By Brett Weinstein (NBR forum user Nrbelex)
The Lenovo IdeaPad U450p is a thin-and-light, 14” widescreen notebook introduced in August 2009 to the brand's preexisting line of U-series portable, consumer laptops. The U450 fills the gap between the 13” U350and 15.4” U550. The U-series notebooks are advertised as stylish, portable, multimedia machines with Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) chipsets and thin LED screens. So has Lenovo managed to blend the perfect mix of performance and portability? Read on to find out!
Lenovo IdeaPad U450 Specifications:
The configuration reviewed here is the 33892GU which features an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 Processor (1.30GHz 800MHz 3MB) and dedicated ATI Radeon HD4330 512MB video card.
The Lenovo U450 is black with a plastic casing and gently rounded corners and edges. The lid and area surrounding the keyboard (including the palm-rests) have a tactile, checkerboard-like pattern which resists smudging, fingerprints and scratching. Some may find this pattern distracting or annoying after prolonged use, but we see it as a nice design choice which gives this the otherwise plasticky case a bit of class and differentiates it from the shiny plastic all too common recently. The screen lid has a metallic, plastic Lenovo emblem embedded in the upper left. The bezel around the screen is shiny, smooth, black plastic and the hinges connecting it to the body seem fairly typical – plastic on the exterior and not overly tight or loose. The laptop is held closed by the tension of the hinges. A fan is located on the left. The back has no ports and simply holds the battery in place. White indicator LEDs for A/C power, the battery, wireless status, hard drive usage and the touchpad (on/off ) are on the bottom left of the case. The power button is to the left of the keyboard and the Lenovo OneKey (for recovery, backups, etc.) is directly above it.
Overall the laptop is well put together with every component fairly sturdy. The palm-rests and casing hardly flex and are well supported. The screen flexes and can be twisted slightly, but this is expected for a laptop of this thinness - a screen this thin simply can't be perfectly rigid. The fan is well positioned (for right-handed people) and has never gotten overly hot.
The hard drive and DVD drive are considered “fixed” (non-removable) and upgrades and repairs will therefore be tough, requiring some navigation through the laptop's internal components. After working with Thinkpads and Dell laptops with easily removed hard drives and CD-drives (often in a swappable port), this was a bit of a bummer, but is pretty par for the course for consumer laptops.
The underside provides access to one RAM SO-DIMM via two easily removed screws, a plastic-dummy-plugged SIM card slot via a simple lid, and three screws for access to the keyboard and internal components below it.
The hinges could be a little more sturdy and the materials could be a little more high-end, but the actual build quality is high. The most striking elements of the design are the cross-hatched pattern throughout the entire case and the laptop's thinness. While somewhat wide at 14”, the front of the laptop is actually less than 1” off the desk. We've found 14” to be a great size for a laptop, and this is no exception; its dimensions combined with its very manageable wight make it perfect for travel and airplane tray tables, but equally usable daily on a desk.
Screen and Speakers
The screen is a 14.0" WXGA (1366x768 - 16:9 aspect ratio), TFT LED backlight glossy. Lenovo measures it at 220 nits with a 500:1 contrast ratio. A 1.3-megapixel, fixed focus webcam sits above the screen in the bezel. The screen is free of dead pixels, fairly bright at its brightest setting, and can be turned off by hitting Fn+F2. Whites are slightly cooler and possibly more accurate compared to a couple older laptop screens – likely a characteristic of the relatively new LED backlighting. Colors are vibrant and text is sharp. The native resolution is pretty much ideal for a laptop of this size. A casual inspection in an unlit room reveals no light leakage or hotspots.
Left to right viewing angles are surprisingly good, but up to down viewing angles are typical to slightly weak. The “sweet spot” is large enough that it shouldn't cause problems. The screen can only fold backwards to about 125°– a bit of a surprise, but hardly a problem. If WXGA and glossy screens work for you, this laptop's screen doesn't fall short. The ATI Catalyst Control panel (included with the discreet graphics card) gives plenty of tweaking options. Combined with the video card, the screen is great for multimedia, light gaming and anything requiring a mid-level GPU.
Two speakers are positioned to the left and right directly above the keyboard. Lenovo calls this a “Dolby Home Sound Room premium audio system with two stereo speakers,” but it would be more accurately characterized as slightly better than typical for a laptop. They get fairly loud, but the louder the volume, the tinnier the sound. Bass is lacking at best. The headphone jack or HDMI port are going to be essential for any serious music playing (more on this later). Volume up, down and mute buttons adorn the right side of the case beside the keyboard. To be honest, the speakers aren't terrible for a laptop, and probably a bit above average, but when external speakers are available, they will obviously be preferable.
The keyboard on this laptop is slightly better than average. The spacing, size of the keys and the feel of the keyboard are all strong. Stroke distance and the feel of the movement are ideal and clearly influenced by the Thinkpad design. The sound of the keys is solid while slightly muted. There is some flex in the keyboard when serious pressure is applied, getting worse from left to right, but nothing noticeable under normal typing usage. Unique features of the keyboard include a shrunken, narrow Windows flag key between Ctrl and Alt on the left of the space bar, and an Fn key as the leftmost key next to Ctrl. The caps lock and num lock (F8) keys have white LEDs in them to show when activated. There is no number pad, but the orange Fn key gives access to a variety of additional buttons including volume and brightness controls on the arrow keys. Overall, it could have a little less flex, but generally it exceeds the quality of most consumer laptop keyboards.
The Synaptics touchpad is typical with a fairly wide area for movement and two separate oversized, metalicized plastic buttons below. The material is smooth, slightly matte plastic and comfortable and easy to run a finger across. The speed is appropriate out of the box. The rightmost section of the touchpad has a line of barely tangible orange dots which indicate that a finger can be slid up or down to scroll. Multi-touch is supported. The touchpad is nothing special, but gets the job done. A microphone is located just to the left of it, so recording sound while using the touchpad or typing might cause some conflict.
Input & Output Ports
On the left side are two USB ports next to each other (but decently spaced for wide USB dongles), a Gigabit ethernet port, an HDMI port (HDCP-compliant), a VGA port, the fan, the AC plug and a lock slot.
This is a pretty good mix of ports in good locations. The headphone jack could cause problems for people who use a mouse immediately to the right of the laptop, but otherwise, nothing essential is missing or poorly placed. The laptop lacks expansion ports like an express-card or PC-card slot, but 3 USB ports basically excuse this. An S-video port, FireWire port and swappable bay would also be nice, but certainly aren't essential – especially in a laptop in this class.
The 3.5mm headphone/audio jack gives a tiny bit of high pitched feedback at all volumes when plugged in to the wall. When unplugged the pitch drops and becomes slightly more noticeable. This isn't a major problem and is fairly typical for laptops, but it's worth noting for the audiophiles out there. An external sound card will be necessary for unadulterated sound.
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