by Jerry Jackson
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is an attractive netbook that was released last year, but the makers of the ThinkPad have added a brand new 6-cell battery, Quick Start operating system, and facial recognition software for the bargain price of $450. Is the IdeaPad S10 still a fantastic value, or is this netbook starting to show its age?
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is a 10-inch netbook with a $349 starting price and although it might be more than 6 months old at this point, it still offers some impressive features that help place it a step above the competition. When Lenovo dropped the starting price from $439 down to just $349 they also added a 6-cell battery, Quick Start OS, and VeriFace security software to their high-end models priced at $449. Let’s take a closer look at these new features.
Our Lenovo S10 features the following specifications:
- 1.6GHz N270 Intel Atom Processor
- 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz
- Windows XP Home Edition (SP3) and Quick Start OS
- 10.2″ WSVGA AntiGlare TFT with integrated camera 1024×600
- 160GB 5400rpm hard drive
- Intel GMA 950 Integrated Graphics
- Broadcom 11b/g Wi-Fi wireless
- 4-in-1 Media card reader and ExpressCard slot
- 6-Cell Li-ion battery
- Size: 9.8″ x 7.7″ x 1.2″ (including feet)
- Weight: 2.82 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
- Starting price: $349 (with 512MB RAM, 80GB hard drive and 3-cell battery)
- Price as configured: $449
Build and Design
The design of the IdeaPad S10 is completely unchanged, though Lenovo added a number of different color options since the launch of the S10 last year. The exterior of our review unit is covered in an attractive “ruby red” paint with a glossy finish. The interior and battery are covered with matte white plastics with reasonable durability and only a minor bit of flex around the palmrests when you press firmly on those surfaces.
What might look like a giant beefy hinge for the 10-inch display is actually the new 6-cell battery with a small hinge on either side of the tiny laptop. The larger battery doesn’t add much bulk to the netbook, but the two-tone appearance makes this travel laptop look a little too “toy like” compared to many competing netbooks with similar specs.
The build quality of the IdeaPad S10 is extremely solid for a netbook of this size and weight. The construction is mostly plastic but all of the plastics feel strong enough to handle being tossed around inside a bookbag or large purse.
In terms of upgradeability, the S10 is much easier to upgrade than many netbooks currently on the market. This is great news because you only have to remove one small panel if you want to upgrade the storage drive, system RAM, or wireless card. You may indeed decide that you want to upgrade the RAM since Microsoft has strict limitations regarding what types of netbooks qualify for installation of the old Windows XP operating system. If you want to install 2GB of RAM in the S10 you’ll have to do it yourself.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Most low-priced, full-size notebooks currently on the market feature poorly built keyboards that show significant flex/bounce when typing pressure is applied. Thankfully, most netbooks have remarkably firm keyboards due to the fact that the chassis is so small there isn’t much empty space inside the notebook for the keyboard to flex or bounce.
The keyboard on the IdeaPad S10 is less cramped than what you see on an old 7-inch netbook, but compared to modern netbooks with nearly full-sized keyboards the tiny S10 keyboard is starting to show its age. Most touch typists will probably need some time to figure out proper finger placement on the keyboard in order to avoid making typos. While this keyboard feels nice, it’s just too cramped to be used as a primary/main computer. For users who are considering the S10 as their “main computer” in their home or office, a full-size external keyboard and external mouse are recommended.
The touchpad design, while much smaller than a traditional laptop touchpad, is surprisingly nice for a budget netbook. The touchpad in our review unit was a Synaptics touchpad with excellent sensitivity, responsiveness, and smooth tracking. The touchpad buttons are located in the correct position and have nice, deep, well-cushioned presses with a satisfying “click” when pressed. A nice addition to the touchpad was support for Synaptics multi-touch gestures which allow you to do things such as zoom in or zoom out simply by “pinching” or “spreading” the touchpad with your fingertips.
The matte 10.2″ WSVGA (1024×600) AntiGlare TFT display on the S10 is nice and vibrant with rich colors and good contrast. The white levels are very clear and the matte surface prevents glare and reflections which help make the screen easier to read outdoors under bright sunlight.
Horizontal viewing angles are good, so you and a friend won’t have trouble watching a movie on the 8.9-inch screen at the same time. Vertical viewing angles are acceptable, but colors do tend to become darker and slightly inverted when viewed from below.
Ports and Features
When we reviewed the S10 last year we thought port selection is pretty impressive compared to other netbooks, but now that newer netbooks have arrived the port selection on the S10 is looking a little weak. The standout features here is still the ExpressCard slot for additional expansion. Most netbooks don’t have an ExpressCard slot which limits the ability to add extra ports or features later on. Surprisingly, Lenovo decided to remove the built-in Bluetooth option from the S10 … a strange decision considering the benefits of Bluetooth devices for travelers.
If there is anything to complain about here it’s the fact that the S10 has only two USB ports. However, if we had to choose between a third USB port or an ExpressCard slot we will gladly sacrifice the third USB port. Here is a quick tour of what you get:
Front: No ports, just indicator lights and the speakers.
Left: Heat vent, power jack, VGA out, 3-in-1 card reader, and USB
Right: ExpressCard slot, headphone/mic, USB, Ethernet, security lock slot
The IdeaPad S10 still uses the Intel Atom N270 processor common to last year’s netbooks. Although the newer Atom processors aren’t significantly faster, we would have liked to see an update in this department. Nevertheless, the S10 performs more than adequately for normal activities such as web browsing, checking email, or working in Microsoft Office. Windows startup took less than 30 seconds and internet browsing, word processing, and even basic photo editing tasks were downright “snappy.”
Once again, we couldn’t get the S10 to run the Futuremark 3DMark06 synthetic gaming benchmark. Sure, netbooks are not designed for playing computer games, but every other current-generation netbook we’ve seen is able to run 3DMark06. In any case, the S10 and similar netbooks are essentially mobile internet portals and productivity tools for getting some quick work done without needing to carry a giant laptop.
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,478 PCMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,446 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950)||1,535 PCMarks|
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,555 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||746 PCMarks|
|MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||N/A|
|ASUS Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||1,172 PCMarks|
|HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV)||801 PCMarks|
|HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110)||891 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||908 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||1,132 PCMarks|
|Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV)||612 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600)||2,446 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400)||1,152 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)||1,554 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600)||1,839 PCMarks|
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||126.406 seconds|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||127.172 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz)||114.749 seconds|
|Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||125.812 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||123.437 seconds|
|MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||124.656 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)||203.734 seconds|
|HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz)||168.697 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz)||289.156 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)||200.968 seconds|
|Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz)||248.705 seconds|
|Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz)||209.980 seconds|
|Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz)||124.581 seconds|
|Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz)||76.240 seconds|
|Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz)||231.714 seconds|
3DMark06 comparison results:
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||N/A|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||N/A
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950)||92 3DMarks|
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,055 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
Lenovo Quick Start is a Linux Operating System which starts in approximately 10 seconds after you press the power button and allows users to run applications. On the surface this simplified OS is a great way to quickly access your email, share photos, or listen to music. Unfortunately, while loading the initial Quick Start launch page only takes about 10 seconds, each inividual application (Web, Music, Online Games, Photo, Chat, Skype, and Share Your Ideas) requires an additional 20-30 seconds before they load and you can actually do anything.
Honestly, considering that Windows XP on the IdeaPad S10 starts up in less than 30 seconds, there is little (if any) practical advantage in using the Quick Start OS. If you want the S10 to skip the “Quick Start” OS and boot directly into Windows XP you can disable the Quick Start feature in the bios.
Lenovo is nice enough to include their VeriFace facial recognition security software on the new releases of the S10. This application uses the netbook’s built-in webcam to scan your face when you attempt to login to Windows. If the VeriFace application cannot identify you it will not let you access the computer (unless you know the password to override the security program).
Speakers and Audio
The speakers on the IdeaPad S10 are reasonably impressive for a budget netbook. While the two tiny stereo speakers located on the front edge of the netbook produce good volume levels with minimal distortion and acceptable range, it’s worth mentioning the somewhat odd placement.
Since the speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook the sound isn’t being directed up and toward the user when the S10 is used as a laptop. In fact, our staff usually refers to laptop speakers with this type of placement as “crotch speakers” because the speakers are directing sound to your waist rather than your ears. Given the compact design of the S10 there weren’t many other places for the speakers to go, but we’d like to see a different speaker location on next year’s model.
The headphone jack on the S10 works well with the three different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.
Heat and Noise
Most Intel Atom-based netbooks produce a reasonable amount of heat while running. The IdeaPad S10 remained on par with the competition in this regard. Even under normal conditions such as surfing the web, typing documents, or downloading email attachments, exterior temperatures peaked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit after more than 25 minutes of use. Granted, this level of heat isn’t horrible by any means, but it might be a little uncomfortable on your lap after an hour.
The hottest spot on this netbook was the area around the hard drive and RAM. The external temperature readings below (listed in degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded while browsing the Web and running two HDTune tests in a row after approximately 30 minutes of use:
In terms of noise, our review unit of the S10 remained quiet during most of the testing period … except during the synthetic benchmark tests. When the system was stressed during our review the internal cooling fan kicked into high gear. The fan noise wasn’t horrible by any means, but it would be loud enough to get a teacher’s attention in a quiet classroom. Again, this only happened when stressing the S10’s processor and graphics, so it shouldn’t be an issue for casual web browsing.
Under normal use, backlight at 50 percent and using wireless for web browsing and listening to streaming audio at 25 percent volume, the new 6-cell battery managed to deliver six hours and nine minutes of battery life. This is pretty good for a $450 netbook, but the new ASUS Eee PC 1000HE was able to deliver almost nine and a half hours of battery life.
Does the lower price and larger battery option make the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 a great deal despite the newer netbooks on the market? Yes and no.
You can find netbooks from other manufacturers with similar specs for just $399. In fact, several $399 netbooks offer three USB ports, Bluetooth, and better battery life. However, Lenovo was smart enough to realize an ExpressCard slot is important if you want to make a netbook useful. The ExpressCard slot gives you the option of adding more USB ports, FireWire, eSATA, or any number of other ports to the S10. More importantly, the ExpressCard slot makes it easy to add a broadband modem to the S10 so that you can stay connected to the internet anywhere with cell phone reception.
The Quick Start OS and VeriFace software are cool, but not overwhelmingly useful for average consumers. At the end of the day the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is still a great ultra-portable laptop priced below $500, but the competition in the netbook market is getting pretty serious.
- Small and light but well built and durable
- VeriFace provides simple security
- Easy to upgrade RAM and hard drive
- 6-cell battery is great
- ExpressCard slot offers extra expansion options
- Gets a little hot
- Only two USB ports
- Quick Start OS is nice, but not entirely practical
- What happened to Bluetooth?