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Lenovo IdeaPad U300s - Usability, Screen and Audio

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

We’ve always been able to rely on Lenovo to create some of the best laptop keyboards going, and by the ultra-shallow standards of most Ultrabooks it maintains this legacy admirably with the U300s. Just to qualify, in no way is this keyboard as good as Lenovo’s chiclet efforts on ‘fatter’ laptops like its ThinkPad X121e, nor even quite up to that found on the IdeaPad U260.

However, it’s a large step above the typing experience of the Asus Zenbook, Acer Aspire S3 and Toshiba Satellite Z830.

Though the left-shift key isn’t as long as we’re used to seeing on Lenovo machines, keys are well laid out and their curvy base gives them a little certain something which again helps the U300s to stand out from the crowd. Key travel is shallow but still deeper than rivals and there’s a nicely defined action to them. We do prefer a matt, lightly textured finish on our keyboards but the smooth semi-matt finish used here is in keeping with the Ultrabook’s metal aesthetic.

The only thing lacking here is keyboard backlighting, which means the U300s joins the club whose current members include the Zenbook and Aspire S3. While not essential, it’s always nice to have and does enhance the premium feel of a laptop, and after Lenovo including it on its ThinkPad X1 we’re disappointed by its absence. If it’s a must have for you, you may want to consider the Z830, MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9 900X3A.

Thankfully, the touchpad is as nice to use as the keyboard. The buttonless glass-surface pad is huge, easily as large as that found on the Zenbook or Air, and as with those pads incorporates its buttons, delineated by a discrete stripe. These ‘buttons’ offer a deep, audible click. We’re glad to see Lenovo can still get it right after the somewhat awkward and jumpy pads on its ThinkPads since the X1.

Getting to the IdeaPad U300s’ 13.3in screen, it’s a fairly standard affair with a glossy finish, 1,366 x 768 resolution and using our least favourite panel tech: TN, with its inherently poor (in this case dismal) viewing angles. Thanks the contrast shift this causes, you need to position the screen fairly accurately and sit centrally to get the most out of it. Once you do, however, there’s plenty of good news. Colours are vibrant yet contrast remains good, with deep blacks, plenty of dark detailing and pure whites.

If you want the best screen on an Ultrabook-equivalent your best bet is still the Samsung Series 9 900X3A’s superb TN display (or Lenovo’s own X220 ultraportable with its IPS panel). The U300s doesn’t offer the resolution advantage of the 1,600 x 900 Asus Zenbook UX31 either, but it’s still one of the better examples we’ve come across - though that’s more an indictment of the poor quality of Ultrabook displays in general than praise for this one.

Frankly, we can’t wait till the Lenovo Yoga with its 1,600 x 900 IPS display gives us the kind of quality we’ve been seeing on tablets (like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime) for a while now.

Audio, meanwhile, is quite good for an ultraportable. The U300s’ stereo speakers put out audible volume levels with only a little distortion creeping in at maximum. Otherwise production is quite detailed with a modicum of bass, adequate for light entertainment and even the occasional movie.

Brian ONeill

September 5, 2011, 8:16 pm

I wonder is it basically the case that no one can complete with apple when it comes to tablets and ultra portables?

A tablet needs to be under £300 or users will just buy the ipad.

I was one of the lucky few that grabbed a hp touchpad for £89. I must admit had I spent more than £200 on it I would have felt robbed, it is a pale imitation of an ipad.

Also while I am a pc power user who has windows 7 on all my computers if I was buying a new laptop I would be extremely tempted by the macbook air. A pc alternative would need to be several hundred pounds cheaper to compete.

Apple do divide opinion but there stuff is extremely well made.

Den

February 13, 2012, 9:12 pm

I waited ages for a decent Ultrabook and non arrived. They all have their problems. I ended up having to buy a MacBook Air and plan to put windows 8 on it.

ffrankmccaffery

February 14, 2012, 9:44 am

@Brian O'Neill: You might want to have a look at this notebooks stablemate, the X220 Thinkpad. It can more than compete with Apple's offerings.

Epic

February 14, 2012, 7:31 pm

was looking at this and the series 5 samsung ultrabook - the display on the sammy won it for me - non glossy and much better view angles and cheaper to boot. I can't understand why Lenovo put such a rubbish screen in a premium chassis.

TechVegan

February 14, 2012, 8:24 pm

@Brian O'Niell:
There's definitely some strong competition on both fronts, you just have to look for it :)

On the Tablet front, an example of a tablet that exceeds the iPad 2 in hardware at least is the Asus Transformer Prime [http://www.trustedreviews.com/...].
It's thinner, lighter, more powerful, has more storage, better connectivity, better cameras, offers a keyboard attachment, etc. Another example of a tablet that offers more functionality and flexibility is the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet [http://www.trustedreviews.com/...]

On the laptop front, meanwhile, there's the likes of the [http://www.trustedreviews.com/...] and, if you don't mind a bit of bulk, the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 (as @ffrankmccaffery metions) - to name but two.

Apple products are beautifully made and far more up to date than they used to be, but you still pay a premium and there are great alternatives.

@Den:
True none of them quite manage it, though there are good ultraportables (which don't carry the Ultrabook moniker) like the aforementioned Series 9. Hopefully the next generation of Ultrabooks will give us the kind of quality laptops we're all craving.

@Epic:
It's actually one of the better Ultrabook screens if you get past the viewing angles, but I agree: it is baffling how all the Ultrabooks seem to share poor or average screens in such otherwise premium machines.

Roll on the Lenovo Yoga convertible Ultrabook, with a high-resolution IPS screen!

Repelsteeltje

February 15, 2012, 4:55 am

Another great laptop from Lenovo ruined by the lack of a decent screen. Maybe the Yoga will get it right, or the successor of the X1...

While I wouldn't get an Apple, it seems to be the only company that manages to combine a decent screen, keyboard and touchpad.

ffrankmccaffery

February 15, 2012, 5:46 am

Another issue is the glossy finish on many of the screens, particularly combined with LED backlighting. My girlfriends MacBook Pro is unbearable after an hour or so on it.

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