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Lenovo gets real with new lineup

The company with the legacy of expensive, well-designed laptop PCs is facing reality and selling lower-cost, better performing mobile computers.

It's the time of year when PC makers start announcing their new lineups for the summer and fall. One thing is very clear: Lenovo is stepping up its game.

The Chinese PC maker that has enjoyed much success from the iconic ThinkPad business notebook has faltered when it has come to consumer PCs in the U.S. But the new Netbook, notebooks, and all-in-one desktop that the company plans to announce Tuesday show it has had a reality check on pricing and the kind of features consumers are looking for.

Probably the product most indicative of Lenovo's shifted approach to consumer computing is a 13-inch notebook called the IdeaPad U350. As is the trend with notebooks now, it measures just an inch thick, weighs 3.5 pounds, and sports an attractive metallic finish. But the inside is more interesting: The U350 will come loaded with an Intel CULV (consumer ultra-low voltage) chip.

Lenovo's new IdeaPad U350 Lenovo

The CULV is Intel's newest chip, a low-voltage dual core chip for mobile PCs. It promises better battery life (the U350 says it will get four hours). But Lenovo is one of the first to use it. So far the only other company to announce using it is Acer, in its TimeLine notebook series.

And while getting one of these out ahead of Hewlett-Packard or Dell is aggressive, so is the price: the U350 starts at $649. For a full-featured notebook PC, that's a huge departure for Lenovo, noted Bob O'Donnell, PC analyst at IDC.

"$649 is good. Acer is at $599 (with its 13-inch TimeLine notebook), but Lenovo is in the ballpark and that is critical for them," he said.

While Lenovo certainly knows how to make a thin and light notebook--see the ThinkPad--it hasn't quite translated its expertise to pricing of consumer-oriented notebooks. But now Lenovo is clearly getting real: Without stating it directly, Lenovo has basically said that the U350 is going to take the place place of the IdeaPad U110 in terms of its importance to Lenovo's overall lineup. The U110, launched at CES 2008, was also a slick, thin, lightweight laptop, but at $1,899 it cost gobs more money than the U350 does now. It will be eventually phased out.

Lenovo's new Netbook is on the large side, but comes with the option of discrete graphics with Nvidia's Ion processor. Lenovo

"The days of them being able to sell a $2,000 ultraportable is coming to an end. Not just Lenovo, but for everyone," said O'Donnell. "They're just recognizing reality now. People are seeing mini-notebooks and CULV chips and they see they can get the equivalent of what used to be a $2,000 notebook now for significantly less. If they want to play, they have to hit these really aggressive price points."

Another aggressive move by Lenovo is its newest Netbook. At 12 inches, it's on the large side for a Netbook, but it also comes with the option of discrete graphics with Nvidia's Ion processor. The option of serious graphics on a Netbook makes the case that this is intended to be used as everyday computer, not just as a companion device, as some other Netbook models have been pitched. (Check out CNET Reviews editor Scott Stein's take here.)

Lenovo is also launching the C330 all-in-one desktop. It's an Atom-powered desktop with the display and motherboard in a single case, a trendy desktop form factor we keep seeing. It sports a 20-inch display, is 2 inches thick, and is in a similar vein to the IdeaCentre A600 all-in-one launched at CES this year. But this one is much less expensive, starting at $449. It beats most others like Shuttle, Dell, HP, and Asus on price in this category, but it does lack the touchscreen that those others have.

These products (along with the Lenovo G550, a 15.6-inch laptop for $599) show promise for Lenovo, but much of their success is going to come down to retail shelf space. Lenovo's availability at retail in the U.S. hasn't historically been great. The company says it's "still in talks" with various retailers about these new products and isn't ready yet to announce who they are just yet. Until then, they'll be available at starting at the end of June.

all in one
Lenovo's new C330 all-in-one desktop Lenovo