Despite an across-the-board upgrade of the Intel Atom processor line just a few short months ago, the Netbook landscape since has quickly settled down into sameness and predictability once again. Most manufacturers are offering similarly-specced products at similar prices. What makes one superior to another? It all comes down to fine details, and more often than not, design.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3 is the third-generation update to the IdeaPad Netbook line, a successor to the IdeaPad S10-2 we reviewed last August. A lot has changed since then, and yet, not much has changed at all. Cosmetically, the S10-3 features a more compact shape, cleaner lines, and of course it has an Atom N450 processor. It also has a great new keyboard, which we'll get to in a moment. Does this make its $369 price palatable? That's up for debate. While $369 is still relatively affordable, perfectly good and increasingly well-designed Netbooks are available for as little as $299, with few appreciable differences. We think the S10-3 is a great upgrade to the S10-2, but the extra premium should be seen as something reserved for those who love a great keyboard at any cost.
Note: the IdeaPad S10-3 should not be confused for the IdeaPad S10-3t, a completely different yet deceptively similarly named device also released by Lenovo. The S10-3t is a convertible touch-screen tablet Netbook with notable design differences from the S10-3.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$369|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Intel Atom N450|
|Memory||1GB, 667 MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.6 x 6.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.6 / 3.1 pounds|
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3 has undergone some serious redesigns since we reviewed its ancestor, the S10-2, and nearly all have been for good. Whereas the S10-2 had a seriously protruding battery to go with its thin case, the S10-3 has integrated the battery with much less bulge into the center of the hinge, letting some of the pack stick out at the bottom. This creates a bit of a keyboard riser. The whole Netbook looks thinner and, in particular, much less deep than other competitors, with the whole of the S10-3 easily able to be palmed in the hand. It's a bit bigger than a larger-size softcover book.
The checkered finish on the back lid, available in either red or black, minimizes fingerprints and adds a race-car-style look to the exterior, attractive and minimal. Inside, the plastic around the keyboard has a veneer resembling brushed metal, giving the IdeaPad a more professional look without actually using higher-end materials. The chassis feels slightly lightweight and plastic, especially when opening up the lid, but the overall feel is quite sturdy despite some flex when pressing down on the top of the IdeaPad with its lid closed.
Opened up, it's even clearer that the S10-3 is wider than it is deep; the 10.1-inch screen feels tightly framed on the top and bottom, with a little extra bezel room on the left and right. That sensation carries over to the keyboard, too. The roomy, full-size keys on the S10-3 are a complete redesign as well, incorporating Lenovo's new raised chiclet-style keyboard that we first tried on the ThinkPad Edge. They feel great, and might be our favorite keyboard in a Netbook ever, were it not for the reduced room in the cramped palmrest area. Our hands felt like they were scrambling for purchase a little, although placing the S10-3 on a desktop helped a lot.
The touch pad on the S10-3 is now a clickpad, adding clickable areas to the left and right that forego the need for space-occupying discrete buttons. While this is a great idea in a Netbook, the touch pad in the S10-3 is, despite looking depressed from the palmrest, slightly raised up from its base, giving the surface a springy and slightly floaty feel. The pad was slightly skittish in its default settings, and the clickable zones were hard to press without accidentally moving the mouse cursor as well.
The 10.1-inch LED screen on the IdeaPad S10-3 has a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, standard for most Netbooks, although we are increasingly seeing 1,366x768-pixel screens offering more laptop-standard aspect ratios. Icons and graphics look crisp, but web browsing can get a little cramped with the reduced vertical pixels. The Dolby-enhanced speakers, located under the laptop and facing forward, offer better volume than some Netbooks but aren't superlative.
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
For $369, you aren't getting much more than any other Netbook when it comes to internal specs and ports--1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and plain VGA-out are included. The lone point of note is an extra USB port. Netbooks that cost more, like the Toshiba NB305, tend to have 250GB hard drives. Netbooks with nearly identical feature sets to the S10-3 can be had for $299--case in point, the Acer Aspire One 532h.
The IdeaPad S10-3 does have one other feature that's not common in Netbooks: a quick-start OS. The S10-3's power button is located on the upper lid to the left of the screen, but to the right is a small, black "QS" key that launches Splashtop 2.0 software. It's much like other quick-start OS environments we've seen in other laptops, offering a Web browser, e-mail, Skype, and a few other icons like Pandora, Twitter, and Facebook that turn out to just be Web links. While the idea of an "instant-on" OS is a nice idea for an ultraportable, the Splashtop software simply doesn't boot as fast as a sleeping iPhone, nor does it offer a significant advantage to merely waking up a hibernating Windows 7-booted machine.
The Atom N450 processor in the IdeaPad S10-3 is the same as every other N450 we've seen now in every manufacturer's Netbook reboot. Performance was comparable in terms of our standard benchmark tasks, which is to say mediocre at single tasks, and slow at multitasking, but Atom Netbooks are still fine choices for anyone looking to accomplish basic office tasks or simple Web browsing and media-viewing functions. Casual games, provided they aren't graphics-intensive, also run fine. HD video files up to 720p can be played reasonably well, but streaming via Hulu or YouTube gets choppy in HD and full-screen.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)