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Lenovo IdeaPad U300s review: Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

Much has been made (certainly by us) of Intel's plans to promote a new "Ultrabook" laptop designation, which refers to something along the lines of an 11- to 13-inch laptop, less than 18 millimeters thick, with SSD storage, and running on current-gen Core i-series processors. Of all the Ultrabook laptops we've seen so far, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is the most eye-catching, with its completely flat design, booklike profile, and muted orange color (basic silver/gray is also available).

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

The Good

Lenovo's <b>IdeaPad U300s</b> is the coolest-looking of the new generation of Ultrabook laptops, and packs in a large SSD drive, USB 3.0, and more.

The Bad

Our more expensive configuration offers no discount from a comparable MacBook Air, and leaves out some basic ports and connections.

The Bottom Line

Lenovo's stylish U300s Ultrabook is one of the best-looking Windows laptops we've seen and matches Apple's MacBook Air nearly spec for spec. The entry-level version is $100 less than Apple's, but that discount vanishes on the higher-end model.

This flagship of the IdeaPad U series has a 13.3-inch display, up to a Core i7 processor (ULV), and up to a 256GB SSD, but is just 0.6 inch thick. The less expensive of two available configurations matches up with the low-end MacBook Air, with a 128GB SSD and Intel Core i5 CPU, but the Lenovo is about $100 less, at $1,195 versus $1,299. Our review unit is the higher-end model, which has a Core i7 CPU and 256GB SSD. This version is $1,595, and is virtually the same as a comparable $1,599 MacBook Air.

With the $100 discount, plus extras the MacBook lacks, such as HDMI and USB 3.0, the less-expensive U300s makes a very compelling case, especially when you factor in the excellent build quality and unbeatable keyboard. Our higher-end model is a tougher sell, and unless you're specifically tied to Windows (and don't want to dual-boot with OS X), we'd still probably recommend going with the elegant 256GB version of the MacBook Air if you have $1,600 to spend. But if you are spending top dollar on a native Windows superslim laptop right now, the IdeaPad U300s is easily one of the best.

Price as reviewed / starting price $1,595 / $1,195
Processor 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 256GB SSD
Chipset Intel UM67
Graphics Intel HD3000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.8x8.5 inches
Height 0.6 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.9 pounds / 3.5 pounds
Category 13-inch

This is a sharp-looking system with a bit more of a buttoned-down look, even in orange, than some of the more colorful plastic IdeaPad laptops we've seen. The body is made from a single sandblasted sheet of aluminum, and the top and bottom lips stick out a tiny bit, creating a booklike silhouette when the laptop is closed. The U300s interestingly has no bottom vents, instead pushing heat out through the hinge vents, as well as through what Lenovo calls a "breathable keyboard."

The orange version is offset with a matte black interior; the gray model is monochromatic throughout, except for the black key faces. The keyboard sits in a slightly indented keyboard tray area, which we always think is a nice upscale touch. It's similar to what you'd find in other recent IdeaPad models, a variation on the popular island-style keyboard. The difference in the Lenovo version is that instead of perfectly square keys, these bow out slightly at the bottom, making it easier to catch the bottom edge of the key for those of us who are not perfect typists. The touch pad is a large glass type, much like you'd find on a MacBook, with the left and right mouse buttons integrated into the pad itself.

A handful of interesting software apps come preinstalled, including Lenovo OneKey Recovery, which works with a small, hard-to-notice button on the left edge of the system. If your laptop won't boot into Windows, and you've made a backup, hitting this button will attempt to restore from the backup, which could prove very useful if you find yourself frozen out of your machine. You also get Computrace LoJack for Laptops, which in the era of Apple's Find My iPhone iOS app seems like much less of an extravagance (a limited-time subscription is included).

The 13.3-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is typical of a 13-inch laptop. But, for $1,600, we're not wrong in expecting a little more. Many more-expensive 13-inch laptops have 1,600x900-pixel displays, and even Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air has a 1,440x900-pixel resolution (although that's only because Apple stubbornly sticks with a 16:10 aspect ratio for almost all its laptop displays, while everyone else has moved to 16:9). The screen itself was excellent, with good horizontal off-axis viewing angles, although an edge-to-edge glass overlay would have been a nice extra touch.

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Average for category [13-inch]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None DVD burner

One clear advantage that the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s has over the MacBook Air is its selection of ports and connections, which include both USB 3.0 and an HDMI output, neither of which you'll find on any Apple laptop. You do miss out on a few features, however, including a separate mic input, VGA output, and even an SD card slot. All of these are achievable with USB external devices, but make sure you're not going to need one of these missing features on a daily basis before committing to this system.

You do get Intel's Wireless Display technology, which sends the laptop's video output to a sold-separately receiver box that can hook to your television or another external monitor via HDMI. It's great for sharing videos or presentations, for example.

We tested the higher-end $1,595 U300s configuration, which has an Intel Core i7-2677M CPU and a 256GB SSD; the $1,195 version has a Core i5-2457M and only a 128GB SSD. In our benchmark tests, the U300s was a strong performer, faster than the Acer Aspire S3 and Samsung Series 9 (both ultrathin Intel Core i5 laptops), but falling behind the Core i5 MacBook Air and the Toshiba R835, a non-ultrathin 13-inch laptop. The trade-up to a Core i7 CPU hardly seems worth it for everyday tasks, as this is a low-voltage version of the CPU, but we'd consider paying for the upgraded model just to get the huge 256GB SSD.

Juice box
Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.7
Sleep (10%) 0.86
Idle (25%) 6.53
Load (05%) 32.63
Raw kWh number 33.03
Annual energy cost $3.75

Annual power consumption cost

Battery life is a key feature for a thin, light laptop. The U300s did better than another recent Ultrabook, the Acer Aspire S3, but still came nowhere near the MacBook Air. In our video playback battery drain test, the IdeaPad U300s ran for 5 hours and 14 minutes, nearly an hour longer than the Acer, but that's still about 1.5 hours less than the 13-inch MacBook Air. For general Web surfing and productivity, you'll probably get an additional hour or so, though remember to close the lid while not using the system. Like other Ultrabooks, the U300s claims to hold a charge for up to 30 days of standby time, much like a MacBook, but we haven't had our review unit long enough to confirm this.

Lenovo includes a standard one-year parts and labor mail-in warranty, with several add-on options for mail-in or in-home service, at prices that change with frequent discounts, but are usually around $150 for a three-year extension with in-home service. Lenovo's support online resources are typically well-organized and easy to navigate, and the company's support phone lines are open 24-7.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 256GB JMicron 616 SSD

Acer Aspire S3-951-6646
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm + 20GB SSD

Apple MacBook Air (13.3-inch, Summer 2011)
OS X 10.7 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 128GB Apple SSD

Samsung 9 Series NP900X3A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 128GB Samsung SSD

Asus U31SD-A1
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 520M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 640GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Toshiba Portege R835-P56X
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1,696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 640GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 8Support 7