Epson just announced the perfect business notebook, but good luck trying to buy one

The 13.3" Epson Endeavor NA520E offers swappable batteries, field-replaceable RAM and SSDs, a wealth of ports, thin bezels, and durability without being a tank. But you'll have to buy it in Japan.

Is the PC market decline a thing of the past?

The notebook PC market is a complex one—practically every manufacturer is trying to follow Apple into the thin and light market, even as Apple quietly admitted defeat this week, discontinuing the 12" MacBook with a lone USB port and 3.5mm jack after four years. This race to make thinner laptops has impacted even Lenovo's business-focused ThinkPad line, with the 13.3" ThinkPad X390 limited to one M.2 SSD, soldered down RAM, and a battery that can only be replaced if you unscrew the case.

Naturally, this direction has upset many in the ThinkPad enthusiast community, as the brand has strayed from the user-serviceability that made it the go-to option when the brand was under IBM's stewardship. In an interview with TechRepublic,  Lenovo's vice president of global commercial portfolio and product management Jerry Paradise noted that "Our job is made up of a series of trade-offs, it's never one perfect answer," noting that professionals who often travel in airports "are a big segment of our customers… they want less weight, and they want something that slides down their bag and doesn't take a lot of space."

SEE: 16 top laptops for business users in 2019 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Epson's just-announced Endeavor NA520E delivers all of the features of Classic ThinkPad systems, at a lower weight than the ThinkPad X390, and with competitive specs—adding just 2.1 mm of thickness allows for two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots, permitting up to 32 GB RAM, as well as two M.2 2280 SSD slots, configurable from the factory with capacities up 1TB SSDs per slot. 

Epson touts the NA520E as supporting RAID1 on the SSDs. The NA520E is equipped with a 1080p display, with a 12 mm top bezel and 5 mm side bezel—thinner than that of the X390—and a 720p webcam and fingerprint reader as standard options. It can be equipped with up to an Intel Core i7-8565U CPU, which includes Intel UHD Graphics 620.


The port selection on the Endeavor NA520E eliminates the need for dongles.

Image: Epson

The NA502E has a wealth of ports, preventing the need to use external dongles, with the port selection distinctly utilitarian—a full-size Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI, and VGA port are on the back. Certainly, it is odd to ship a new computer with a VGA port in 2019, though with an abundance of external monitors and projectors mounted to the ceiling in conference rooms that rely on the 32-year-old connector, the inclusion of that port is certainly convenient. 

One USB 2, USB 3, and USB 3 Type C connector are included, as is a standard 3.5 mm headphone and microphone (TRRS) connector, and a full-size SD Card slot. It also supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5. For comparison, the X390 lacks the VGA and Ethernet port, and swaps the full-size SD Card slot for microSD.

The magnesium alloy lid is touted as withstanding pressure of 200 kgf, and the system also includes dedicated buttons to disable the integrated TouchPad, or set the device to airplane mode. Six LED indicators are placed on the bottom, for airplane mode, caps lock, num lock, disk activity, power state, and battery state. A seventh LED is adjacent to the webcam to indicate when it is in use.

Oddly, Epson also provides CAD data for the case design, alongside the full list of specifications.

Are these features you want in a computer?

Field-serviceable computers are few and far between in 2019—finding a system that makes replacing RAM or SSDs as easy as removing two screws and popping off the access panel is nearly impossible among major brands. 

That's where the Endeavor NA520E poses a problem. Epson's PC business is a Japan-only, built-to-order operation, making the prospect of purchasing one a complex task. Likewise, it is only available with a Japanese keyboard—which is perfectly usable in English, though with a smaller space bar.

At a minimum, the Endeavor shows that it is possible to deliver a modern, thin, and serviceable system in 2019. The question is—is there sufficient demand for these features? Should larger PC OEMs, such as Dell, Lenovo, and HP take note? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter at @jas_np.

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Image: Epson