In this article we’re having a look at the 14-inch version of the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S, one of this new breed of portable laptops that put a 14-inch screen inside a smaller 13-inch body.
Lenovo plans to offer the IdeaPad 320S line in both a 14 and a 15-inch version and they will be available in stores just in time for the 2017 Back to School season (mid-August).
Aside from theform factor, the modern Intel Kaby Lake hardware inside, the 52 Wh battery, the matte IPS screen and an affordable price tag are the main selling points of the 14-inch model. On the other hand, potential customers should keep in mind this is not as light or compact as some of the other options out there and don’t get a backlit keyboard (as far as I can tell at the time of this post).
But we’ll talk about all these below, so by the end of the article you’ll know if the IdeaPad 320S 14 has what it needs to be your next, or you should look elsewhere.
Specs as reviewed
|Lenovo IdeaPad 320S-14IKB|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 620 + Nividia GT 920MX 2 GB GDDR5|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4 (soldered)|
|Storage||256 GB SSD (2.5″ SATA bay) + M.2 80 mm (free on this unit)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel AC 3166), Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||1x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1x USB Type-C gen 1, HDMI, mic/headphone, SD card reader|
|Baterry||52 Wh, 45 W power adapter|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||327 mm or 12.87” (w) x 238 mm or 9.37” (d) x 19.9 mm or 0.78” (h)|
|Weight||3.39 lbs (1.54 kg)|
|Extras||non-backlit keyboard, HD camera|
Like I mentioned earlier, a 15-inch IdeaPad 320S model will also be available in the months to come, it should share most traits with the 14-inch version but get slightly faster Nvidia 940MX graphics.
Design and first look
Our test unit gets a 14-inch screen inside the overall footprint of a 13-inch machine, but one of the larger kinds of 13-inchers and not one of the more recent launches. It’s not as compact or light as some of the other similar devices we reviewed here, like the Asus Zenbook UX430, Zenbook UX410 or even the Acer Swift 3 to some extent.
Still, at 3.4 lbs and .78 of an inch thick, the IdeaPad 320S is still a computer most won’t mind carrying around. Don’t forget this is a mid-budget option and it would be unrealistic to expect to get the best build, lightest weight or most beautiful design lines in a $700 and up device, some corners had to be cut.
Regardless, the build quality is not shabby at all. The screen-half is especially strong and made of hard-plastic for the bezel around the panel and aluminum for the hood, with the matte porous texture we’ve seen on IdeaPads for a while now, one that looks nice, doesn’t show smudges, doesn’t flex and shouldn’t scratch easily either.
The main-body on the other hand is covered in plastic, with a plastic inner frame as well, which is somewhat of a compromise, as the material used for the palm-rest and interior feels a little cheap. It looks good, but the touch of it just remind me of glossy plastic surfaces, and pressing on the top-half of the keyboard causes the frame to bend quite obviously, another reminiscence of older, cheaper laptops. Not much to complain about the sides or the underbelly though, which are made from simple matte plastic.
As you’ve seen in the pictures, out test unit gets and entirely grey color scheme (Lenovo calls it Mineral Grey), which looks nice. Not sure if other color schemes will be available for this series, but you should keep an eye on the online stores, Leonovo usually have multiple schemes available for their IdeaPads.
That aside, this laptop gets an overall simple design, with few branding elements (Lenovo logo on the hood and beneath the screen, IdeaPad engraved on the palm-rest) and few lines that would catch the eye. One of those is the machine milled edge of the screen, something you don’t normally get on laptops in this segment. There are no stickers or flashy lights on the interior either, except for the Power Key which is always lit and that can be a little annoying in a dimmer room or when watching a movie in the dark. The status LEDs on the other hand are hardly visible, as they are placed on the sides.
Speaking of those, they are nicely rounded and line all the IO, with two full-size USB Type A ports, an USB Type C connector, full-size HDMI video output, a card-reader, audio jack and Kensington Lock. There’s just one USB Type A 3.0 port and the USB Type C doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, but you didn’t expect it would anyway, did you?
As far as how the laptop feels in daily use, I can say there’s much I didn’t enjoy. Like I mentioned already, the edges are blunt and won’t cause any issue to your wrists, the front lip has a fairly low profile, the palm-rest is spacious and the laptop sits well in place on a desk thanks to its large and grippy rubber feet on the bottom. Down here you’ll also notice the speakers and air-intake cuts. The exhaust grills are placed beneath the hinge, a design we’ve seen on many other laptops, but on this one the actual gap between the cuts and the hinge is larger than on most others and that leaves extra room for the hot air to go out.
The hinge itself works smoothly and allows the screen to be lifted with a single hand, but also to go back flat to 180 degrees. For me that’s a selling point, as I don’t usually use my laptop on a desk, but on the lap or while lying on the sofa, with it resting on my thighs. I do have a small nit with the hinge though, as I feel it’s a little weak and can’t keep the screen as set when for instance grabbing and moving the laptop, but that’s a minor detail that I can easily live with.
Keyboard and trackpad
The IdeaPad 320S gets a pretty standard Lenovo keyboard, with a design and layout similar to what most other devices in this series offer. That means large 15 x 16 mm keys with a slightly rounded bottom, proper spacing and smooth finishing, but also tiny Up and Down arrow keys and the Power button integrated as the top-right key.
My only major complain about this keyboard is the lack of illumination though. Whether that’s something you can accept or not is entirely up to you, but for me it’s hard to justify getting a laptop without a backlit keyboard in the $500+ segment.
Update: Some early previews of the IdeaPad 320S series mention a backlit keyboard would be an option available for these devices. I’ll update the post if this is confirmed, but for now I’ve yet to see any picture or video evidence of it. The backlit option should get an indicator icon on the Space key, as the illumination is controlled by hitting FN+Space on the IdeaPads.
As far as the typing experience goes, I’d say its decent. The keys have a short stroke and rather spongy response, so I needed some time to get used to pressing them harder. That had a slight impact on my overall typing speed, yet not that much on my accuracy. I did scored a few missed strokes in my test, but those were mostly caused by the fact that our test unit got the European layout with the odd Left Shift and Enter keys, that I’m not accustomed to.
The trackpad on the other hand is pretty good. It’s a plastic surface with good drivers and overall smooth performance, whether we’re talking about swipes, taps or gestures, which is rather surprising for a Windows laptop, especially one in the mid class. Of course, this trackpad does rattle when tapped firmly, like all plastic surfaces do, but that’s my only potential complain here.
Lenovo went with a 14-inch matte IPS display for this notebook, a decent Chi Mei panel, yet not the great one we’ve seen on the 14-inch Zenbooks.
You’ll find more about it in the list below, but overall this panel is nor very bright or a performer in terms of color gamut either. The contrast and viewing angles are fairly good though, and even the colors, while washed out, are fairly well calibrated out of the box. You could improve them with calibration though, or by using our calibrated profile available over here.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN14D4 (N140HCA-EAC);
- Coverage: 68% sRGB, 49% NTSC, 51% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 250 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 760:1;
- White point: 6700 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.33 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.46 uncalibrated, 0.83 calibrated.
You might notice from one of the pictures above that while the panel’s maximum brightness is of about 250 nits, which is good enough for indoor use, the brightness level at 75% is already very low, and that means you’ll pretty much have to keep this screen at between 80 and 100% brightness all the time. That could have an impact on battery life, but we’ll talk about that down below in the appropriate section.
This aside, I’ll add that I haven’t noticed any noticeable light bleeding on our sample, so the bezel is well made and doesn’t pinch the panel. I also have to mention one more time that the screen can lean back to 180 degrees, which makes it usable in all sorts of cramped spaces and situations.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
The IdeaPad 320S will be available in multiple configurations in stores, but we got to test the higher end model that includes an Intel Core i7-7500U processor, 8 GB of DDR4 RAM, Nvidia GT 920MX graphics and a 256 GB SSD.
You’re not going to need the Core i7 processor if you want a computer for standard daily activities: browsing, text editing, movies, music, etc. The available Kaby Lake Core i5 CPU or even the Core i3 model (if you’re on a tight budget) will do just fine. The Nvidia graphics chip is not necessarily a must either; while it is faster than the included Intel HD 620 graphics, it’s still an entry-level solution that doesn’t offer much in terms of gaming performance, especially at the screen’s FHD native resolution. More about that in a bit.
The 8 GB of RAM and the SSD are important though. I wouldn’t advise buying any laptop with just 4 GB of RAM these days and if you opt for a HDD instead, it’s going to greatly slow down the everyday experience.
Both the RAM and the storage are upgradeable though. In order to get to them you’ll have to take apart the laptop’s back panel, which is hold in place by 10 Philips screws and some stubborn plastic clips, especially towards the back, around the exhaust grills. There’s nothing a plastic card or some pliers can’t deal with, just be careful not to break the plastic bits. Once inside you’ll notice the 2.5″ storage bay, the Wi-Fi chip, the battery and a metallic shield that hides a RAM slot beneath. That should take an up to 16 GB DIMM, while th 2.5″ bay can accommodate compatible drives of multiple sizes. As a heads up, this is limited to SATA 3 speeds, but there’s also an 80 mm M.2 slot, free on our unit.
This can accommodate an SSD, but Lenovo also offers the laptop with an optional 16 GB Intel Optane SSD, meant to act as SSD caching and accelerate the performance or a regular HDD, with a fraction of the cost of an SSD. More details in this article.
Performance wise, the 320S handles daily tasks easily, as well as more demanding software and games to an extent. We had a clean Windows install on our unit, but because this laptop is so new and drivers aren’t yet finalized, the Core i7-7500U did not operate to the best of its abilities on our sample, as it didn’t put the TurboBoost feature to use in benchmarks or in games.
As a result, with the CPU only running at 2.7 GHz in multitasking and high loads, we got subpar results in some synthetic tests, so take the numbers below with a lump of salt. GPU scores look about right, but CPU related scores will be improved on the final retail units.
- 3DMark 11: P2087;
- 3DMark 13: Cloud gate – 68772, Sky Driver – 5218, Fire Strike – 1536, Time Spy – 458;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2836;
- Geekbench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 2892, Multi-core: 6367;
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4026, Multi-core: 7660;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 47.65 fps, CPU 3.24 pts, CPU Single Core 1.305 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 52.55 fps, CPU 293 cb, CPU Single Core 115 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 118.55 fps, Pass 2 – 21.99 fps.
I also added a few pics that show CPU and GPU behavior, as well as internal temperatures, in various scenarios.
The CPU bottleneck didn’t have a major impact on gaming performance either, so I added some results below, as well as a comparison with the Intel HD 620 solution, so you’ll know what to expect from the configurations without an Nvidia chip.
|Nvidia 920MX – FHD low||*Intel HD 620 – FHD low|
|Dirt: Autogrid||59 fps||35 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||40 fps||25 fps|
|NFS Most Wanted||34 fps||28 fps|
|Tomb Raider||54 fps||40 fps|
*estimations based on multiple tests of Intel Core i7-7500U / 620HD configurations.
I have to admit I’m a bit surprised by the scores of this GTX 920MX chip. It’s the newer iteration with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory and actually scored close to an Nvidia 940MX with 2 GB of GDDR3, both in games and in benchmarks, with 3Dmark results within 10-15% of the higher-tier chip.
I was initially ready to dismiss this option based on my previous experience with the GDDR3 model, but it’s actually an option to consider if you aim for some decent gaming on a budget ultraportable. The thing is the 920MX chip might only be available paired with the Core i7 processor, and since this configuration will probably sell for $750-$800, you could find better performing machines out there if you’re willing to compromise on portability to some extent.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
This laptop uses a standard cooling solution with a heatpipe that links the CPU, GPU and the radiator, cooled by a fan. The good news is this implementation does a great job at keeping both noise and temperatures low. The bad news is… well, there’s actually no bad news.
With daily tasks the fan is occasionally idle or most of the time spins slowly and pretty much entirely inaudible in a normal environment. You’ll hear it a perfectly quiet room, but not that much otherwise. Keep in mind our test unit comes with an SSD, if you opt for a configuration with a regular spinning HDD, that one is going to be noisier than the fan and you’ll surely hear it in daily use.
The fan spins faster at higher loads, but even in this case we only measured noise levels of around 40 dB, which is much better than what most other laptops deliver. As a heads-up, there’s a chance the final retail units will run a little noisier, as the CPU running at higher frequencies would translates in slightly increased temperatures and thus the need to spin a little faster. It might also translate in just a slight temperature increase though.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise there’s Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 on this laptop. Lenovo went with a dual-band Intel 3165 chip which is slow, capable of a throughput of only up to 72 Mbps. As a result, this chip averaged transfer speeds of 45-50 Mbps in our tests when right near the router, which dropped to 10-15 Mbps, corroborated with a drop in signal strength, at 30 feet with 2 walls in between. That’s still usable with regular browsing, but not enough for multitasking or streaming higher quality content.
The Wi-Fi chip is easily accessible and replaceable though, and I suggest you do that if not satisfied with the performance of the preinstalled module.
As far as audio goes, there are two speakers on this laptop, placed on the bottom and bouncing sound from the desk, but they are surprisingly good. The sound coming out of them is both loud (up to 82 dB in our tests) and punchy, with decent mids and even some bass. I didn’t notice any obvious distortions at high volumes either, and while I could feel some vibrations in the palm rest, they weren’t strong enough to bother me in daily use. Besides this, I doubt you’ll keep those speakers at high volumes anyway, since they are loud, and at mid-levels the vibrations go away.
We kept the camera for the end here and it’s pretty bad. In fact it’s one of the worse I’ve seen in a long while. Dim light captures are grainy and dark, while in good light it overexposes badly, as you can see in the picture above.
The 14-inch IdeaPad 320S gets a 52 Wh battery, a little above the segment’s average. On the other hand, due to the panel being so dim, you’ll have to keep it at at least 80% brightness to get to about 120 nits, but that doesn’t actually have an impact on the battery life results.
Here’s what to expect:
- 5.3 W (~9 h 50 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.4 W (~9 h 40 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.0 W (~10 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.2 W (~10 h of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10.5 W (~5 h of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a very compact 45 Wh charger and a full-recharge takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes. The wall plug is integrated withing the power brick, with non-retractable prongs.
Update: Lenovo seems to also offer the 320s with a smaller 30 Wh battery in some regions, mostly on the lower-end configurations. That one is going to last a lot less on a charge and unless you’re on a very tight budget, I’d say you shouldn’t go for a notebook with such a small battery.
Price and availability
Lenovo announced the Ideapad 320S for the Back to School season, which means it should be available worldwide by August 2017. At the time of this post (late June 2017) it’s only listed on Lenovo’s Singaporean website, with the Core i5 configuration going for about 930 SGD and the Core i7 options with Nvidia graphics for around 1020 SGD (with discounts included).
Comparing the price of other Lenovo laptops on the Singaporean website to those of the US models, we can estimate the IdeaPad 320S-14IKB should start at around $650-$700 in the US, with the higher end configurations going for about $800, or a bit more if you replace the HDD with an SSD (which you should, but it’s not a must to buy it from Lenovo, you can upgrade the unit yourself and end up cheaper). Initial reports suggested a starting price of $739 for the 14-inch IdeaPad 320S in the US, but those are list prices and I’d reckon will quickly get discounted.
We’ll update this section once we know more about this notebooks prices and availability in North America and Europe. In the meantime, follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading this post.
There are a few 14-inch laptops built into 13-inch chassis available out there, and while the IdeaPad 320S 14 we tested here is one of them, this particular detail is not its strongest asset. At 3.4 lbs and 13 x 9 x 0.8″ in size, it can’t really compete with the slim silhouette of the Zenbook UX430, but then the Zenbook is a few hundreds of dollars more expensive.
And here’s where the IdeaPad 320S stands out: it’s affordable and offers plenty for the money. It’s built fairly well and looks nice, it gets a decent screen, keyboard and IO, modern hardware that runs cool and quiet, a big battery and punchy speakers. But aside from the size factor, there are a few other corners Lenovo cut with this device. First, and most important of all, the keyboard is not backlit. Second, while the screen gets an IPS panel, it’s a rather dim and color inaccurate option. Third, the wireless chip is pretty slow, but at least that can be replaced.
Despite these and the other minor nits mentioned in THE BAD section at the beginning, this laptop still gets a good mark and our overall recommendation because it check most important boxes and sells for a great price.
If you can live with a 3.4 lbs 14-inch laptop, a non-backlit keyboard or a rather mediocre display by today’s standards, this laptop should be on your list. If not, there are other options out there, including that Zenbook we mentioned earlier, the Zenbook UX410 series, the Asus Pro B9440 and especially the Acer Swift 3, which is just as affordable if not more, offers a backlit keyboard and unfortunately an even crappier screen (with an IPS panel though). There’s also a newer Swift 3 SF314-52 version with an updated design, but new hardware and Nvidia MX150 graphics.
That wraps up our review the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S-14IKB notebook, but the comments section below is open for discussion, so get in touch if you have anything to add or ask.