by Jerry Jackson
The ultra-portable laptop market has never been more active than it has in the last year. Since the introduction of the "netbook" category of small budget notebooks last year our office has been flooded with at least a dozen compact laptops priced well below $500. With so many manufacturers scrambling to create their own "netbooks" it was only a matter of time before Lenovo came to the table with their own value-priced IdeaPad S10.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is a 10-inch netbook with a $439 starting price and some impressive features that help place it a step above the competition. Does the S10 have what it takes to stand out in a market that is becoming increasingly more crowded? Let's take an in-depth look.
Our Lenovo S10 features the following specifications:
Build and Design
The design of the IdeaPad S10 is unsurprisingly similar to other netbooks we've seen in recent months, but Lenovo has managed to include a few pleasant surprises. The exterior is covered in white "pearl-like" plastics with a slight glossy finish. The interior keyboard and palmrest surfaces 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 first appears to be a giant beefy hinge for the 10-inch display is actually the 3-cell battery with a small hinge on either side of the tiny laptop. Overall, the look is quite nice, but the white plastics do give this netbook a slightly "toy like" appearance. When I took the S10 with me and was using it in public with my 2-year-old daughter nearby several other parents asked me if the S10 was a toy laptop for my daughter. That is unfortunate since, as we are about to mention, the S10 is a remarkably capable ultraportable laptop.
The build quality of the IdeaPad S10 is extremely solid for a subnotebook 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.
In terms of upgradeability, the S10 is much easier to upgrade than many netbooks currently on the market. Some of the netbooks we've seen to date require complex disassembly in order for you to get to the storage drive, system RAM, or wireless cards. Even worse, some other netbooks have slots for upgrades but no connections on the motherboard so it is impossible to upgrade them. This is not the case with the S10.
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 we've seen on most 7-inch and 8.9-inch netbooks, but the S10 keyboard is still extremely compact. Most touch typists will probably need some time to figure out proper finger placement on the keyboard in order to avoid making typos. Again, this is nothing new for netbooks, which usually require you to use a "hunt and peck" style of typing rather than traditional touch typing methods. Bottom line, this keyboard isn't designed 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 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 (1024x600) 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
Port selection was pretty impressive on the S10 compared to other netbooks, with the standout features being an ExpressCard slot for additional expansion and built-in Bluetooth for using an external mouse and keyboard without needing to sacrifice one or more of the two USB ports.
In fact, if there isn't much to complain about here other than 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 and Bluetooth 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
This Intel Atom based netbook won't be breaking any speed records, but it performed more than adequately for normal activities. Windows startup took less than 30 seconds and internet browsing, word processing, and even photo editing tasks were downright "snappy." While the 3D graphics benchmark numbers aren't particularly impressive, it's important to keep in mind that netbooks are not designed for playing computer games. The S10 and similar netbooks are 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 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,446 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)
|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)
|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 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||127.172 seconds|
|Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||125.812 seconds
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)
|MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)
|ASUS Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)
|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)
|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 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||N/A
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)
|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|
3DMark03 Graphics Performance Benchmark (higher scores indicate better performance):
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||569 3DMarks|
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)
|MSI Wind (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||589 3DMarks
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T4400, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,622 3DMarks|
HDTune for built-in Hard drive:
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
As we continue to see in our labs, nearly all of the 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 graphics benchmarks. When the relatively weak integrated graphics were 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 graphics, so it shouldn't be an issue for casual web browsing.
Under normal use, backlight at 100 percent and using wireless for web browsing and watching several streaming videos at 75 percent volume, the S10 managed to deliver three hours and 43 minutes of battery life. This is similar to what we've seen from Atom-based netbooks with 3-cell batteries, so there isn't much to complain about here. However, as we've said in the past when reviewing other netbooks, these tiny laptops would make excellent mobile companions if they just had an option for a 6-cell or 8-cell battery for all-day use. In any case, lowering the screen brightness and turning off the wireless card should provide enough battery life for prolonged use with the 3-cell battery.
Is the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 the best netbook currently on the market and the best value for your dollar? Well, the answer isn't simple, particularly considering the way that new netbooks seem to arrive every week. The S10 does several things right that we wish more manufacturers did with their netbooks.
First, Lenovo was smart enough to realize and 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.
Second, the S10 has built-in Bluetooth. Frankly, we're amazed that every netbook doesn't come with built-in Bluetooth since it allows you to connect devices to the netbook without using one of the USB ports.
Last, but certainly not least the S10 combines the surprisingly capable Intel Atom processor with a standard hard drive. While budget SSDs are nice, most consumers can't get over the limited storage capacity of SSDs and that is why hard drives still have a place in netbooks.
On the other hand, the S10 still suffers from some of the same limitations as other netbooks: relatively high temperatures, small battery, and a cramped screen and keyboard.
Ultimately, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is a great ultra-portable laptop priced below $500. However, if you're willing to put up with a bulkier notebook then it's still possible to find a computer with more features and performance for almost the same price on sale.