Lenovo IdeaPad U110 review: Lenovo IdeaPad U110

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The Good Gorgeous design; lightweight, yet solid construction; sharp screen resolution; comfortable keyboard; ships with two batteries.

The Bad Lacks a built-in optical drive; glossy screen finish sometimes produces annoying reflections; piano finish on keyboard is prone to smudges; fixed configuration can't be customized; no WWAN option.

The Bottom Line The 11.1-inch Lenovo IdeaPad U110 is the most beautiful laptop we've seen in years, and behind those good looks is a well-appointed, fairly priced ultraportable. Despite a few minor nitpicks, we recommend the IdeaPad U110 to those who want a lightweight, eye-catching laptop for frequent travel.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8
  • Support 6

The Lenovo IdeaPad U110 looks more like an object of art than a piece of consumer electronics. The tendril pattern etched into its aluminum lid (available in black or red) and the patterned vents on its base both bring to mind an illuminated manuscript or a fine textile. But a laptop it is, and for its $1,899 price tag, the IdeaPad U110 is a pretty good ultraportable. Despite its compact size, the IdeaPad U110's screen and keyboard are comfortable to use for long stretches. Its case is stocked with current-generation components and a decent set of features--though media fanatics should note that its DVD burner is an external drive. The fastidious should also note that the very shine that makes the laptop so appealing is easily dulled by fingerprints. Despite these imperfections, the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 offers a combination of price, features, and performance that's competitive with such ultraportables as the Toshiba Portege R500 and the Sony VAIO TZ150, inside a package of unparalleled beauty.

Price $1,899
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500
Memory 2GB of 667MHz
Hard drive 120GB at 4,200rpm
Chipset Intel 965GM Express
2.9 / 3.6 pounds with 7-cell battery Intel GMA X3100 (integrated)
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 10.8x7.7x0.72 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.4 / 3.1 pounds with 4-cell battery
Category ultraportable

The Lenovo IdeaPad U110 is imperceptibly smaller than one of our favorite 11.1-inch ultraportables, the Sony VAIO TZ150. It gives up 2 inches in screen size to the 13.3-inch MacBook Air, but the U110 weighs a full pound less (when using its four-cell battery). Toshiba's Portege R500, on the other hand, weighs less--just 1.7 pounds--and gives you an extra inch with its 12-inch screen. Aside from its diminutive size and stunning design, the IdeaPad U110 is remarkable in its sturdy construction, thanks to an aluminum cover and magnesium-aluminum case.

The sturdy construction seems to owe something to Lenovo's business-focused ThinkPad line. But the IdeaPad U110 is considerably different from the company's other flagship ultraportable, the $2,476 ThinkPad X300. The latter maintains the familiar ThinkPad DNA--rectangular black case, great keyboard, and such corporate-friendly features as WWAN and a Trusted Platform Module--while still allowing for innovation in design and cutting-edge components. The IdeaPad U110, on the other hand, is focused on the consumer market, and as such gives Lenovo more freedom to experiment with design while still incorporating new technologies. Speaking more concretely, the 11.1-inch, 2.4-pound IdeaPad U110 is considerably smaller than the 13.3-inch, 3.4-pound ThinkPad X300.

The entire keyboard deck on the IdeaPad U110--including the keyboard, touch pad, mouse buttons, and quick-launch keys--is one flush surface, all in a glossy piano finish. At first the flatness of the keys, and the lack of space between them, had us worried about typing comfort. But closer inspection revealed that the keys have a slightly concave surface, and while the keyboard did feel noticeably less than full-size, typing was remarkably comfortable and error-free. Part of the reason: Lenovo extended the keyboard quite nearly to the edges of the system, similar to the HP 2133 Mini-Note, to accommodate larger keys than would ordinarily be found on such a compact laptop. Unfortunately a concession had to be made when it came to the touch pad; the IdeaPad U110's narrow depth means the touch pad sits uncomfortably low on the keyboard deck, and its mouse buttons are part of the laptop's front edge. We were able to complete a day's work with this setup, but would likely want to pack a travel mouse for better ergonomics on lengthy trips. Also, the meticulous among us might be put off by the shiny interior, which easily picks up fingerprints. (Lenovo does include a chamois cloth to help you keep the IdeaPad U110 looking sharp.)

Above the keyboard you'll find another stunning aesthetic touch: a row of glowing orange launch buttons, framed with a curling ivy design evocative of the IdeaPad U110's etched lid. The keys, which include a button to launch an audio manager as well as two keys that launch programs of your choice, appear only when you run your finger across the black panel above the keyboard. To the right of these "hidden" keys sit light-touch volume controls (mute, volume up and down) that are always illuminated. On the far left side are the power button and the Novo button, which provides quick system recovery should you lose the battle against a computer virus; during times of peace the Novo button toggles among different power settings to help you manage battery life.

We like the IdeaPad U110's display, which measures just 11.1 inches diagonal but features a sharp 1,366x768 native resolution. The result is a screen that has plenty of room for Web browsing, e-mail, and office applications, though we did find ourselves squinting as the day wore on. Some of the discomfort that comes with working on a small laptop is mitigated by the fact that the IdeaPad U110's lid is slightly angled, so there's a little extra distance between the screen and the keyboard. This setup is adequate for working on the road, but if the IdeaPad U110 is your primary computer you'll likely want to hook it up to an external monitor when you're at your home base.

The display itself is what Lenovo calls a "frameless screen," meaning the screen surface is flush with the edges of the lid. The designation is a bit inaccurate, because there is still a black bezel around the screen; nevertheless, the flush surface mirrors that of the keyboard deck and enhances the overall aesthetic appeal. Our only real complaint lies in the screen's highly reflective finish, which proved particularly distracting when we were working close to a window. Above the screen sits a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, which works with the included VeriFace face-recognition software to let you use your mug to log into Windows.

  Lenovo IdeaPad U110 Average for ultraportable category
Video VGA-out, Webcam VGA-out
Audio Stereo speakers with Dolby Virtual Surround, headphone/microphone jacks Headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader 2 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 PC Card or ExpressCard slot
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 a/g, Bluetooth Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive External DVD burner None, or DVD burner

With a laptop this small, there are inevitably concessions to be made when it comes to ports and connections. Fortunately, the IdeaPad U110 squeezes in a healthy selection that includes three USB ports and an ExpressCard slot. The latter will be particularly useful to those who need mobile broadband, because Lenovo currently does not offer a built-in WWAN option with the IdeaPad U110. (The option is available on the company's business-oriented ThinkPad line.) More of a concern to some users will be the laptop's lack of a built-in optical drive. Every IdeaPad U110 does ship with a relatively lightweight external DVD burner, but those who want to travel light will have to do without the capability to read discs on the run.

Inside the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 you'll find a low-voltage 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 CPU. Use of a low-voltage processor, designed to reduce heat output in small cases, often results in sluggish performance. But the IdeaPad U110 ran faster than Lenovo's recent business ultraportable, the ThinkPad X300, on some portions of CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, most likely due to its processor's faster clock speed. Neither Windows system could keep up with the Apple MacBook Air when it came to our Multimedia multitasking test; because this test uses a handful of Apple applications, the MacBook Air reaped some benefits from running OS X. However, the gap narrowed when it came to our Photoshop and iTunes tests, and we can say anecdotally that during our use the IdeaPad U110 juggled Web surfing, document typing, and music streaming without hiccups.

It's worth mentioning that the IdeaPad U110 is currently available in only one fixed configuration, which simplifies the shopping process but also prevents users from customizing their system with higher-end components, such as a solid-state hard drive (as found in the MacBook Air and the Toshiba Portege R500).

When it comes to battery life, the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 is both disappointing and satisfying. That's because Lenovo ships two batteries with every IdeaPad U110: a four-cell battery that lasted 1 hour, 27 minutes on our drain test, and a seven-cell battery that lasted nearly 3 hours. (Our drain test is particularly taxing, so you can expect more life from typical Windows use. In fact, we were able to squeeze about four hours out of the extended battery during our use.) The lightweight, four-cell battery sits flush with the IdeaPad U110's case, while the seven-cell battery (which is, realistically, the primary battery) adds some bulk--and a half-pound of weight--to the back of the laptop. Still, we applaud Lenovo for giving users the freedom to choose between longer battery life or maximum portability. And the IdeaPad U110's power brick offers some small consolation; almost identical in size and thickness to the fourth-generation iPod, it won't take up too much room in your bag.

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