Review: Lenovo IdeaPad U110

Years after chucking the IBM moniker, Lenovo has worked hard to produce a line of PCs that don’t scream “boring business machine.” While the ThinkPad series is essentially a roll call of austere black boxes, the IdeaPad set injects a little color and style for folks that aren’t looking for that office-drone look.

The U110 ultralight we received looks striking with a scarlet paisley-etched aluminum lid paired with a shiny jet-black keyboard area. (You can opt for an all-black model if you want stay true to your Hot Topic Goth roots.)

As soon as you open it up and power it on, you come face to face with one of the U110’s most interesting yet unsettling features: VeriFace recognition. Here’s how this semi-ominous security program works: After booting up, the webcam embedded in the bezel starts scanning the room, looking for humans (or maybe John Connor). When it finds you, it superimposes disturbing cross hairs on your eyes in an attempt to recognize you and unlock the PC. If you’ve already registered your peepers with the program, this process is over in a split second. But if you aren’t, the system will hang in a vain attempt to find a real user, so you have to shut it down, turn the notebook away and open it up again to get it to boot. And besides, there’s something about having your eyes crossed out that dials the creepiness factor to 11 — it’s kinda like finding your picture in a serial-killer’s scrapbook.

Once the cold sweat evaporates, you’ll be charmed by the screen and keyboard — but only up to a point. The 11.1-inch display is bright and sharp, though it can look a bit iridescent at close range. The glossy black keys are big and square with room to spare, but again, once you lay hands on them, the enchantment fades. The thin membrane beneath the keys is flimsy and deforms as you type. And as with all Lenovos, the Control key is in the wrong place, but Mac users or Lenovo die-hards won’t care; they’re used to screwy layouts.

The trackpad’s real estate is vast and there’s no “pencil eraser” pointing stick junking up the place either.

The ultralight has a decent set of ports, including VGA, three USBs, mini FireWire, SD slot and ExpressCard, but the designers couldn’t find room for an optical drive. Seriously, we’re pretty disappointed. The included external DVD drive looks cool, with a matte black surface and shiny chrome side grills, but you know what would be even cooler? Not needing an external drive at all. At least the power supply is slim and low profile for easy packing.

For work purposes, the Lenovo is a capable little machine. Its 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo and 2 GB of RAM may be middle-of-the-road, but they must be finely tuned: The U110 excelled in our PCMark tests, far outdistancing most other ultralights (it got a 3,245, if you’re interested). As with its compact brethren, don’t expect 3-D gaming ability.

Overall this is a good PC; it just has a few annoyances. While Lenovo’s attempt to stray from the boring box look should be encouraged, the U110 is somewhat of a movie set. It all looks good until you see it up close and notice the small flaws that will irritate you over time. Oh and that VeriFace is VeriFreaky.

  • RAM Size: 2 GB
  • Clock Rate: 1.6 GHz
  • Hard Drive Size: 120 GB
  • Screen Size: 11.1 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 (WXGA)
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