When it comes to design in ultraportables, it's hard to top Apple's MacBook Air. That doesn't stop competitors from trying, though. The Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is a bold, high-design 12.5-inch laptop that's thin, light, and very easy on the eye. What it isn't, however, is affordable: at a starting price of $899, the IdeaPad U260 qualifies as high end for most consumers, although it is a bit more affordable than Apple's 11-inch Air. It's undeniably well-designed, too, but whether the IdeaPad U260 is for you depends on if design matters more than performance and battery life.
A very light chassis, beautifully textured surfaces, a great keyboard, and other quality finishing touches come with some solid, though not overwhelming, specs: a Core i5 ULV processor, 320GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM, along with a couple of USB ports and HDMI. If its unimpressive battery life were better, we would have considered the U260 to be one of the best ultraportables we've ever used; as it is, consider the IdeaPad U260 a fascinating, if flawed, experiment in high-end Lenovo design.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$1,049 / $899|
|Processor||1.33GHz Intel Core i5 U470|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.5 x 8.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.5 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.0 / 3.5 pounds|
The IdeaPad U260 is one of the first laptops to feature a 12.5-inch screen, making this ultraportable feel like a very svelte 13-inch laptop in everyday use. The design of the U260 is its biggest win: from its compact jewel-box-like packaging down to the colors, clean lines, and textured surfaces throughout, the U260 looks and feels like a luxury laptop.
Available in either brown or orange (we chose orange for our review sample), the wider-than-normal U260 caught the attention of many casual eyes around the CNET offices. Flush lines and an integrated battery give the U260 a pleasing wafer-thin look, though it's hardly as thin as a MacBook Air. The colored wrap-around magnesium lid covers the top and bottom of the U260, sandwiching the black interior inside.
As good as the U260 looks, it feels even better to the touch: a rubberized outer surface offers great grip and hides fingerprints, and a leather-like textured palm rest area is one of the comfiest we've ever felt against our wrists. Inset in the middle is a full raised keyboard similar to the design we've seen in the ThinkPad Edge series. Slightly concave keys cradle fingertips perfectly, and the keys are well spaced. A column of page up/down keys on the right side mar the experience slightly, forcing the Enter/Shift keys into the middle of the keyboard, and the keyboard exhibited a bit more flex than the standard ThinkPad, but it's better than any other ultraportable outside of the MacBook Air.
A single power button above the keyboard lies between small stereo speaker grilles, and a few status indicator icons light up stylishly in small grids of white LED lights. Framed by the glossy black-bezeled screen above, the U260 has a pleasingly restrained, composed look. Volume and brightness controls are relegated to function-combination buttons on the d-arrow pad. Unfortunately, there are no function-reversed control keys.
The glass multitouch touch pad is a bit small and has dedicated buttons beneath instead of a clickpad-style interface, but it's otherwise responsive and offers a similar level of traction to Apple's clickpads. One drawback: with frequent use, the black touch pad developed a patch of oily fingerprint smudges that were hard to remove.
We're not saying all parts of the U260 experience smell of roses, however: we found the IdeaPad U260's boot-up time and general responsiveness to be sluggish compared with other laptops, which is largely because of the CULV Intel processor, which operates at a lower clock speed. We also weren't wild about the annoying smiley face icon called the Lenovo Smile Dock that kept appearing onscreen, which launched a toolbar with various program shortcuts. The toolbar can be deactivated, but it's a nuisance. Pop-up virus software warnings and other preinstalled bloatware spam occur in other Windows laptops, too, but in a premium product like the U260 it comes off as tacky.
The glossy, 16:9 LED-backlit 12.5-inch display on the IdeaPad U260 has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for most midsize laptops. The screen's unique size sounds jarring at first, but in use it feels nearly the same as a 13-inch. Icons and text were easy to read, and videos and pictures played back with vivid color and brightness.
The stereo speakers embedded in grilles above the keyboard had decent enough sound for the U260's size, but weren't notably excellent. The 0.3-megapixel Webcam has a maximum image resolution of 640x480 pixels, and comes packed with Cyberlink YouCam software. It's a standard Webcam with no premium functionality.
|Lenovo IdeaPad U260||Average for category [Ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
The IdeaPad U260 has Bluetooth, but only two USB 2.0 ports along its edges. The sparse collection of ports is a bit of a letdown: there is room for more, especially since the U260 lacks an optical drive. We were surprised that the U260 lacks an SD card slot, too; even 10-inch Lenovo Netbooks come with SD card compatibility.
The IdeaPad U260 has a limited number of configurations, with a choice of a 1.33GHz Intel Core i3-380UM CPU or a 1.33GHz Core i5-470UM CPU. Our review unit was the top-of-the-line $1,049 version, in Clementine Orange, with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. Opting for Mocha Brown and the Core i3 CULV processor will save you a few hundred dollars, at $899; and all configurations come with the same hard drive and RAM. Lenovo currently has an additional promotion on its site to save an extra $200 off certain U260 models, which could be worth your while if you're thinking of picking one up. At $699 to $799, we feel a lot more bullish about this laptop's value proposition.
The Core i5-470UM CPU is one we've seen before, in the Dell Vostro V130. The Vostro is a similarly sized 13-inch laptop with an appealingly thin portable frame, but poor battery life. The IdeaPad U260, though boasting a better battery life, doesn't fare all that much differently. Intel's CULV processors aren't to be confused with their similarly branded standard-voltage siblings. While a "normal" standard-voltage Core i5 is great for most everyday use, the lower-performing, energy-saving Core i5-470UM CULV in this laptop feels sluggish on boot-ups, and though it will perform most everyday tasks well (and far better than any Netbook), including HD video streaming, its benchmark speeds lag well behind most mainstream 13-inch laptops. If you consider the IdeaPad U260 an ultraportable, it will likely exceed your expectations as a computer. If you consider it a full-fledged laptop, you may be disappointed.
The IdeaPad U260 has integrated Intel graphics, which allow for basic casual games and HD video playback, but won't satisfy anyone looking to edit or create high-res videos or play more graphically intensive mainstream games. This laptop doesn't yet feature Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors, which offer more-robust integrated graphics.