The ultrabook revolution of 2011 has become a deluge in 2012, which means one thing: lower prices. If you were hunting for a reasonably thin Windows laptop with good battery life at a reasonable cost, you couldn't have picked a better time. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 is a perfect example: it's an update of sorts to the IdeaPad U300s, one of the first Windows ultrabooks we reviewed last fall that carried a MacBook Air-like $1,195 price tag. This time, the cost is a mere $799 -- but, with some compromises made along the way.
The IdeaPad U310 is a different machine: it's got a significantly heavier and thicker chassis and a standard magnetic platter-type mechanical hard drive instead of a solid-state drive (SSD). However, its internal specs are very good, with a third-gen 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and all the ports you'd need (Ethernet, USB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI). It's still an ultrabook by definition, but not quite as sleek a product.
It's a pretty similar package to what the identically priced Sony Vaio T offers, although the Vaio T is lighter and has a better battery life. It's also similar to what the new Dell Inspiron 14z offers, although the Inspiron 14z also has dedicated AMD graphics.
So, where does that leave the IdeaPad U310? It's not a bad deal for what's under the hood, but the U310 doesn't feel as surprising as last year's U300s. Nor is it. It's really the smaller cousin of the IdeaPad U400: a MacBook-like Lenovo laptop with a good keyboard, a solid set of features, and a pleasing design that could make an excellent back-to-school computer. Students should look into the IdeaPad U310, especially if it's on sale. You might want to comparison-shop the growing landscape of affordable ultrabook-alikes at the time of purchase and see if you can do better, but the bottom line is this: be happy. Ultrabooks have larger hard drives (without SSD), and are cheaper than ever. That's a good thing.
|Price as reviewed||$799|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400 HDD|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.1x8.8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.68 pounds / 4.2 pounds|
At 0.7 inch thick and 3.68 pounds, the IdeaPad U310 is thin and light, but not quite as thin and light as other 13-inch ultrabooks. It's somewhere between "normal" 13-inch laptop and ultrabook, and feels more like the former. It's heavier than the Sony Vaio T ultrabook, and lighter than the new Dell Inspiron 14z.
Unlike the sleek, black IdeaPad U300s, the U310 is both whitish and candy-colored. Its larger cousin that it looks the most like is the IdeaPad U400, a machine that was closer in size and function to a 13-inch MacBook Pro. The U310 is more backpack- and small-bag-friendly, but also ditches the slot-loading DVD drive in the process.
You'd better get used to hearing, "Hey, you've got a new white MacBook!" because you're going to hear it a lot at coffee shops. The IdeaPad U310 is MacBook-like, and there's no way around it. Sure, the outer wraparound Aqua Blue aluminum on the lid and underside (also available in Graphite Gray and Cherry Blossom Pink) is distinctive, but open the lid and the white surfaces, black raised keyboard, and large touch pad -- even the bezel around the screen and keyboard -- practically scream "MacBookalike." The anodized, colored-aluminum exterior sandwiches the slightly off-white plastic interior when closed, giving the laptop a two-tone look and a booklike profile.
It's a comfortable laptop to use, too: the palm rest is spacious, the multitouch clickpad gigantic, and the keyboard nearly as excellent as most Lenovo keyboards.
Why nearly? Because the keyboard's not backlit, and the keys themselves have an ever-so-slightly lower-quality feel compared with the high bar of ThinkPads. It's still good, but I found keys not registering every once in a blue moon, and the column of keys on the right side makes the Backspace key very hard to locate by touch. To make matters worse, the keyboard exhibited some flex on our review model. At least the function keys are reversed (the media-control buttons for volume and screen brightness work without the Fn key held down).
The very large touch pad is the same size as that on a MacBook, but not as good. Pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling are less instantly responsive and more prone to jumpiness. Chalk that up less to Lenovo than to Windows 7.
The audiovisual experience on the IdeaPad U310 is similarly adequate but not outstanding. A glossy 13.3-inch screen has an utterly normal 1,366x768-pixel resolution, but is prone to screen glare. The screen isn't all that bright at its highest setting, and off-axis viewing angles are poor. It's fine for a budget computer. The stereo speakers are louder than you'd expect from an ultrabook, but sounded hollow and flat when playing back music or movie trailers.
On the other hand, the included 720p Webcam looked sharp via the preinstalled Cybervision YouCam software.