Lenovo IdeaPad U300s: Puts the ultra in Lenovo's first Ultrabook (review)

Summary:You may not feel the need for yet another notebook marketing term, but the Ultrabook from Lenovo validates the name. The IdeaPad U300s is the best Windows notebook I have ever used.

Ultrabook is a product category invented by Intel to cook up excitement for the laptop segment. It is essentially a thin and light notebook computer that is reasonably priced. The first Ultrabook for ThinkPad maker Lenovo is the IdeaPad U300s, and it validates the new product name as it is the thinnest and lightest Windows laptop I have ever used. It is also the best Windows notebook to cross my desk, and that covers a lot of them.

The Ultrabook design gives the U300s its form, a light (<3 lbs.) aluminum case that is half an inch thick. The unibody design is deceptively sturdy, and is easy to carry and use. The 13-inch display is bright and vivid, and the chiclet keys a typist's dream with one exception detailed below. Performance is top-notch with the Intel Core i7 processor as configured, and battery life can last all day. I'm not convinced we need the special Ultrabook marketing term, but the IdeaPad U300s fits the ultra branding in every way.

See the 2.9 lb, 0.5 inch Lenovo IdeaPad U300s in all its glory


Image Gallery: The first Ultrabook for Lenovo, the IdeaPad U300s presented in photos
Image Gallery: Charge
Image Gallery: Charge
Hardware specs as reviewed
  • CPU: Intel Core i7, 1.8 GHz
  • Memory: 4GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD with RapidDrive technology (verified cold boot in 10 seconds)
  • Display: 13.3 inches; 1366 x 768;
  • Ports: 1-USB 2.0; 1-USB 3.0, audio, HDMI
  • Dimensions: 324 x 216 x 14.9 mm; 12.75 x 8.5 x 0.58 inches
  • Battery life: 8 hours real world; Rapid charge to 50% in 30 minutes
  • Weight: 1.32 kg; 2.9 lbs.
  • OS: Windows 7 Ultimate

Using the Ultrabook

Carrying the U300s in one hand couldn't be easier, with the thin laptop fitting comfortably in the hand. The notebook feels like it could stand up to the daily rigors of a road warrior, while remaining easy to throw in the bag and go. The system is optimized to make the laptop quick to start, easy to put to sleep, and fast to charge when the battery level drops down. Even the power brick is well designed, being almost as thin as the laptop itself and easy to fit in a small pocket of any gear bag.

See also: Most portable dual-monitor setup by Lenovo

Lenovo has designed the U300s with a solid bottom cover to the notebook, with nary a vent. This keeps the laptop cool when using propped up on the lap, due to air circulating through the keyboard and out the two side vents. The Ultrabook exhibits little warming during use as found in many laptops. It is well designed for long-term usage with good thermal engineering.

Laptop keyboards are important to my work as a writer, and as is typical with Lenovo keyboards this one is nice indeed. Touch typing feels natural with one exception. I wish the Backspace key was a little bigger as I find I sometimes hit the Home button to the right of the Backspace key. It doesn't happen all the time but often enough to mention, and if the Backspace key was a little larger I think the problem would go away.

I do wish Lenovo had chosen to add a backlight to the keyboard, even if as an option. Backlit keys are something that don't seem like a big benefit to the user until you try them. The lack of backlit keys are greatly missed on a notebook that has everything else going for it. I hope they get added in the future to Lenovo's Ultrabook line.

The front edge of the U300s is thin and attractive, as there are no buttons to mar the clean lines. There are two LED indicators integrated into the front left of the front edge, but they are wasted as designed. The laptop has such a low profile that the power and battery indicators are impossible to see while using the notebook, and especially so given the very soft lighting used to illuminate them. I actually had to go looking for them once Lenovo told me they were there, and even then can barely see them.

The trackpad on the IdeaPad U300s is the best one I have used on a non-Mac notebook. It is a large glass trackpad with integrated buttons, and is a joy to use. I usually hook up a wireless mouse on most notebooks, but I am happy using the U300s with just the trackpad. I wish some Windows apps were better suited for controlling via the trackpad, but that's not due to the trackpad nor its software. Two finger scrolling is supported, as is pinch/zoom in some apps. It is a great trackpad.

Lenovo has enabled special touchpad gestures that trigger certain functions. A four-finger up gesture toggles among the open applications. Swiping right to left with four fingers brings up a full-screen wallpaper changing screen. Swiping left to right with four fingers fires up a special note-taking screen with colored paper that is selectable by swiping. These apps are more of the cool variety to show off the touchpad than tremendously useful.

The webcam above the screen is 1.3 MP and gives decent low light video call quality. It combines with the audio system to provide good video chatting. The audio system is nothing special but sounds good for such small speakers required by the thin chassis.

Ultra-performance

The Intel Core i7 processor (1.8 GHz) coupled with the 256 GB solid-state disk (SSD) make this laptop fly. It is the fastest thin laptop I have ever used, and has handled everything I throw at it with ease. The Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.4 shows how it stacks up, with the highest rating given to the SSD of 7.1.

This performance would mean little if the battery installed wasn't able to keep it going for very long. Lenovo rates the fixed battery at 8 hours, and my real-world usage backs that up. I have routinely gotten over seven hours with the Balanced power setting, and could see getting even longer with aggressive power management.

The rapid charging technology in the U300s adds even more value to the long battery life. Using the tiny power brick, it is possible to make a 50 percent charge to a dead battery in just 30 minutes. This is a huge advantage for the frequent traveler, as just a half hour access to a power outlet can get you an extra 4+ hours of usage at the end of a long day.

Lenovo claims the battery has a 30-day standby time, which I have not verified. I can't let the U300s sit idle for days as it calls me to use it frequently. I have verified the 10.5 second cold boot time, made possible by Lenovo's optimization with the RapidDrive SSD.

Conclusion

Lenovo has produced an outstanding laptop for its first Ultrabook, and it meets the ultra definition in every way. There is even anti-theft protection on the U300s to help locate a stolen laptop for hopefully recovering it intact should that tragedy strike.

The U300s comes in two colors, the Graphite Gray as reviewed which is a very professional-looking laptop. It also comes in Clementine Orange for those desiring a little more flash in their notebook. This color scheme is the same as shown in my review of the IdeaPad U260 with Clementine Orange.

The IdeaPad U300s is priced at $1,195 or a system with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. The maxed out configuration as reviewed with a Core i7, 4GB of memory and the 256GB SSD is $1,595, which compares favorable to a similarly configured MacBook Air ($1,599 with a slightly slower processor). It is a solid value for the suggested retail price, and once available in November should be found even cheaper online.

Topics: Lenovo

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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