New models are arriving left, right and centre in the world of super-portable laptops. Some ultrabooks hope to hook you on their looks, while others flex their muscles to catch your eye. Design was clearly down Lenovo's priority list for the IdeaPad U410, as it's stripped away the style to focus on providing decent performance.
My review model came with the latest Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. It's available to buy now for £700.
Design and build quality
If you're after the sort of bright patterns and garish colours usually found on laptops in teenage girls' bedrooms, the U410 isn't going to be the machine for you. It offers a toned down, simple design that's likely to appeal if you'd rather eye up the quarterly reports than gossip with Chantelle about Jade's secret you heard in class today.
The lid is an all-grey affair that's only broken by the Lenovo logo in the top corner. There's no extra pattern going on, nor is there any kind of texture so it's pretty boring, but I still think it has a certain appeal. It's not really got the sort of style that will turn heads at that fancy coffee place near your office, but its sensible looks won't look out of place at a conference.
It's 21mm thick, but unlike a lot of ultrabooks, it isn't wedge-shaped so it keeps that thickness the whole way along. This makes it slightly reminiscent of the shape of Apple's MacBook Pro. Don't expect to fool people into thinking you've spent a couple of grand on a MacBook though -- it's not that similar.
The casing is made from aluminium, which makes it feel very sturdy when closed. There's a little flex when you press down on the lid -- it's not a unibody design after all -- but not nearly enough to cause concern. I'd happily chuck it in a bag and take it off on a rough adventure, although I would worry the matte coating might scuff, so I'd wrap it in a sleeve.
It measures 344mm wide and 235mm deep, which is pretty standard for a 14-inch laptop. You shouldn't have any trouble fitting it into a case or a backpack. With a weight of 1.85kg, you won't need to work out for too long to cope with carrying it around.
Around the edges you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 slots, an HDMI socket, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot and a headphone and microphone jack.
Keyboard and trackpad
Under the lid you'll find a healthy serving of grey plastic surrounding the keys and on the wrist rest. Again, it's hardly attractive, but it's at least functional and is arguably taking aesthetic cues from MacBooks.
The keyboard has black, isolated keys that are easy to press and are well spaced. That should make for a comfortable typing experience, but sadly, Lenovo has made crucial keys like shift, enter and backspace smaller than normal, which caused me to inadvertently press the wrong ones, leading to lots of mistakes. I'm sure you'd get used to it after a while, but it's not the easiest keyboard I've used.
The trackpad is perfectly pleasant though. It's a clickable pad, dispensing with dedicated buttons, meaning you have the whole surface available to swipe your finger around. I found it to be pretty responsive and the buttons are easy to click, which made sending the cursor flying during fast web browsing that much easier.
The U410's 14-inch screen offers a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's about the minimum I'd expect to see on a laptop of this size. I'd have liked to have seen Lenovo offer a 1,600x900-pixel display to make everything sharper, but it would likely have pushed the price up, so this is a fair compromise.
Icons and small text are generally sharp -- they look a lot better than those on HP's Envy 6, which has a 15-inch screen with the same resolution. It's certainly not going to challenge the MacBook Pro's 'retina' display or Dell's Inspiron 15R Special Edition, which is Full HD, but it will do the job adequately for most office tasks.
It's rather bright and handles colours well, so if you plan on kicking back and streaming movies, TV shows or a few of your favourite YouTube clips, it will cope fine. The only thing to watch out for is the glossy screen, which I found to be quite reflective -- something that could become a problem if you use it under harsh office lights or in direct sunlight.
Trapped inside that dark grey lid is an Intel Core i5-317U processor clocked at 1.7GHz, along with a hearty 8GB of RAM. The chip is from Intel's latest Ivy Bridge range of processors that offer improved graphics performance over their predecessors, known as Sandy Bridge. I've been impressed with this new silicon in laptops like the Toshiba X870 already, so I was keen to see what the U410 was capable of.
To see how it stacks up against the other ultrabooks out there, I booted up the PCMark05 and Geekbench benchmark tests and was given scores of 6,774 and 7,430 respectively. While those aren't exactly mind-blowing, they're still very respectable for a laptop, considering the price. I've certainly seen worse.
By comparison, HP's Envy 6 managed around 6,900 on the Geekbench test, so the Lenovo just has the edge in terms of raw horsepower -- although I doubt you'd ever notice such a difference. In my own use, I found the U410 to be very responsive, loading programs and menus quickly and without annoying delays.
The extra graphics power of the Ivy Bridge processor will lend a hand with more intense tasks like photo editing. Indeed, it took only 9 minutes 20 seconds to encode my 1080p resolution video file into 24 frames per second H.264 video, which is a very respectable time. The 8GB of RAM will help out with video editing, but I don't expect it will cope too well if you forced it to handle complex high-definition video projects.
That RAM also helped it handle multi-tasking extremely well, with no discernible lag when opening windows and files. This was true even when I had a whole host of web browser tabs open, streaming video and playing music and video files in VLC Media Player and Windows Media Player.
Although Ivy Bridge processors have more graphics grunt, that extra power is designed to give a helping hand with tasks like high-definition video playback, rather than gaming. To help with that, Lenovo has slapped in an Nvidia GeForce 610M graphics chip. I ran the 3DMark06 graphics benchmark test and was given a score of 2,280, which isn't particularly burly.
You shouldn't expect to run the latest, shiniest 3D games like Battlefield 3, Crysis 2 or Skyrim on this thing -- unless you knock the settings back to the bare bones. But it should handle older titles like Half Life 2 fairly well.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U410 might not be the most slim or stylish ultrabook on the market, nor does it have the most impressive screen. But it's sturdily built and dishes out a decent helping of power for a reasonable price.
If you need a laptop for general work on the go and don't intend to challenge it with highly demanding tasks then the U410 might be worth a look. Make sure you check out the competition at this price -- my round-up of the best laptops for under £1,000 features highly-rated £700 machines like the Toshiba Satellite L875-10G and Acer Aspire Timeline U M3.