Friday, August 24, 2012

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Review

What is the definition of an ultrabook? It originally meant a premium, thin and light-weight Windows laptop with excellent battery life. Now, the term encompasses ultra-portable laptops at all price points and specialties. Today, we’ll review an affordable ultrabook for the back-to-school crowd, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310.

The U310 gives off a stylish, premium aura. On the outside, the U310 has a fingerprint-resistant aluminum lid with simple branding. On the inside, the clean lines and minimal branding make this seem like a pricier laptop than it actually is. Overall, it’s one of the most attractive ultrabooks on the market.

The premium feel continues in the U310’s construction. One corner of the keyboard deck flexes a little bit, but the rest of the laptop is completely solid.

Speaking of solid, the U310 is a little heftier than other ultrabooks. The MacBook Air weighs 2.96 lbs, while the U310 weighs 3.75 lbs. The U310 has similar dimensions to other 13” ultrabooks, though.

A view of the left side of the U310
Let’s take a look at the selection ports. A USB 2.0, a headphone/mic port, and a charging port are on the right side. Two USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI port, and a LAN port are on the left. A card reader is on the front of the machine. I think this collection of ports will keep most users satisfied.

The U310’s screen succumbs to many of the same pitfalls present in other 13” ultrabooks. It has a low resolution of 1366 x 765. (A high resolution screen has more detail and compresses images to a smaller size than a low resolution screen.) The panel is also extremely reflective. (Leave your pocket mirror at home, ladies! Check your reflection with your laptop screen.) This screen does have very good viewing angles, however. Colors are accurate and bright even at odd viewpoints.

No surprises here- these are just a typical set of unexceptional laptop speakers. To my ear, the highs outweigh the mids and bass. I do not think this is (or should be) a deal-breaker for anyone, but it’s just FYI.

Lenovo gave the U310 a very large, glass-coated touchpad. Although it provides a pleasant tactile experience, the touchpad isn’t without hiccups. Once in a blue moon, the cursor will jump. More often, the right click will be mistaken for a left click.

Two finger scrolling is very smooth and reliable, but pinch-to-zoom can be jumpy, depending on the program being used.

The U310’s keyboard is everything it should be-comfortable, springy, and well-spaced. The keys have lots of travel, are appropriately sized, and are well-shaped. Of all the ultrabook keyboards I have tried, this keyboard is one of my personal favorites. Unfortunately, the keys are not backlit as they are in some other ultrabooks.

Specs and Performance
The review unit I tested has a dual-core 1.7 Ghz Core i5 processor, 4 GB of random access memory, a 500 GB hard drive, and Intel HD 4000 graphics. This setup costs $800. In my day-to-day routine of editing word documents, browsing the web, watching videos, and light photo editing, the U310 made light work of my to-do list. In my opinion, the U310 is best suited for web browsing and Microsoft Office Suite work. Although it handles these tasks without getting warm, this ultrabook does have an annoyingly loud fan.

Sorry- the U310s specs probably won’t enable you to do too much serious gaming- unless Spider Solitaire is your definition of gaming. This laptop simply isn’t optimized for gamers.

Lenovo’s U310 doesn’t have the blazing fast startup of the U300s, but it does resume in about one second.

Battery Life
In my aforementioned routine, I usually managed to squeeze out five hours of battery life. This is the short side of normal for ultrabook battery life, though there are ultrabooks that get only about four hours of battery life. Is shorter battery life a deal breaker for you? It depends upon how much time you can spend near an outlet.

Right out of the box, the Lenovo U310 provides a pleasant experience. It has a minimal amount of nagging software. Almost all of the pre-installed programs are useful. Here’s a list of the pre-installed software: a McAfee Antivirus free trial, the only in-your-face program; Lenovo VeriFace, a program that allows you to log into websites via facial recognition; Lenovo OneKey Recovery, a backup program; Lenovo YouCam, a webcam software suite; Cloud Storage by SugarSync, a program that offers 5 GB of free cloud storage; Absolute Data Protect a security suite program; ooVoo, a video chat service; and Dolby Home Theater v4, an audio suite that lets you create custom audio profiles.

There is a dizzying array of ultrabooks on the market, each with its own strengths. When shopping at this price point, there are no completely compromise-free ultrabooks. Some competing ultrabooks in the U310’s price range are: the Sony Vaio T13 (starting at $770), the HP Folio (starting at $900), and the Toshiba Portege Z835 (starting at $830). A few trade offs are in each laptop, so you’ll have to choose which package is best for you.

While every aspect of the U310 may not score a perfect "10", the U310 gets many things right. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 has an attractive design, excellent keyboard, sufficient ports, and affordable price. If you can forgive the five hour battery life and the extra seven tenths of a pound in weight, you and the U310 should be very happy together.

Product Info

Price:Starts at $720 from Lenovo
    Attractive design, comfortable keyboard, affordable price  
  • Shorter battery life than the competition, a bit heavier than other ultrabooks, touchpad leaves room for improvement

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