Maybe it’s a cliché that big things come in small packages, but with its IdeaPad U300s, Lenovo proves there’s truth in them there words.
The latest entry into the increasingly crowded ultrabook market, Lenovo takes the high (end) road, offering a well-thought-out feature set while keeping costs — if not exactly cheap — at a reasonable level.
Fully loaded, the high-end version of the U300s largely mimics the high-end version of the MacBook Air, with a 1.7GHz Core i7 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a blazing-fast 256GB SSD hard drive. Even the port selection is a close approximation of the Air, with two USB ports (one USB 3.0), an HDMI port, and a headphone/microphone combo jack. No Ethernet, and no SD card slot.
The U300s’s keyboard [is] one of the best-designed and most thoughtfully laid-out ultrabook keyboards I’ve encountered from this recent bumper crop.
As expected, the U300s is a stunning performer. While the Sony Vaio Z Series has more power, it’s only 10 percent faster … and $1,000 more expensive. Gaming, of course, isn’t the U300s’s strong suit, and battery life is a touch on the weak side for the category, barely hitting four hours.
The look of the U300s is a bit different than most ultrabooks. It’s actually quite eye-catching, taking its design cue from a hardcover book, complete with “covers” that slightly overhang the rest of the unit, both on the top and bottom. It’s a cute design idea but it’s also surprisingly functional, making it really easy to open the LCD one-handed. Like the Air, the all-metal design also adds to the unit’s sturdiness, but Lenovo still manages to keep overall weight at just 2.9 pounds, a shade under the Air.
Adding to the plus column is the U300s’s keyboard, one of the best-designed and most thoughtfully laid-out ultrabook keyboards I’ve encountered from this recent bumper crop. Key travel is solid and even the arrow keys, normally useless on these machines, are well placed, full sized, and easy to reach. The only issue: No backlighting.
Only two problems earned this machine its demerits. First is the display, which is by far the dimmest ultrabook LCD I’ve encountered, and one of the dimmest screens altogether I’ve seen in years. It’s not so dark as to be unreadable, but it’s a big disappointment on an otherwise stellar unit.
Problem number two involves the clickpad. While it’s spacious to the point of near-enormity, tracking is skittish, gestures are erratic, and, more importantly, clicks are frequently missed. Lenovo has had problems with buttonless clickpads since it started experimenting with them at the beginning of the year. The quirkiness on the U300s has me wondering if it’s time to hang it up and just go back to, you know, actual buttons.
All of this clocks in at $1,500, which is a $100 price cut in comparison to the highest-end MacBook Air, with which it shares a lot of DNA. For the record, that’s probably still more than most people want to pay, but if you’re not interested in the MacOS and want a metal-chassis design, this good-looking Lenovo is a really compelling machine.
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