Lenovo IdeaPad U350 Review

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Overview

  • Pros

    • Excellent build quality
    • Design looks and feels good
    • Pre-wired for WWAN
  • Cons

    • Weak CPU in our test system
    • Touchpad buttons require deep press

The Lenovo IdeaPad U350 is a 13.3″ thin and light notebook based on the Intel CULV platform. It offers Intel processors ranging from the single-core SU2700 to the dual-core SU7300 with up to 4GB of DDR3 memory and your choice of 4-cell or 8-cell batteries for extended battery life. In this review of the Lenovo IdeaPad U350 we take a look at how well it performs in a wide range of tasks, including time away from the power outlet, to see if this is indeed the perfect travel companion.

Our Lenovo IdeaPad U350 Specifications:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium with SP2 (Now available with Windows 7 64-bit)
  • Intel Pentium SU2700 CULV (1.3GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB cache)
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (1066MHz)
  • 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • 13.3-inch diagonal WXGA (glossy, 1366×768)
  • Intel X4500M integrated graphics
  • Intel 5100AGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, 2-in-1 SD-Card reader, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Dimensions: (LxWxH) 12.9″ x 9.0″ x 0.7-1.0″
  • Weight: 3lb 10.3oz (not including weight of AC adapter).
  • 4-cell 41Wh battery
  • One-year standard warranty
  • MSRP: $749

Build and Design
The Lenovo IdeaPad series has always featured unique designs compared to other Lenovo notebooks, and the U350 is likewise a unique-looking laptop. For starters, the U350 features a cross-weave texture imprinted on the top of the screen cover where most notebooks are only covered with glossy paint. This gives the user a completely different tactile experience: you can feel the difference in texture the moment you touch this laptop. I think it looks kind of cool and unique, but not everyone will agree with that. Inside the U350 you’ll find a plastic palmrest painted with a brushed metalic finish to simulate the look of metal. This is one design element I don’t agree with, since it gives the illusion of better construction than what plastic provides.

Build quality is still very good thanks to a solid chassis and durable components throughout. The plastic exterior feels strong with very little flex even under moderate pressure. The textured plastic lid not only looks nice, but hides day-to-day abuse by making scratches blend in with the imprinted pattern. It also does a very good job at hiding smudges and fingerprints compared to laptops with glossy plastic exteriors. Inside, the palmrest and keyboard feel solid under the weight of your hands and arms. The chassis doesn’t twist or flex when you hold the notebook by the edge of the palmrest. In short, the laptop feels like it should stay in one piece over its lifetime.

People who like to tinker with computers or add aftermarket features will really enjoy the way Lenovo built the IdeaPad U350. A single panel on the bottom of the notebook gives you access to the hard drive, system memory, WiFi card, and an open WWAN slot. While Lenovo doesn’t currently offer a WWAN option on the U350 series, the notebook comes prewired with capped off antenna leads in case you want to install your own 3G card. There is a slot for a SIM card underneath the battery for those consumers needing GSM-based WWAN options. We couldn’t find any explicit “warranty void if removed” stickers inside the notebook, but there were some Lenovo-branded stickers covering the edges of the RAM, Wi-Fi card screws, and heatsink screws which may be used to indicate tampering.

Screen and Speakers
The 13.3″ screen is average, providing decent color and contrast but suffering from noticeably shallow viewing angles. Low-quality TN display panels are normal since most of the thin-and-light notebooks costing very little, but some displays are better than others. For standard activities like browsing the web or typing documents you don’t really notice the color shift, but when viewing pictures or watching a dark movie the color shift is very noticeable and distracting. Vertical viewing angles are good until about 10 degrees forward or back when colors start to shift considerably. Horizontal viewing angles are a little better as colors remain true except at very steep angles. The screen backlight level is rated at 200nit by Lenovo, and in our testing it works very well under bright office lights. The screen isn’t quite powerful enough to overpower the reflections off the glossy screen outdoors under direct sunlight.

The speakers are fine for listening to streaming radio or the occasional TV show. That said, headphones are a much better option to really enjoy music and movies from this notebook thanks to the weak bass and midrange from the built-in speakers. Another alternative is using the HDMI-out to pass digital audio to a home stereo.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard is great for typing and the 13″ form-factor is the perfect compromise between size and user comfort. Too much smaller and the palmrest won’t actually support your wrists. Any larger and the notebook becomes too large to be travel friendly. Key action is smooth and quiet with a very mild click emitted when you fully press a key. Key wiggle is minimal and each key top is solidly attached to the scissor mechanism below. We didn’t notice any keyboard flex unless we pressed down very forcefully on the keys. In short, the keyboard on the U350 easily ranks as one of the nicest ones we’ve used on a thin-and-light notebook.

The IdeaPad U350 offers a spacious Synaptics touchpad that is one of the better models we’ve seen in this form-factor of notebook. The surface texture is mildly rough and gives good traction without making it difficult to slide your finger across when moist. Speed and accuracy are great and we barely noticed any lag in our tests. Refresh rate of the touchpad surface is very good and prevents any “stutter” like what we’ve recently seen on a few Synaptics touchpads. The acceleration on each axis is adequately matched and helps guarantee that cursor movement on the screen matches your finger movement on the touchpad. The touchpad buttons were excellent thanks to a soft, springy action with a very long throw. The only complaint I have regarding the buttons is you need to make a full press all the way down as far as the buttons will go, otherwise you don’t fully engage the button.


Ports and Features

Port selection is very good with three USB ports, VGA and HDMI-out, gigabit LAN, audio in/out, and an SDHC card slot. The SDHC-slot is spring loaded, but doesn’t allow the card to sit flush in the slot. When you fully insert a standard SDHC card into the slot it still sticks out partially. Don’t expect to see a built-in optical drive in this notebook, so if you plan on reinstalling the OS or ripping DVDs, pick up an external USB optical drive. Multimedia keys are limited to a mute button and a direct access button to the Lenovo recovery software suite.


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