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.
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.
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.