, shiny black bezel surrounds the 21.5-inch glossy touchscreen, and a few touch-sensitive buttons occupy the lower right corner. You’ll also find non-touch-sensitive indicator lights in the lower left corner.

Situated directly below the screen, the speakers are large and angled, not flush with the table top. (The system is propped up on two small, wide metallic legs.) Because the speakers are matte silver, they’re highly visible below the screen. The screen itself leans on a picture-frame like stand, which is thick, heavy, and very sturdy.

Ports are located on the side of the machine, as well as on the back. On the left side, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, and a multicard reader slot. The back accommodates four more USB ports, gigabit ethernet, a PS/2 port (for keyboard), and a TV tuner. The right side of the screen holds a DVD-RW drive and several buttons for going into TV mode, changing TV channels, and adjusting volume–but no ports. The TV mode buttons essentially aim to transform your all-in-one PC into a bona fide HDTV. If you prefer, you can use the built-in Picture-in-Picture mode to watch TV programming in a little box in the lower right corner of your screen (a dedicated PIP button sits on the side of the screen).

The B320 sports a glossy, 21.5-inch touchscreen with a full HD native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. Images on the screen looked good–colors were bright and clear, and text was crisp–but video was a bit less satisfactory. In my testing, HD video playback (both streaming and native) showed a lot of blocky artifacts and general noise. The touchscreen itself seemed quite accurate; it wasn’t the most sensitive, accurate screen I’ve used, but it ranks pretty high on the scale.

Included with the B320 are a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a remote control. The keyboard supports basic functions–typical media control buttons–plus the Lenovo Vantage Technology (“LVT”) button, which provides access to some custom Lenovo utilities. The keyboard sports a brushed metal background with orange accents. The brushed metal is very attractive; the orange accents, not so much. Though the keys are widely spaced and easy to type on, in my testing they sometimes didn’t register, especially when I typed quickly.

The optical wireless mouse is thin and light, has a bunch of extra buttons, and can double as a pointer. Pretty convenient, but far from the most effective mouse I’ve ever used. For one thing, the mouse/air-pointer is much thinner than a typical mouse, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to use. The mouse/pointer was a little too sensitive to movement, too. I understand that, as a pointer, it needed to be ultrasensitive; but as a mouse–well, let’s just say I found myself using the touchscreen a lot.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre B320 is interesting, to say the least. I’m not sure why Lenovo supplied a mouse that doubles as a pointer, since that strikes me as being more of a business machine feature. The machine itself has an unusual mix of attributes–a 21.5-inch screen, so-so video playback, no Blu-ray drive, and yet a big focus on being a media center. The $ 900 price tag makes it a good fit for a cash-strapped college student in a small dorm room. But if you’re looking for a stronger media experience and have a bit more coin to spare, you’ll find that a larger machine like the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 makes a more satisfying investment.

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