After giving you an exclusive first look and preview of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s a couple of months back, when things were still a bit shady, it’s now time to take Lenovo’s ultrabook for another spin and properly review it, just weeks after its official release.
In the following lines, I’m going to talk about all the important features, specs and details and I’m going to focus on those subtle points that could make the U300s a a good or bad choice for a regular technology enthusiast, when compared to all the other ultrabooks on the market today
If you’re not here for the whole story (although you should, you’ll be missing a lot of solid details), here’s a quick spoiler: the U300S is a top competitor for the “best ultrabook” position right now, at least in my book. It looks amazing and it’s incredibly solid built, the keyboard and the trackpad are very good (for this class) and the laptop is overall snappy. However, the high price point might be a deal breaker for many of you.
See the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S review below for more details.
Design and body
While most ultrabooks available these days are more or less a replica of Apple’s MacBook Air in terms of design, the Lenovo U300s is probably the most original ultrabook on the market.
It’s part of Lenovo’s IdeaPad line of devices, so it’s not a sober looking machine. But it’s simple and sleek, even spartan by some standards, and that’s why I love it. The entire chassis is made from metal and there are two color versions available: Orange and Dark Gray. I got to play with the later.
With the two color schemes though, Lenovo’s ultrabook should equally appeal to ‘’serious’’ computer users, like businessmen and corporate employees, as well as a younger crowd, like students or teenagers.
The U300s has a very original look and is available in two different color schemes.
In terms of size and weight, the Lenovo beats the averages of the 13.3 inch ultrabook class, scaling at 2.9 pounds (1.34 kilos) and measuring a mere 0.59 inches in height, which in facts makes it one of the slimmest devices in its class (however notice that the device is pretty much of the same height all along its case, it does not get slimmer on the front, like most other ultrabooks, thus it might feel a bit bulkier than it actually is when you’ll first get your eyes on it).
Opening the lid, you find the same aluminum finish for the palm-rest and the screen’s bezel, plus you’ll notice the decently sized arm-rest area.
Speaking about them ports, you get two USB slots (one USB 3.0), full size HDMI and Ethernet, but unfortunately there’s no type of card reader, which for me is almost a deal breaker. There’s no kind of VGA either, but that’s not going to be an issue since you have digital video output.
Keyboard and touchpad
In short, the Lenovo U300s has the best keyboard – trackpad combo you could find on an ultrabook today (except, of course, for the MacBook Air).
The keys offer snappy tactile feedback and they are slightly rounded on their bottom and slightly deepened in their middle, so there’s very little room for error when typing. Thus, the keyboard is comfortable, accurate, well-sized and well-spaced and there’s almost nothing wrong with it, no matter how you’ll take it.
Almost nothing, because there’s no backlighting on this keyboard, and while I can live without, many of you might not (you do get limited picks though in terms of ultrabooks with an illuminated keyboard, as you can see in this other post).
The U300S’s keyboard is large, comfortable and accurate. If only it was backlit, too…
As for the touchpad, it is made from glass and is actually quite good, being spacious enough, precise and elegant (plus, the cursor isn’t jumpy like on other ultrabooks I’ve tested). It supports multi-touch gestures as well. One thing though: Lenovo went for the click-able trackpad, with no dedicated click buttons, and while their implementation works reasonably well, it’s not something I’m too fond of.
The IdeaPad U300s sports a pretty standard 13.3-inch display with 1366 x 768 pixels resolution, which is not exactly poor, but falls behind the high-res screens featured by the Asus UX31 and the MacBook Air.
Still, you can always output content towards a bigger display, especially since Intel’s WiDi technology is present on this Lenovo.
The display is not exactly the brightest in the bunch and is clearly inferior to the one sported by the Asus UX31.
The viewing angles are fairly alright (for a TN panel) and the colors are crisp, but the brightness and contrast levels are far from perfect. The screen is also glossy, meaning that you’ll get serious headaches when trying to use the laptop outside.
Hardware and performances
The IdeaPad U300s comes in two different versions. The standard model is powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor and features 4 GB of RAM, as well as integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and a 128 GB SSD. The top version has the same amount of memory and the same graphics card, but comes with a snappier 1.8 GHz i7 CPU and larger 256 GB SSD storage unit.
In both cases, the laptop is going to be snappy enough for your daily activities, will cope fine with multitasking and will deal with HD content playing as well. For a bit of extra performances though, the Core i7 configuration is recommended, if you’re planning to do some video or photo editing for instance.
Of course, with the SSD and Intel’s technologies on board, the laptop is also snappy when it comes to cold boot (about 25 seconds) and resume from sleep (about 2 seconds) times. However, we only have a SATA 2 interface on this machine, so transfer speeds, while high, are not as good as the ones you get on Asus’s Zenbooks.
The U300s is available in two versions, with slight hardware tweaks.
The Lenovo U300s comes with a 4 Cell (around 36 Wh) battery which pushes the laptop for about 5 hours of daily use, each charge. Of course, you’ll get a bit better for the standard Core i5 configuration.
So, the U300S falls somewhere in the middle of its class in terms of battery life, trailing above the Acer Aspire S3, but under the HP Folio 13 and the Asus Zenbook UX31.
I also appreciate the innovative RapidCharge function, allowing you to recharge this laptop’s battery to up to 50 percent in just half an hour.
Noise, heat, speakers and others
The U300s managed to run rather cool and noise free during my tests, no matter what I threw at it. Of course, when dealing with Full HD video content or editing some videos you’ll hear the fan kicking and the bottom (mainly the area around the cooling grid) will get warm, but nothing that will bother you during everyday use.
Lenovo claimed they’ve been working at this new internal venting system for their ultrabooks, which should keep the laptop relatively cool for, say, a regular day’s work. And it seems to do a very good job here.
The speakers, backed by this SRS Premium Surround Sound technology, managed to output -above-average sound quality and felt punchy enough (although you’ll notice distortions at higher levels). Withing the classes limits of course, and even so, the Asus Zenbook UX31 and the HP Folio 13 are still probably better anyway.
Other features you might be interested in include a pretty nice 1.3 MPx webcam, capable of 720p HD video recording.
Prices and availability
Even though this ultrabook has been officially released for a while now, you might still have trouble finding it these days in most online stores, except of course Lenovo’s own official shop. If you do manage to find it though, you’ll have to seriously dig into your pockets.
The base version of the 13-incher goes for around 1200 dollars at the moment, while the top model should be available for somewhere in the range of 1400 – 1500 bucks. Also, if you’re hunting for the Clementine Orange version, that’s only available for the high-end configuration.
These make the Lenovo U300S the most pricey ultrabook in the 13.3 inch class.
Even though it’s clearly not a ground-breaker, nor the most innovative and impressive portable computer you could find on today’s market, the Lenovo U300s has enough strong points to attract a lot of potential customers.
While we love the design, keyboard and battery, the screen and the price could need some fine-tuning.
You’ll like the original and elegant casing, the excellent keyboard and touchpad, the speed and the average battery life. But you’ll resent the high price tag that comes associated with them.
Especially when there’s still room for improvement; a backlit keyboard, a better screen or an SD card-reader are just my main issues with the U300S.
Still, the Lenovo U300S is right now my favorite ultrabook, mainly because of that excellent keyboard I need so much for blogging. If that’s not so important in your book or have a tighter budget, there are other good options as well, like you can see in my post on the best available ultrabooks right now.