Ultrabooks are having an impact almost as big as the netbook did in its day. Basically powerful and stylish ultraportable laptops with 11-13in screens that are under 22mm thin and weigh less than 1.5kg, Intel’s Ultrabook standard could be considered the ideal all portable laptops should aspire to. They’re not just thin and light but also relatively long-lasting and powerful (you’ll never find an Ultrabook that stutters with HD video or can’t run Flash, for example), with a minimum of a ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and, crucially, SSD or hybrid SSD storage. This also ensures Ultrabooks are fast-booting and can resume from standby almost instantly.
But which one is the best? We’ve already looked at the Asus Zenbook UX31, Acer Aspire S3 and Toshiba Satellite Z830, and so far they’ve all had various strengths and weaknesses. Can Lenovo’s IdeaPad U300s be the Ultrabook to rule them all?
Specifications are generally what you would expect, though you do get a little more choice than most offer. You can go for either a dual-core Core i5 or i7 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128 or 256GB SSD. Only the S3 offers more configurations.
The U300s also gets off to a good start with its unique design. Rather than a front that tapers to a wedge-shaped point as most Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air do, Lenovo’s beasty maintains the folio look from its numerical predecessor, the IdeaPad U260. There’s even a protruding bottom lip to enforce this impression. It doesn’t work quite as well without the U260’s soft-touch leatherette finish, but it’s still attractive and different, and the unibody aluminium shell shouts premium.
It’s also incredibly thin. We were impressed at the 16mm-thick Z830 (at its thickest point), but Lenovo’s laptop takes things a step further with a maximum thickness of 15mm. Whatever next, 14mm thin 13in Ultrabooks? Toshiba’s 1.1kg contender does still hold the weight crown though, as the U300s weighs just over 1.32kg.
Build quality is good. Though there’s some flex in the chassis and it doesn’t feel as solid as the Asus Zenbook, it’s still a lot more reassuring than the magnesium alloy Acer S3. Our only real complaint is that it seems to have sharper edges and in more prominent positions than even the Macbook Air.
Connectivity is where the U300s encounters its first hiccup. On the left we have a single USB 2.0 port, while the right houses a nicely full-size HDMI connector and speedy USB 3.0 port along with a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack. You might already have noticed the obvious omission here: an SD card reader. It’s something that, on the 13in models at least, every other Ultrabook and most ultraportables manage to incorporate, and it’s a potentially serious omission. You can always get a USB stick reader, but this shouldn’t be necessary with a premium laptop.
While we do appreciate Lenovo’s use of full-size HDMI, if connectivity is important to you the Satellite Z830 is still your best bet, followed by the Zenbook with its included adapters.