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Lenovo IdeaPad U260 review: Lenovo IdeaPad U260

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

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.

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When it comes to design in ultraportables, it's hard to top Apple's MacBook Air. That doesn't stop competitors from trying, though. The Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is a bold, high-design 12.5-inch laptop that's thin, light, and very easy on the eye. What it isn't, however, is affordable: at a starting price of $899, the IdeaPad U260 qualifies as high end for most consumers, although it is a bit more affordable than Apple's 11-inch Air. It's undeniably well-designed, too, but whether the IdeaPad U260 is for you depends on if design matters more than performance and battery life.

Lenovo IdeaPad U260 087634U Clementine Orange Intel® Core™ i5-470UM (1.33GHz 800MHz 3MB)
7.2

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

The Good

Eye-catching, premium design; excellent keyboard and touch pad; lightweight chassis; extremely comfortable ergonomics.

The Bad

Underperforming CPU; sub-3-hour battery life disappoints, considering the power-saving processor.

The Bottom Line

The Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is a sleekly designed, beautifully constructed 12-inch ultraportable; it's just a shame its world-class looks are undermined by a less-than-stellar battery.

A very light chassis, beautifully textured surfaces, a great keyboard, and other quality finishing touches come with some solid, though not overwhelming, specs: a Core i5 ULV processor, 320GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM, along with a couple of USB ports and HDMI. If its unimpressive battery life were better, we would have considered the U260 to be one of the best ultraportables we've ever used; as it is, consider the IdeaPad U260 a fascinating, if flawed, experiment in high-end Lenovo design.

Price as reviewed / starting price$1,049 / $899
Processor1.33GHz Intel Core i5 U470
Memory4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM
Hard drive320GB 5,400rpm
ChipsetIntel HM55
GraphicsIntel GMA HD
Operating SystemWindows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD)12.5 x 8.0 inches
Height0.7 inch
Screen size (diagonal)12.5 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter3.0 / 3.5 pounds
CategoryUltraportable

The IdeaPad U260 is one of the first laptops to feature a 12.5-inch screen, making this ultraportable feel like a very svelte 13-inch laptop in everyday use. The design of the U260 is its biggest win: from its compact jewel-box-like packaging down to the colors, clean lines, and textured surfaces throughout, the U260 looks and feels like a luxury laptop.

Available in either brown or orange (we chose orange for our review sample), the wider-than-normal U260 caught the attention of many casual eyes around the CNET offices. Flush lines and an integrated battery give the U260 a pleasing wafer-thin look, though it's hardly as thin as a MacBook Air. The colored wrap-around magnesium lid covers the top and bottom of the U260, sandwiching the black interior inside.

As good as the U260 looks, it feels even better to the touch: a rubberized outer surface offers great grip and hides fingerprints, and a leather-like textured palm rest area is one of the comfiest we've ever felt against our wrists. Inset in the middle is a full raised keyboard similar to the design we've seen in the ThinkPad Edge series. Slightly concave keys cradle fingertips perfectly, and the keys are well spaced. A column of page up/down keys on the right side mar the experience slightly, forcing the Enter/Shift keys into the middle of the keyboard, and the keyboard exhibited a bit more flex than the standard ThinkPad, but it's better than any other ultraportable outside of the MacBook Air.

A single power button above the keyboard lies between small stereo speaker grilles, and a few status indicator icons light up stylishly in small grids of white LED lights. Framed by the glossy black-bezeled screen above, the U260 has a pleasingly restrained, composed look. Volume and brightness controls are relegated to function-combination buttons on the d-arrow pad. Unfortunately, there are no function-reversed control keys.

The glass multitouch touch pad is a bit small and has dedicated buttons beneath instead of a clickpad-style interface, but it's otherwise responsive and offers a similar level of traction to Apple's clickpads. One drawback: with frequent use, the black touch pad developed a patch of oily fingerprint smudges that were hard to remove.

We're not saying all parts of the U260 experience smell of roses, however: we found the IdeaPad U260's boot-up time and general responsiveness to be sluggish compared with other laptops, which is largely because of the CULV Intel processor, which operates at a lower clock speed. We also weren't wild about the annoying smiley face icon called the Lenovo Smile Dock that kept appearing onscreen, which launched a toolbar with various program shortcuts. The toolbar can be deactivated, but it's a nuisance. Pop-up virus software warnings and other preinstalled bloatware spam occur in other Windows laptops, too, but in a premium product like the U260 it comes off as tacky.

The glossy, 16:9 LED-backlit 12.5-inch display on the IdeaPad U260 has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for most midsize laptops. The screen's unique size sounds jarring at first, but in use it feels nearly the same as a 13-inch. Icons and text were easy to read, and videos and pictures played back with vivid color and brightness.

The stereo speakers embedded in grilles above the keyboard had decent enough sound for the U260's size, but weren't notably excellent. The 0.3-megapixel Webcam has a maximum image resolution of 640x480 pixels, and comes packed with Cyberlink YouCam software. It's a standard Webcam with no premium functionality.


Lenovo IdeaPad U260Average for category [Ultraportable]
VideoVGA-out, HDMIVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jackStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data2 USB 2.03 USB 2.0, SD card reader
ExpansionNoneNone
NetworkingEthernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, BluetoothEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical driveNoneNone

The IdeaPad U260 has Bluetooth, but only two USB 2.0 ports along its edges. The sparse collection of ports is a bit of a letdown: there is room for more, especially since the U260 lacks an optical drive. We were surprised that the U260 lacks an SD card slot, too; even 10-inch Lenovo Netbooks come with SD card compatibility.

The IdeaPad U260 has a limited number of configurations, with a choice of a 1.33GHz Intel Core i3-380UM CPU or a 1.33GHz Core i5-470UM CPU. Our review unit was the top-of-the-line $1,049 version, in Clementine Orange, with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. Opting for Mocha Brown and the Core i3 CULV processor will save you a few hundred dollars, at $899; and all configurations come with the same hard drive and RAM. Lenovo currently has an additional promotion on its site to save an extra $200 off certain U260 models, which could be worth your while if you're thinking of picking one up. At $699 to $799, we feel a lot more bullish about this laptop's value proposition.

The Core i5-470UM CPU is one we've seen before, in the Dell Vostro V130. The Vostro is a similarly sized 13-inch laptop with an appealingly thin portable frame, but poor battery life. The IdeaPad U260, though boasting a better battery life, doesn't fare all that much differently. Intel's CULV processors aren't to be confused with their similarly branded standard-voltage siblings. While a "normal" standard-voltage Core i5 is great for most everyday use, the lower-performing, energy-saving Core i5-470UM CULV in this laptop feels sluggish on boot-ups, and though it will perform most everyday tasks well (and far better than any Netbook), including HD video streaming, its benchmark speeds lag well behind most mainstream 13-inch laptops. If you consider the IdeaPad U260 an ultraportable, it will likely exceed your expectations as a computer. If you consider it a full-fledged laptop, you may be disappointed.

The IdeaPad U260 has integrated Intel graphics, which allow for basic casual games and HD video playback, but won't satisfy anyone looking to edit or create high-res videos or play more graphically intensive mainstream games. This laptop doesn't yet feature Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors, which offer more-robust integrated graphics.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Asus U35Jc-A1
736

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118

992

Dell Vostro V130

1,192

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

1,201

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Asus U35Jc-A1
118

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118

135

Dell Vostro V130

174

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

178

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Asus U35Jc-A1
156

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118

167

Dell Vostro V130

219

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

227

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118
280

Asus U35Jc-A1

238

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

172

Dell Vostro V130

129

Annual power consumption cost

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118

$3.75

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

$4.20

Asus U35Jc-A1

$4.73

Dell Vostro V130

$5

Juice box
IdeaPad U260Average watts per hour
Off (60%)0.4
Sleep (10%)0.63
Idle (25%)9.84
Load (05%)29.15
Raw kWh number36.97
Annual energy cost$4.20

The Lenovo IdeaPad U260's battery lasted 2 hours and 42 minutes using our video playback battery drain test, and that's hands-down the biggest disappointment on the U260 overall. We've never been wild about the battery-life savings or lack thereof in this past generation of Intel Core i-series ULV processors, but in an ultraportable this size we'd expect, at the least, 3 hours-plus of battery life--ideally, more like 5. Using the U260 at CES 2011, the battery life represented the biggest downfall to our productivity.

Lenovo includes a basic one-year warranty with the IdeaPad U260, which can be extended up to three years for an additional $99 on Lenovo's Web site, or with accidental damage protection for an additional $299. Lenovo's site offers helpful and easy-to-navigate documentation, and a toll-free 24-7 phone number is easy to find.

System configurations:

Lenovo IdeaPad U260
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Core i5 U470; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus U35Jc-A1
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4Hz Intel Core i3 M370; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 310M + 64MB (Dedicated) Mobile Intel GMA MHD; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Dell Vostro V130
Windows 7 Professional; 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 U470; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Western Digital 7,200rpm

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.46GHz Intel Core i7-680UM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Lenovo IdeaPad U260 087634U Clementine Orange Intel® Core™ i5-470UM (1.33GHz 800MHz 3MB)
7.2

Lenovo IdeaPad U260

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 8Battery 6Support 7