While it's hard for us to weigh design over performance when looking at a laptop, products such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U350 make it a little easier. As another entry in the growing field of affordable CULV thin-and-lights, the compact and really great-looking U350 is Lenovo's MacBook in terms of design. Lighter than it is thin, the Pentium U2700 processor-packing machine is clad in minimal silver and black and aims to keep a stylish low profile. And while the U2700 processor is both low-power and low-performance by Core 2 Duo standards, this thin-and-light is perfectly capable of running Windows Vista and mainstream applications.
At a starting price of $629 ($749 for our configuration), the U350 is less affordable than a 12-inch Netbook such as the Lenovo IdeaPad S12, while not as expensive as some professional-grade thin-and-lights such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s. And as such, it's a success.
While we'd like to see this same design with a more powerful processor and better battery, it's another valid alternative to the MSI X340 and Acer Timeline 3810T for those looking for a lightweight laptop who don't require an optical drive or significant graphics.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$749/$629|
|Processor||1.3 GHz Pentium U2700|
|Memory||4GB, 1066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium SP1|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.9 inches wide by 9 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.7/4.5 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
We really liked the overall look of the IdeaPad U350, in case you didn't already figure that out. Compared with Lenovo's business-oriented and more expensive T400s, it's far more attractive. While the T400s does have a reinforced crush-resistant chassis, we prefer the business/personal tone of the U350, which cleverly bridges the gap between office and home in its design. A savvy mix of textured black patterns on the outer lid and glossy black on the inner, coupled with brushed metal around the keyboard, comes close to mimicking the MacBook Pro's look.
There is no optical drive in the U350, much like in other thin-and-lights such as the Acer Timeline series and the MSI X340. In that sense, the U350 is a closer cousin to the MacBook Air, although a bit thicker (the U350 is 1 inch tall). At first glance, the U350 looks thick enough to have handled an optical drive, but the lightweight feel without it is refreshing.
The keyboard is similar to other Lenovo offerings: the tapered keys have a comfortable feel but are a little softer than those on a ThinkPad. The touch pad has a tactile friction that makes multitouch easy; it's covered with a finer grain than Lenovo's more heavily dimpled IdeaPad Y pads. The touch pad buttons, while large, are soft to the point of being mushy. While they worked fine, not having a click was distracting. Above the keyboard are just a few dedicated buttons: one for volume mute, and one for instant access to Lenovo's OneKey data backup and recovery software. Volume and screen brightness are controlled through a function button-arrow key combination.
The IdeaPad U350's glossy 13.3-inch 16:9 LED screen has a resolution of 1,366x768, absolutely standard for this size. Icons and text looked sharp, and the colors and brightness generally looked very good when watching movies and video. The tucked-out-of-sight internal speakers are also amazingly loud, much louder than we'd expect for a machine this size. A built-in Webcam and microphone above the screen were also clear and crisp during video teleconferencing.
|Lenovo IdeaPad U350||Average for category [thin and light]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The port assortment on the IdeaPad U350 is solid and functional, and while it doesn't have an ExpressCard slot, it does throw in an HDMI-out and an SD card slot. Internally, the IdeaPad U350 has both 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so it doesn't lack for wireless--although 3G isn't really an option without buying a USB modem.
The IdeaPad U350 is available in several configurations, most with the Pentium U2700 processor we reviewed, although a slightly faster Core 2 Solo U3500 model is also available for the same $749 price on Lenovo's site (in which case, we recommend the upgrade). RAM is upgradable to 4GB, while the hard-drive capacities go up to 320GB or as low as 250GB.
While we absolutely love the U350's design, it must be noted that, against other CULV thin-and-lights out there, it wasn't exactly a barn-burner. In fact, in our multimedia multitasking, Photoshop, and iTunes tests, it came in last. That's because many of these laptops had either Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Solo regular or ultralow-voltage processors, while the IdeaPad U350 has a single-core Pentium U2700 ultralow-voltage processor (ULV). The Pentium U2700 is still far better than the Atom processor that runs in nearly all Netbooks, and is perfectly good for basic office applications, Web browsing, video streaming, and casual games, and seemed to run Vista with no problems. We just wouldn't advise any large-scale multitasking work using it.
Even though its performance is lower than expected, so is its price. At $749, it's more than half the price of a Dell Adamo, MacBook Air, or ThinkPad T400s. Of course, the IdeaPad U350's real competitors are the budget-range MSI X340 ($799 as originally reviewed) and Acer Aspire 3810T ($899), but it's also cheaper than either of those.