We’re taking a look in this post at the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, one of the most affordable ultrabooks on the market.
A lower price-tag usually means that corners had to be cut, but you’ll find out by the end of the review that this is not necessarily the case here, as the IdeaPad U310 has plenty to offer for the money.
In fact, Lenovo did a great job with their IdeaPad U300S ultrabook last year. However, that one was the priciest ultrabook available back then and didn’t catch as much of the potential buyers’ attention as it could.
With the U310, Lenovo took what they learned with their first ultrabook and built a budget-machine, with a solid case, good keyboard, decent performances and battery life, starting at about 700 dollars. And all these are going to make the U310 a potential best-seller in its class.
We’re going to start our review by having a quick look at the exterior. The U310 seems a lot like last year’s IdeaPad U300S, one of my favorite ultrabooks back then. However, the new IdeaPad no longer fits a fully metallic body, but only uses aluminum for the lid’s cover and the underbelly, while the edges and the interior are covered in plastic.
Despite that, the laptop feels solid and looks good, keeping the book-inspired silhouette. Our test unit came in dark silver, also known as graphite gray, but there are some other color options available, with pink or blue lids and white interiors.
With its .7 inch thick body, the U310 isn’t more massive than most of the other machines on the market, but it is heavier, weighing about 3.75 pounds, while the average 13.3 inch ultrabook only goes for about 3 pounds these days. The extra weight probably helped Lenovo make the U310 sturdy, but I would have hoped that would translate in a big battery as well, which is not really the case, as you’ll see later in our review.
As an upside, the extra girth does make room for plenty of ports, lined on the sides of this laptop. There’s a Quick Recovery button on the left, alongside a cooling grill, a Gigabit Ethernet slot, a full-size HDMI port, two USB 3.0 slots and a microphone pin.
The right side feels a bit barren tough, with only the headphone/microphone jack, another USB 2.0 slot and the PSU connector residing there.
The card-reader isn’t missing anymore, like on the U300S, and it’s placed on the front edge, where you’ll also find the status LEDs, just beneath the trackpad.
Turning the laptop upside down, you’ll notice one of the most appealing underbellies you’ve probably seen on a laptop, with some cooling grills punctured in the middle. Like with most ultrabooks, the battery and the internals are encased, so there’s no easy way to access those.
Lifting the lid cover, you’ll notice a matte plastic interior on our test version, although the white finishing is a bit glossier. The laptop looks classy, some might even say a bit sober on this graphite gray version and also feels reliable.
There are no buttons or holes piercing the body, except for the Power switch in the top-left corner.
The screen’s hinge and bezel are however glossy and black, thus will easily show up smudges. The 13.3 inch screen itself is unfortunately glossy too.
Combine that with the overall poor brightness of this display and you get a screen you’ll hardly be able to use outside or in strong light. Indoors though, it should do alright, as long as you’re fine with a 1366 x 768 px resolution and an average TN panel, which means limited vertical viewing angles and rather poor contrast and brightness.
For the average user though, this screen will probably do, but if you want a proper display on your ultra-portable, you should look otherwise.
The keyboard and trackpad however are awesome.
I really enjoyed the nice contrast between the black keys and the silver case. And besides that, this AcuType keyboard was inherited from the U300S, thus is perhaps the best you can find on an ultrabook these days. The keys are firm, properly sized and spaced, the travel and feedback are good. In fact, there’s only one thing this keyboard lacks: illumination.
As for the trackpad, this one is wide and covered in glass. The entire surface is responsive and accurate, multitouch gestures work just fine and palm-rejection is present too. And unlike other clickpads, this one isn’t very stiff, which should allow you to comfortably perform your daily clicks.
Let’s take a second and talk about the hardware inside the Lenovo IdeaPad U310. Our test unit came with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4 GB of RAM, integrated Intel graphics and hybrid storage, with a 5400 rpm 500 GB hard-drive and a 32 GB caching SSD.
That is in fact the standard config you could get on budget ultrabooks these days, so there’s nothing fancy here, but you should know that the U310 is also available with a Core i3 CPU and standard HDD storage, on a much cheaper version than this one.
The laptop feels decently snappy in daily use, despite not sporting a true SSD, as it can deal with various everyday tasks at ease, like editing texts, browsing, listening to music or chatting on Skype.
It takes about 30 seconds to boot and about 3 to resume from sleep, thanks to Lenovo’s Enhanced Experience technology, which is not bad at all. It can also handle Full HD video content, either streamed or stored on the hard-drive.
Resources hungry apps or modern games are however a tougher nut to crack, as the ULV platform can only do so much, although you can play a bit older titles on this laptop as long as you keep the details down, like Starcraft 2 or World of Warcraft.
I also ran a bunch of synthetic tests on this Lenovo and you can find the results below:
I’m happy to say that this laptop not only performs well, but also manages to run fairly cool and quiet.
Yes, its bottom-left side will get hot when pushed, when playing games or watching 1080p videos for hours, but the palm-rest and the entire interior remain cool even in these conditions.
The fan inside the laptop is active most of the time, so there’s always a slight buzz when using the U310, but it’s never too loud, not even when running some intensive tasks.
Lenovo packs stereo speakers on this laptop and they are placed beneath that plastic strip on top of the keyboard, facing towards the screen’s hinge and bouncing the sound from the screen, towards the user. As a result, the sound quality is decent, for an ultrabook, and so is the volume, although the audio can distort sometimes.
The Lenovo U310 also features a HD Webcam on top of the screen which does a good job on video calls.
As for the Wireless solution, there’s a latest generation Intel Centrino dual-band platform embedded that also packs WiDi, and it did perform well in my tests as long as I was very close to my router. As soon as I got a bit further away, at about 25+ feet with one wall between it and the laptop, the download speed drops massively, which does not happen with any of the other laptops I’ve tested.
I did contact Lenovo about this and they addmited the problem. They also said that any laptop manufactured after July 23rd 2012 no longer has the issues. If you have an earlier model, you should take it to your local service and it will be fixed free of charge. BTW, the manufacturing date is printed on the bottom of the laptop, near the Serial Number.
As we get closer to the end of this review, it’s time to talk about the battery inside the Lenovo U310. Like I said in the beginning, given the extra weight, I was hopping for a big battery on this IdeaPad, but there’s only a 3 Cell 46 Wh one, pretty much on par with what other producers feature on their 3 pound notebooks, if not a bit smaller.
As a result, the U310 will go for a little over 4 hours during average daily use, while performing various casual tasks, with the screen at 70% and Balanced mode selected. You’ll get a bit more when using the laptop lightly, but that’s still less than I was expecting and less than what the competitors can offer.
As for the prices, here’s where the U310 scores some extra points. Our test unit is available in stores for $719, with only a standard hard-drive, while the Core i3 version sells for about about $80 less.
That means the Lenovo IdeaPad starts at around $650 right now (without mentioning possible discounts) and that makes it one of the most affordable ultrabook you could buy.
With that in mind, you’re probably going to forget about the average screen, the heavier body and the sub-par battery life of the Lenovo U310. Of course, if you want these solved, you can get better ultrabooks than this one, for closer to one grand, as you’ll find from this list of the best ultrabooks of the moment.
But if you’re looking for an affordable and good everyday ultrabook, the IdeaPad U310 is pretty much your best option right now, as it looks good, feels sturdy, performs fairly fast and offers a great keyboard and trackpad.
And while it has several competitors, like the Sony Vaio T13, the HP Envy 4 or the Dell XPS 14z , I do feel that the Lenovo U310 is the better overall pick if you’re after a cheap 13.3 inch ultrabook.