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Back at CES 2010, we marveled at Lenovo's seemingly unending lineup of inventive, eye-catching laptop designs. Though the U1 Hybrid took the spotlight, the less revolutionary but still eye-catching IdeaPad S10-3t also caught our attention. As part of Lenovo's updating of the S10 Netbook series, the 3t changes the entire design, adding a swivel-screen touch display to turn the Netbook into a convertible tablet.
At a starting price of $549, the IdeaPad S10-3t could also be seen as competition for Apple's iPad, which has a similar size screen and comparable pricing. It's tempting to make the comparison, especially since the S10-3t has more ports than the iPad does, plays Flash, uses a PC operating system, and has a full keyboard. On the other hand, the S10-3t has laggy performance at times and a thickness that could keep it from being a definitive iPad killer. Our review unit, which costs $649, also bears interest because it's one of the first Netbooks to include the new Atom N470, a slightly faster version of the N450 we've seen in 2010 Atom Netbooks.
The multi-touch display on the S10-3t is capacitive, not resistive, meaning the screen isn't pressure-based, and operates somewhat like the display on an iPhone. With smooth lines and large stereo speakers, the S10-3t looks like it's aiming at media consumers as much as standard Netbook users with this hybrid. We found a lot of touches to get excited about, but the overall final product is still too much of a mixed bag.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$649 / $549|
|Processor||1.8 GHz Intel Atom N470|
|Memory||2GB, 667 MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11 x 6.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.8 / 3.4 pounds|
With a sleek, flat design and curved lines around the edges, there's a lot to like about the build of the S10-3t. Lenovo has made big strides since the IdeaPad S10-2, which we criticized for its less-than-full-size keyboard and bulging battery. No protruding battery bulge in the back, clean edges, and an overall size that's slightly larger than the average soft-cover book make the IdeaPad S10-3t easy to pick up and carry around.
A slight lip exists on the back where the battery juts a bit farther than the screen hinge, but it's hardly noticeable. Glossy, highly shiny black plastic surrounds the entire inner and outer lid of this IdeaPad; the keyboard area on the lower half is bright white, with a subtle raised pattern of white squares around the wrist rest area. The surface on the keyboard zone is matte, and the black/white contrast between upper and lower halves is quite attractive. In overall appearance, it reminded us of the Viliv S7 tablet we reviewed last year, but a much better version.
Folded over into tablet mode, the flat dimensions translate into an easy-to-hold design that doesn't feel forced. Two sizable stereo speakers below the screen add extra bezel, but that actually makes the S10-3t easier to hold in portrait mode.
As far as keyboard room goes, the S10-3t makes the most of its space. The tapered keys are full-size in terms of width and length (if tightly packed) and generally comfortable to type on. Compared with other Lenovo ThinkPad and IdeaPad keyboards, though, this set of keys feels a little more compromised, as if the keys had to be more carefully squeezed into the thinner chassis. More upsetting, though, is the very small amount of palm rest space beneath the keyboard, barely enough to leave the base of one's thumb. Jammed into that already tight zone is the touch pad, which leaves off buttons in favor of click zones built into the surface. The pad's surface area is very compressed, but the textured tactile surface does allow one's fingers to make very economical motions in the small space. Still, finding one's way to the scroll zone on the right side of the pad feels like rush hour on a Manhattan subway: it's an awkward squeeze.
In theory, the S10-3t's capacitive multitouch screen is a great idea; pressure-based touch screens always feel awkwardly suited to finger gestures, and in this post-iPhone age it seems like ultraportable PCs with convertible keyboards are better off keeping their touch interfaces as iPhone-like as possible.
Though the screen at times responded quite well, other times it seemed to lose calibration, making our tapping inaccurate. Other times, the touch response was laggy, and slow to respond in the way that Atom-powered Netbooks often just slow down for no reason at all. The end result was frequent frustration, as when we tried to watch Hulu on Internet Explorer and found the experience an uncomfortable ballet of missed presses and delayed gesture-reactions. We also tried using Amazon's Kindle PC reader software in tablet mode, and though the aspect ratio was a little elongated for our tastes, the finger-scrolling worked as smoothly as on an iPhone. The S10-3t can become a decent e-reading device, with the exception of being heavier to hold than most e-readers and having a short battery life (see below for more details).
Included on the S10-3t are a suite of touch-specific apps from a launcher called NaturalTouch, including photo browser, media player and e-book/document reader. These are nicely designed for use specifically in tablet mode, with large icons and multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom supported. The idea, though solid in concept, was jittery in execution, and interacted slowly with our gestures. These apps felt speedy and responsive much of the time, but could also suffer from occasional stutter and slowdown. The iPhone and iPad may not have much to fear from this device in pure touch terms, but the S10-3t does have a much better overall touch experience than
The 10.1-inch LED-backlit glossy screen on the IdeaPad S10-3t has a native resolution of 1,024x600 pixels, which is standard for most Netbook screens. On the other hand, many Netbooks have been upgrading to 1,364x768 pixels to more closely match what's available on most laptops and monitors. With only 600 pixels of vertical resolution, many browser windows can end up getting crowded and require extra scrolling. Video and text looked sharp on the screen, but we found that black levels would sometimes seem a little washed out depending on the angle; because the S10-3t can flip its display to any viewing position with the press of a button on the front, there are situations where the screen seems to have worse viewing angles than others. The stereo speakers under the screen, though flat-sounding, are louder than speakers in most Netbooks and ideal for watching movies in tablet mode.
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 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|
At a starting price point of $549, you'd expect the S10-3t to have some notable features beyond its touch display. You do get better-than-average Netbook specs, but only in the high-end $649 config we tested. A 250GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM, a faster Atom N470 processor, and even Bluetooth are included. In our version, Windows 7 Home Premium in 32-bit form is the included OS, which handily beats the Windows 7 Starter that's in the low and mid-range S10-3t models.
Though most Atom Netbooks are cut from the same cloth in terms of the processor inside (currently an Intel Atom N450), the IdeaPad S10-3t offers the new, higher-end N470 as an option in its higher-end config. This is the first N470 system we've seen, but there isn't a huge amount to get excited about. The N470 did have slightly faster benchmark times on single-task performance, but not enough to warrant any money spent to upgrade; any Atom processor is still far slower than nearly any other laptop processor on the market. It does the job for basic Web browsing, office programs, and casual gaming, but we were disappointed at how the S10-3t handled streaming Web video and Flash-heavy applications. Full-screen Hulu, even in lower-res mode, was hard to enjoy.