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Lenovo Legion 5 review: A masterclass in mid-price gaming

31 Aug 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,299
inc. VAT

The Legion 5 is an affordable gaming laptop with the looks and performance to impress

Pros 
Great keyboard
Good upgrade options
Excellent gaming performance
Cons 
Poor battery life
Loudspeakers lack bass
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There’s no more competitive part of the laptop market than the lower to mid-price gaming segment. It seems every few weeks a new machine pops up with an Nvidia RTX 30-series GPU, a 144Hz+ display and a price between £1,000 and £1,500.

Only recently we reviewed both the Asus TUF Dash F15 and the Acer Nitro 5, two superb machines that represent excellent value for money, redefining the sort of performance you can expect from a sub-£1,500 gaming laptop. Now Lenovo has weighed in with its new Legion 5, but can it outdo the rest?

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Lenovo Legion 5 review: What you need to know

The Legion 5 replaces the Legion 5P in Lenovo’s lineup and benefits from a Ryzen 7 5800H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, a 165Hz display and an RGB-laden keyboard. It’s available in both 15.6in and 17in flavours and comes with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

There are other cheaper variants of the Legion 5 available, but these come with the less powerful Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU and have displays with lower refresh rates.

READ NEXT: The best cheap gaming laptops to buy

Lenovo Legion 5 review: Price and competition

The model I was sent for review (Ryzen 7, 16GB RAM, RTX 3070, 512GB SSD) retails for £1,299, which is a very good price for the specification. But competition is fierce in this price bracket and if you’re after the maximum gaming bang for your laptop buck, there are plenty of other contenders.

Acer’s latest Ryzen 7 5800H and RTX 3060-powered Nitro 5 has a lot going for it. It’s incredibly powerful for a mere £1,000, has a plethora of upgrade options and is designed uncompromisingly with the gamer in mind. On the downside, battery life is poor and the screen is woefully inaccurate when it comes to colour representation.

Meanwhile, the Asus TUF Dash F15 offers excellent battery life, a great sound system and a stunning white polycarbonate body, plus the same RTX 3070 GPU as the Legion 5 but coupled to an Intel Core i7 processor. The issue with this laptop, however, is getting hold of the model with both the RTX 3070 GPU and the lovely 240Hz display. If you can't, then the RTX 3060/240Hz combo is the one to go for – it costs around £1,400, but that also gets you a usefully capacious 1TB SSD.

Finally, MSI's new Katana GF66 is another option worth considering. Available for a little less than £1,200 with a Core i7 11800H chip, RTX 3060 GPU and a 144Hz display, it looks like solid value. If you want to save a few quid then the GeForce 3050 Ti version is just £999.

Lenovo Legion 5 review: Design and build quality

The design of the newest Legion breaks no new ground: it looks and feels much like previous models. But that’s no bad thing, really, since yet again it benefits from a handful of Legion-specific attributes, such as the thoughtful grouping of most of the laptop’s ports at the rear, and a lid-hinge set 30mm forward.

Two colours are available: Phantom Blue with a 4-zone RGB keyboard backlight and Diamond White with blue backlighting. Our review model is the former, but if I was asked to describe the colour I’d say it was closer to dark grey than blue.

The Legion series has always looked a little less juvenile than some of the competition, and the new model is no different. There’s nothing about it that obnoxiously shouts “gaming machine”, apart from the keyboard’s RGB lighting and the sticker that points out that Fn+Q is a shortcut to change the cooling profile in the Lenovo Vantage app. We’re all in favour of a bit of aesthetic restraint.

The aluminium body feels reassuringly solid and the laptop’s lid has very little flex to it. I like the way the hinge has been calibrated so that you can open it with just one hand, too.

When it comes to size and weight, the Legion 5 is nothing out of the ordinary. Measuring 363 x 259 x 26mm and tipping the scales at 2.35kg, it’s definitely sitting at the upper edge of the class, especially when it comes to depth, thanks to the ledge that sticks out beyond the hinge assembly.

The Legion 5’s Lenovo TrueStrike keyboard is hard to find fault with, too. It’s a spacious, full-width affair with a numeric keypad and a set of full-size cursor keys that are set slightly apart from the main keyboard. Physically it feels rock solid, and the key travel is perfectly judged at 1.8mm. The 105 x 70mm trackpad is offset to the left by quite some way but is otherwise equally perfect.

Most of the Legion 5’s ports are lined up along the back. From here, you’ll find an RJ45 1Gbit/sec LAN connector, two USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a Type-C port that supports DisplayPort 1.4, an HDMI 2.1 connector and a bespoke DC-in jack.

On the right side sits an equivalent Type-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack, while on the left is a third Type-A port and a shutter button to isolate the 720p webcam, which is built into the top of the display. Overall, this is an impressively comprehensive and well-laid-out selection that only lacks Thunderbolt support, although since this is an AMD system its absence doesn’t come as a shock.

Gaining access to the internal hardware of the Legion 5 takes a little more time and effort than you might expect. To start with, unclipping the bottom of the case for the first time is a bit nerve-wracking. You’ll need a very thin tool to pry the case apart, and it’s much easier to peel it open if you start at one of the front corners.

Once inside, you have to remove three screws and a cover plate to access the slot for a second 2280 M.2 SSD and then do the same again to get at the pre-installed SSD and wireless cards. In order to access the two SODIMM memory slots, you need to gently prise apart eight metal grips that hold yet another cover plate in place.

It’s all quite doable, just not quite as straightforward as it is with, for instance, the Acer Nitro 5, which also has space for a 2.5in SATA3 drive. According to Lenovo, the most you can upgrade the Legion 5 to is two 1TB SSDs and two 16GB sticks of RAM. For completionism stakes, the wireless card is an Intel AX200 unit that supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1

READ NEXT: The best gaming keyboards

Lenovo Legion 5 review: Display and audio

Technically speaking, the 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS panel is well up to the mark. The maximum brightness of 345cd/m² and the contrast ratio of 1,313:9 are both solid, while the Delta E (colour accuracy) of 0.63 is pretty outstanding for a gaming laptop. The Legion 5’s sRGB gamut coverage of 94% and volume of 98.8% don't let the side down, either.

As you would expect of a gaming laptop, the screen isn’t touch-enabled and it has a matte coating. If you want a display with a QHD resolution or support for Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, then you'll need to look at the more expensive Legion 5 Pro or Legion 7 models.

The speaker system in the Legion 5 is good enough, but hardly exceptional. It can’t compare with the Asus TUF Dash F15, since it has smaller drivers, but there’s a reasonable amount of volume and the sound is tight and punchy. The absence of any form of bass is the biggest issue, though, which is something the pre-installed Nahimic control panel can only do so much to ameliorate.

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Lenovo Legion 5 review: Performance and battery life

The Legion 5 performs well, but then I expected nothing less from a laptop with a Ryzen 7 5800H octa-core processor, RTX 3070 GPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and 8GB of VRAM.

It chewed through the Expert Reviews 4K media benchmark in short order and produced a score of 284. That’s better than the Core i7-based TUF Dash F15 (194) but not quite as good as the AMD 5800H/RTX3060-equipped Acer Nitro 5 (323).

Turning to game tests, the Legion 5 averaged 61fps in the Hitman 2 test and 68fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The latter was performed with ray tracing enabled, DLSS off and all other graphics settings set at the highest level.

Finally, we ran Wolfenstein: Youngblood under a variety of conditions: the first with ray tracing off, then with ray tracing switched on and DLSS off and again with both ray tracing and DLSS on. The results were mightily impressive, returning average frame rates of 160fps, 126fps and 143fps respectively.

All of those scores are higher than those recorded by either the Acer Nitro or the Asus TUF Dash. It’s also on a par with those from the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15, which is a £2,600 gaming notebook with the same GPU but a Ryzen 9 5900HS processor instead. As little as 18 months ago such performance from a £1,300 notebook would have been unthinkable.

The Legion 5’s surprisingly high frame rates could be down to a pair of Lenovo-specific factors. First, there’s the Lenovo Legion AI Engine, which, according to Lenovo, is “a system of AI solutions which dynamically shifts power between the CPU and GPU for more FPS”. Yes, it’s a frustratingly vague description, but whatever it is, it seems to make a difference.

The second string to the Legion 5’s bow is a highly efficient cooling system. Despite the fans being quieter than most gaming laptops even when running at full speed, they do a very good job of expelling hot air. Place your hand next to either of the side vents just forward of the hinge and you can really feel a strong current of hot air being pushed out.

The SK Hynix SSD recorded consecutive read and write scores of 3,137MB/s and 2,712MB/s respectively, which again is better than anything the direct competition can manage and very respectable for a PCI-E Gen3 x4 drive.

According to the spec sheet, the Legion 5 should have a 60Wh battery but the battery in my review unit was most definitely an 80Wh (5,210mAh) unit. Had it been the former, that would more easily explain the rather poor performance in our video rundown test.

Running for just 7hrs 32mins, the Legion 5 is well below average for a laptop in this category. The Asus TUF Dash F15 managed close to twice that with its 90Wh battery. Although the 300W power module that comes with the Legion 5 is a 600g brick of a thing, you can also charge with a Type-C charger with a 65W or higher output or with a 45W Type-C charger when the unit is turned off or in standby.

Lenovo Legion 5 review: Verdict

The new Legion 5 is yet another great option in this increasingly contested section of the laptop market. It’s capable of better gaming performance than both the Acer Nitro 5 and the Asus TUF Dash F15 and it also comes within striking distance of the far pricier Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 as well.

It’s not just about gaming, though: the Legion 5 both looks and feels like a more upmarket device than the Nitro or the Dash, although granted the former is £300 cheaper and the Asus has a better sound system and longer-lasting battery life.

If it was my money, however, then I’d say the Lenovo just about edges it. I mostly use headphones while gaming anyway and usually have my laptop plugged into the wall no matter what I'm doing. And besides, the Legion 5’s unmatched gaming credentials massively outweigh any of its minor drawbacks.

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