Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook review

Lenovo turns its considerable talents to the Ultrabook market.
Photo of Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook
£799

I still don’t fully understand why Intel needed to create the Ultrabook platform. Surely the concept of an affordable thin-and-light notebook with great battery life would have seemed like a good idea to manufacturers without Intel creating the blueprint? After all, Apple has been cleaning up with its MacBook Air for some time now.

But regardless of how it happened, the fact that notebook manufacturers are bringing beautifully designed, ultra-portable notebooks to market at affordable price points is great news for consumers.

Lenovo U300s 1

I have to admit that I was quite excited at the prospect of a Lenovo Ultrabook, since I’ve been a fan of ThinkPads for a very long time. In fact my last Windows based notebook was a ThinkPad X300, which served me faithfully for three years. I’ll admit I’m a MacBook Air user now, but could the IdeaPad U300s be the machine to lure me back to Lenovo?

The IdeaPad U300s has a somewhat understated look to it, much like the ThinkPads before it. The Graphite Grey finish definitely adds class, and lends the U300s a sense purpose – you’d certainly elicit some envious looks in the executive departure lounge when you slide one of these out of your bag. That said, I’d like to see the Clementine Orange version, but unfortunately it’s not available in the UK.

Lenovo U300s 2

The metal casing is both aesthetically attractive and tactilely pleasing – there’s a reassuringly cool feeling when you place your palms on the metal wrist rest. The slightly lipped lid and base give the U300s a sandwich like appearance, with grey bread surrounding a sliver filling. The lip on the lid also makes it very easy to open the notebook – of course there’s no physical catch, but who does physical catches anymore? That silver sandwich filling also houses the most delicate of power and battery icons.

The U300s weighs in at a very respectable 1.31kg, so you shouldn’t have any problems carrying it around with you every day. The dimensions of 324 x 216 x 14.9mm (WxDxH) don’t really convey how svelte this notebook is. Because it doesn’t taper into a wedge shape, like so many ultra-portables, the height is constant, making the figures less flattering. However, when viewing, carrying and using the U300s, it’s every bit the thin and light supermodel.

Lenovo U300s 3

Under the hood there’s a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU taking care of business. This should provide more than enough grunt for anything you’re likely to throw at the U300s. Complementing the processor is a healthy 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. You can opt for a 256GB SSD and bump the CPU all the way up to a 2.9GHz Core i7, but the spec seen here felt just about right and didn’t appear to struggle in any way.

The MobileMark 2007 Productivity test performance score of 233 is a little arbitrary, since this is the first notebook we’ve run it on, and therefore have nothing to compare it to. However, the indicated battery life of five hours 47 minutes means that you shouldn’t have any problems using the U300s all day without the need for mains power. And if you do run out of juice, the RapidCharge feature will have the battery back up to 50 per cent in 30 minutes.

Lenovo U300s 4

Open up the U300s and you’re greeted with a silver (or a lighter grey) interior with an isolated keyboard made up of black keys. Lenovo has a strong reputation for producing first-rate keyboards, and in many ways this one is no exception. Despite the isolated nature of the keys, they have a visibly discernable dishing to them that makes it all the more easy to strike each key at speed. There’s also a surprising degree of travel with a reassuringly solid break.

While typing quickly and accurately on the U300s is a relatively comfortable affair, it does take a little practice. The most notable issues are the reduced size of some key (excuse the pun) keys. The Enter key is particularly small, as is the backspace key, and I found myself missing them regularly at first. That said, if the U300s was your regular computer, you’d soon get used to this slightly unusual key sizing.

Lenovo U300s 5

I was more surprised to notice a degree of chassis flex when typing on the U300s. Despite the case feeling very solid and well built, there’s unquestionable flex when you’re hammering away at the keyboard. Again, this doesn’t really affect your typing speed or accuracy, but it can be a little distracting at times.

The large, glass touchpad below the spacebar is a truly excellent example, in fact I’d go as far as saying it’s the best touchpad I’ve used outside of a MacBook. The multi-touch functionality is particularly well implemented with smooth two finger scrolling, and very responsive pinching and rotating. The surface of the touchpad is beautifully friction free, while the clicking action has a solid and definite feel.

Lenovo U300s 6

The 13.3in LED backlit screen sports a resolution of 1,366 x 768, which is the same as the 11.6in MacBook Air, but slightly below the 1,440 x 900 resolution offered by Apple’s 13.3in ultra-portable. Whether that marginal amount of extra resolution would make a difference is very much personal, but it’s probably worth noting that the 13.3in MacBook Air is a far more expensive option.

Resolution aside, the screen has the high-contrast glossy coating the seems to adorn the vast majority of notebooks these days. Colours are rich and vivid, and black levels are admirably deep and dark. It’s not the brightest notebook screen out there, but I never found it to be noticeably dim in everyday use.

Lenovo U300s 7

Connectivity is as slim as the U300s itself, with a single USB 2.0 port on the left hand side of the chassis. On the right you’ll find a single USB 3.0 port, along with a full-size HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and the power socket. It’s probably also worth mentioning at this point, that the power brick is very small and light too.

What you won’t find anywhere around the chassis, is an Ethernet port, so you’ll have to use a USB-to-Ethernet dongle if you want to connect to your wired network. By contrast, Toshiba has managed to squeeze an Ethernet port into its equally svelte Ultrabook chassis. You do, of course, get 802.11n Wi-Fi built in, which should serve in the vast majority of cases. That said, Wi-Fi networks can find themselves overloaded, so it’s probably worth keeping that USB dongle in your bag.

Lenovo U300s 8

When it comes to design and usability, the IdeaPad can’t quite match Apple’s MacBook Air, but there are a few points to consider here. First, many notebook users either don’t want, or aren’t able to use Mac OS, so they’re looking for the best Windows-based ultra-portable. Second, with a street price of around £800, the U300s is significantly cheaper than the 11.6in MacBook Air, let alone the 13.3in version, which starts at £1,100.

I still don’t fully understand why Intel needed to create the Ultrabook platform. Surely the concept of an affordable thin-and-light notebook with great battery life would have seemed like a good idea to manufacturers without Intel creating the blueprint? After all, Apple has been cleaning up with its MacBook Air for some time now.

But regardless of how it happened, the fact that notebook manufacturers are bringing beautifully designed, ultra-portable notebooks to market at affordable price points is great news for consumers.

Lenovo U300s 1

I have to admit that I was quite excited at the prospect of a Lenovo Ultrabook, since I’ve been a fan of ThinkPads for a very long time. In fact my last Windows based notebook was a ThinkPad X300, which served me faithfully for three years. I’ll admit I’m a MacBook Air user now, but could the IdeaPad U300s be the machine to lure me back to Lenovo?

The IdeaPad U300s has a somewhat understated look to it, much like the ThinkPads before it. The Graphite Grey finish definitely adds class, and lends the U300s a sense purpose – you’d certainly elicit some envious looks in the executive departure lounge when you slide one of these out of your bag. That said, I’d like to see the Clementine Orange version, but unfortunately it’s not available in the UK.

Lenovo U300s 2

The metal casing is both aesthetically attractive and tactilely pleasing – there’s a reassuringly cool feeling when you place your palms on the metal wrist rest. The slightly lipped lid and base give the U300s a sandwich like appearance, with grey bread surrounding a sliver filling. The lip on the lid also makes it very easy to open the notebook – of course there’s no physical catch, but who does physical catches anymore? That silver sandwich filling also houses the most delicate of power and battery icons.

The U300s weighs in at a very respectable 1.31kg, so you shouldn’t have any problems carrying it around with you every day. The dimensions of 324 x 216 x 14.9mm (WxDxH) don’t really convey how svelte this notebook is. Because it doesn’t taper into a wedge shape, like so many ultra-portables, the height is constant, making the figures less flattering. However, when viewing, carrying and using the U300s, it’s every bit the thin and light supermodel.

Lenovo U300s 3

Under the hood there’s a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU taking care of business. This should provide more than enough grunt for anything you’re likely to throw at the U300s. Complementing the processor is a healthy 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. You can opt for a 256GB SSD and bump the CPU all the way up to a 2.9GHz Core i7, but the spec seen here felt just about right and didn’t appear to struggle in any way.

The MobileMark 2007 Productivity test performance score of 233 is a little arbitrary, since this is the first notebook we’ve run it on, and therefore have nothing to compare it to. However, the indicated battery life of five hours 47 minutes means that you shouldn’t have any problems using the U300s all day without the need for mains power. And if you do run out of juice, the RapidCharge feature will have the battery back up to 50 per cent in 30 minutes.

Lenovo U300s 4

Open up the U300s and you’re greeted with a silver (or a lighter grey) interior with an isolated keyboard made up of black keys. Lenovo has a strong reputation for producing first-rate keyboards, and in many ways this one is no exception. Despite the isolated nature of the keys, they have a visibly discernable dishing to them that makes it all the more easy to strike each key at speed. There’s also a surprising degree of travel with a reassuringly solid break.

While typing quickly and accurately on the U300s is a relatively comfortable affair, it does take a little practice. The most notable issues are the reduced size of some key (excuse the pun) keys. The Enter key is particularly small, as is the backspace key, and I found myself missing them regularly at first. That said, if the U300s was your regular computer, you’d soon get used to this slightly unusual key sizing.

Lenovo U300s 5

I was more surprised to notice a degree of chassis flex when typing on the U300s. Despite the case feeling very solid and well built, there’s unquestionable flex when you’re hammering away at the keyboard. Again, this doesn’t really affect your typing speed or accuracy, but it can be a little distracting at times.

The large, glass touchpad below the spacebar is a truly excellent example, in fact I’d go as far as saying it’s the best touchpad I’ve used outside of a MacBook. The multi-touch functionality is particularly well implemented with smooth two finger scrolling, and very responsive pinching and rotating. The surface of the touchpad is beautifully friction free, while the clicking action has a solid and definite feel.

Lenovo U300s 6

The 13.3in LED backlit screen sports a resolution of 1,366 x 768, which is the same as the 11.6in MacBook Air, but slightly below the 1,440 x 900 resolution offered by Apple’s 13.3in ultra-portable. Whether that marginal amount of extra resolution would make a difference is very much personal, but it’s probably worth noting that the 13.3in MacBook Air is a far more expensive option.

Resolution aside, the screen has the high-contrast glossy coating the seems to adorn the vast majority of notebooks these days. Colours are rich and vivid, and black levels are admirably deep and dark. It’s not the brightest notebook screen out there, but I never found it to be noticeably dim in everyday use.

Lenovo U300s 7

Connectivity is as slim as the U300s itself, with a single USB 2.0 port on the left hand side of the chassis. On the right you’ll find a single USB 3.0 port, along with a full-size HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and the power socket. It’s probably also worth mentioning at this point, that the power brick is very small and light too.

What you won’t find anywhere around the chassis, is an Ethernet port, so you’ll have to use a USB-to-Ethernet dongle if you want to connect to your wired network. By contrast, Toshiba has managed to squeeze an Ethernet port into its equally svelte Ultrabook chassis. You do, of course, get 802.11n Wi-Fi built in, which should serve in the vast majority of cases. That said, Wi-Fi networks can find themselves overloaded, so it’s probably worth keeping that USB dongle in your bag.

Lenovo U300s 8

When it comes to design and usability, the IdeaPad can’t quite match Apple’s MacBook Air, but there are a few points to consider here. First, many notebook users either don’t want, or aren’t able to use Mac OS, so they’re looking for the best Windows-based ultra-portable. Second, with a street price of around £800, the U300s is significantly cheaper than the 11.6in MacBook Air, let alone the 13.3in version, which starts at £1,100.

Company: Lenovo

Website: http://tinyurl.com/6szw82c

Positives
  • Sleek and minimalist design, metal construction, decent battery life.
Negative
  • Reduced key sizes can be annoying, a bit light on connectivity.

Verdict
There's no shortage of great looking Ultrabooks on the market, with the likes of the Toshiba Z830 and Asus ZenBook UX31 also vying for your attention. But there is something a bit different about the Lenovo U300s. It feels slightly less indulgent and takes itself a little more seriously, making it potentially more attractive to the business user. It's not perfect, with the reduced size keys on the keyboard being the main bugbear, but you are getting a solid, well designed Ultrabook at a very reasonable price.