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Lenovo IdeaPad S12 review: Lenovo IdeaPad S12

Lenovo IdeaPad S12

Scott Stein
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
6 min read

When we first heard Lenovo had an IdeaPad S12 on its way, we were expecting the long-anticipated Nvidia Ion-packing version, which will include graphics power decent enough to accomplish HD video and even some demanding gaming. Instead, we got a configuration that includes an Intel Atom N270 processor and GMA 950 graphics--essentially the same configuration as any current Netbook.


Lenovo IdeaPad S12

The Good

Excellent keyboard; bright, crisp screen; ExpressCard slot.

The Bad

Same old Atom N270 processor.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for a comfortable Netbook with a 12-inch screen, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 feels comfortable and light--but at this size, we wish it had an Intel CULV processor.

The IdeaPad S12 does, however, have a 12-inch screen and full keyboard, giving this Netbook more of a laptop feel. (Of course, it comes with a premium Netbook price tag: $499.) Just don't expect more than a larger version of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 Netbook. The S12 is an excellent compromise for a notebook, but thin-and-light ultralow-voltage-processor laptops, such as the Acer Aspire Timeline 3810T and MSI X-340give a lot more bang, albeit for more bucks.

The IdeaPad S12 comes in two processor flavors: one with a Via Nano ULV (a newer processor than the Atom, but less powerful than Core 2 Duo and Solo CULV processors) and one with an Intel Atom N270. Our configuration was an Atom, but it should be noted that the Nano is even cheaper (and in our own tests with Nano processors, they can perform quite well). The S12 also comes in black or white; ours was black.

From a design standpoint, the S12 looks like a larger brother of the recently revamped Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 Netbook. Compact and well-proportioned, the outer matte-black plastic case is topped with a glossy plastic lid patterned in a subtle series of varying polka dots. It's a smudge collector, but attractive. Inside, smooth matte-black plastic surrounds the keyboard, while the 12-inch glossy screen is surrounded in likewise glossy plastic. It looks professional and stylishly austere, not unlike a ThinkPad. The full keyboard feels great, and the touch pad is an improvement on the S10-2 in terms of size. It feels like a "real" laptop.

Above the keyboard are a few dedicated buttons for volume control and muting, along with a QuickStart button that launches a Splashtop instant-on operating system. The browser, music player, and photo viewer in this OS are serviceable and load faster than booting up XP, but the fastest way to "boot" is still keeping the S12 in standby and reawakening as needed. Facial recognition security software that operates off the Webcam and a OneKey backup/data recovery hot button are also included.

The 12.1-inch glossy LCD has a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The effect of having a larger screen, especially in the vertical dimension, is critical for ease of use when browsing the Web and working on office documents. The added screen real estate really made a difference on our productivity, as opposed to the 10.2-inch IdeaPad S10-2. While the added screen and keyboard size obviously increases the unit's bulk, it's a trade-off that really makes the Netbook far more usable. It's up to you whether portability or productivity matters more, but it's a distinction that's a key defining point between the two models' philosophies.

Whereas the S10-2 dropped a useful ExpressCard slot found on its predecessor--the S10--the S12 has one. It's useful for 3G cards and other accessories that expand the limited connectivity options of Netbooks. Not having 802.11n Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is a disappointment, however, as these could have helped further justify the $150 price difference between the S12 from the S10-2.

The included 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor is very familiar to us--it's the chip that's in nearly all mid-2009 Netbooks. Not surprisingly, this meant Netbook-level performance in our benchmark tests. The IdeaPad S12 doesn't do multitasking well, but handles basic office applications, Web browsing, and media playback fine. Larger full-screen videos, however, suffered some stuttering in our anecdotal usage--it's not a video powerhouse by any means.

As you can see from our comparison charts, The IdeaPad S12 performed as well as the Toshiba Mini NB205 and HP Mini 110. However, thin-and-lights such as the Acer Aspire 3810T and MSI X-340 completely outperformed the Atom-packing S12. And they should: the Windows Vista-running 3810T and X-340 have Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Solo ULV processors, which are far more powerful. While the 3810T originally cost $899 and the X-340 cost $799, they can be found on sale for cheaper, raising the question: why not spend a few hundred more and upgrade to one of these?

Of course, this makes us hunger even more for the Ion-equipped S12 that's reportedly on its way by late summer/early fall 2009. Not only will that S12 reportedly run HD video with ease, it will also come with an HDMI-out port. As far as cost and performance are concerned, that Ion S12 is a mystery. The good news is that the S12 form factor is a success. In this iteration, however, it feels incomplete.

Juice box
Lenovo Ideapad S12 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.96
Sleep (10 percent) 1.11
Idle (25 percent) 6.82
Load (5 percent) 38.27
Raw kWh 37.72
Annual energy cost $4.28

The included six-cell battery delivered 4 hours and 37 minutes in our video-playback test. That's good performance from a Netbook, but there are ultraportables out there that do far better, including the Asus Eee PC 1005HA, which got an amazing 6 hours and 51 minutes on our test. For casual office use and Web browsing, your battery life will fare even better.

Lenovo includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $129, or $219 with accidental damage protection. Mail-in service is required. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledgebase, and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Jalbum photo conversion test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Lenovo Ideapad S12
Windows XP Home SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Hitachi 5400rpm

Toshiba Mini NB205
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Toshiba 5400rpm

MSI X-340
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo U3500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 781MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Fujitsu 5400rpm

HP Mini 110
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Seagate 5400rpm

Acer Aspire 3810T
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 500GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Find out more about how we test laptops.


Lenovo IdeaPad S12

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5Battery 7Support 8
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