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Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Netbook: Not a first look

A new Lenovo S10 Netbook arrives in a beaten-up box and gets returned without booting once.

I just got a Lenovo S10 Netbook computer and couldn't have been more enthusiastic about kicking the tires. As I've written before, I think Netbooks will be very big, and this was to be my first.

So this posting should have been a first look. I should be offering my opinion on whether the keyboard is too small, what it's like to use Windows XP on such a small screen, and how hot the thing gets. But I didn't get that far.

After a delay in getting the machine the box arrived all beat up. Not unusual, of course, but computers are normally so well packaged that it doesn't matter. Not this time.

My first impression was that the box had been opened in transit; two sides weren't sealed at all. As you can see below, a golf ball easily fit in the open sides of the box.

The golf ball points up three problems:

  • Something could have fallen out or been purposely removed during shipping.
  • The cardboard was thin, closer to a manila envelope than something protective.
  • It didn't appear that the box had been vandalized, rather two sides were never sealed in the first place.

In a nutshell, the contents were not well protected in transit.

As I examined the box and turned it over, stuff was rattling inside. I've had more than my fair share of computers mailed to me, and never before did a box arrive with stuff rattling around inside.

I removed the 4-inch strip of tape that held the outside box closed and found the computer and a white box inside as shown below.

The white interior box was the source of the rattling. As you can see in the picture below, the battery and the AC adapter are together in the box and neither was covered. There was a plastic bag in the box, but it wasn't wrapped around anything.

That Lenovo would ship a battery in a plastic bag without cushioning is, to me, poor judgment--a corner that should not have been cut. That Lenovo would ship the battery without the plastic bag actually covering the thing is poor quality control.

Am I overreacting? After all, it's a $400 laptop. Perhaps, but lithium-ion batteries are a well-known fire hazard. In normal use I'm sure they are safe, but one mistake that you can make with a lithium-ion battery is banging it. According to PC Pitstop:

There are numerous conditions where these fires can occur in real life. Faulty battery packs (driving the recalls), faulty protection circuits inside the PC, exposure to excessive heat, and blunt force are some of the major ways that this could happen to you.

Shipping an unprotected, unwrapped battery right next to a hard object is risking "blunt force."

The Department of Transportation no longer allows lithium-ion batteries in checked baggage when flying. As for carry-on bags they say that "you may still carry any number of some types of lithium batteries, such as the ones used in cell phones and most laptop computers, provided you take measures to protect terminals." Why the different policies for checked vs. carry-on bags? "In the passenger compartment, flight crews can better monitor safety conditions to prevent an incident, and can access fire extinguishers, if an incident does happen."

To further illustrate the danger, the Department of Transportation offers these suggestions for flying with a loose lithium-ion battery:

  • Place tape across the battery's contacts to isolate terminals. Isolating terminals prevents short-circuiting.
  • If original packaging is not available, effectively insulate battery terminals by isolating spare batteries from contact with other batteries and metal. Place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package. Do not permit a loose battery to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys, or jewelry.
  • Take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting a high degree of pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.

As for the S10 itself, I never removed the plastic covering the computer. It's going back.

As I was deciding whether to keep the computer or not, Lenovo e-mailed a receipt for the purchase. The receipt arrived a couple days after the computer arrived, and eight days after the initial order. There was a link in the e-mail message (www.lenovo.com/products/us/returns) for how to return a purchase, but it's broken. Instead of the return policy, the link results in "There were no items matching your search." This is on top of the shipping delay because UPS said there was no label on the box.

Lenovo ThinkPads have an excellent reputation, but an IdeaPad is not a ThinkPad. The S10, in particular, is a whole new product category, one for which there is no pre-existing reputation. So things boil down to confidence and Lenovo did not inspire confidence.

My next hassle is trying to convince Lenovo not to charge me the $60 restocking fee. If you're thinking of buying a Lenovo computer, be aware that machines sold on their Web site are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee. You may be better off at a local retailer with a more liberal return policy.

Update: Unboxing other Netbooks

  • The Dell Mini 9 comes wrapped in heavy cardboard and seems to have the battery already inserted.
  • The battery for the MSI Wind U90 ships in plastic bubble-wrap. The computer itself comes in box inside another box.
  • The Acer Aspire One battery is wrapped in plastic and seems cushioned by cardboard to keep it from moving in transit (2 minutes, 10 seconds into video).
  • Laptop magazine got a very early copy of the Lenovo S10 and unboxed it on video. First point they made was that it might not be the final retail boxing. Still, their battery, like mine, shipped naked.
  • Brand Linder at Liliputing did an unboxing video of the Asus Eee PC 100H. It shipped as a box within a box and the battery was protected by plastic bubble-wrap.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.