The Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is the first ultraportable laptop to feature a 12.5-inch display and is packed with an Intel Core i5 processor. A durable metal body and leather accents add to the premium feel, but is this notebook worth the $1,000 price tag? Keep reading to find out.
Specifications for our review unit of the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 are as follows:
The team at Lenovo is better known for the all-business ThinkPad line of professional notebooks than for designing attractive laptops for consumers. That said, the U260 might just be the best looking Lenovo notebook we've ever seen.
Let's get right down to it and say what many people are thinking; the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is about as close as anyone can get to building a MacBook in PC clothing. The U260 isn't a carbon copy of the MacBook, but Lenovo engineers took some of the key design elements that make the MacBook attractive -- a Chiclet-style keyboard, a clean-looking design, a thin and light metal chassis -- and put them into a Windows-based laptop.
Unfortunately, the simple and clean design of the U260 also means that this laptop lacks a number of features you'll find on bulkier, heavier notebooks. For starters, you only get two USB 2.0 ports and no media card reader or ExpressCard slot on this notebook. Two other potential concerns are the fact that the U260 uses an integrated battery (you can't replace the battery yourself) and no easy access panels for replacing the hard drive or upgrading the RAM.
In short, the IdeaPad U260 is essentially stuck the way it is at the time you purchase the notebook. Sure, if you own a set of Torx bits and precision screw drivers you can disassemble the entire notebook to swap out the battery or make additional upgrades, but most consumers are unlikely to go through all that trouble.
Ports and Features
As previously mentioned, the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is far from being the most feature-packed notebook on the market. While many modern laptops have high-speed eSATA or USB 3.0 ports the U260 comes with just two USB 2.0 ports. The U260 has a single headset audio jack that combines both earphone output and microphone input. The notebook also lacks an ExpressCard slot for expansion and also doesn't have a built-in SDHC card reader. On a happier note, this notebook has both VGA and HDMI video output so you can connect this notebook to old business projectors or the latest HDTV at home.
Left: Lock slot, USB 2.0 port, audio jack, Wi-Fi on/off
Right: USB 2.0 port, HDMI, Ethernet, VGA, power jack
The IdeaPad U260 The full-size Chiclet/island-style keyboard has curved keys with plenty of spacing between them. If you're used to the feel of a traditional ThinkPad keyboard then you'll need some time to get used to this one. However, the firm support structure underneath the keyboard and the extra space between keys make typing a generally enjoyable experience.
As previously mentioned, Lenovo uses black leather around the the keyboard and the palm rests. Not only do these palm rests make typing feel great, but they add to the premium fit and finish of the notebook.
Screen and Speakers
The U260 is the first notebook to use a 12.5-inch display with a 720p (1366 x 768) resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio, and LED backlighting. Its matte surface helps prevent glare and reflections; making the screen easier to see under direct sunlight or bright indoor lights. On the other hand, the matte screen also causes a minor decrease in contrast. Our test lab results show the display has a peak brightness of 227 nit with an average contrast ratio of roughly 165:1.
In other words, this screen is easier to read outdoors but doesn't have nearly as much contrast or color saturation as the screen on an 11.6-inch MacBook Air or a 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Horizontal Viewing angles are relatively good and vertical viewing angles are pretty narrow. There is significant color inversion after 20 degrees off-center vertically. This shouldn't be a problem as long as you don't try to view the screen from above or below.
Performance and Benchmarks
The IdeaPad U260 looks and feels like a premium notebook but lacks the overall performance you might expect from a laptop with a $1,000 price tag. The 320GB 5400RPM hard drive in our review unit is one of the slowest you'll likely find in a notebook in this price range. That means the notebook is a little slower to start, slower to launch applications, and slower to access files than most notebooks in the same class.
The Intel integrated graphics also fail to impress. Even the thinner and lighter MacBook Air has reasonably power Nvidia graphics and the much less expensive HP Pavilion dm1z has twice the graphics performance of this machine. Granted, most people buying a premium ultraportable notebook aren't buying it to play games, but more and more applications take advantage of high-performance graphics to speed up tasks like photo and video editing, so the lack of graphics performance will be noticed even by people who don't play games.
The Intel Core i5-470UM processor running at 1.33GHz does have plenty of muscle for daily office tasks, but the processor alone can't overcome the limitations of a slow hard drive and weak graphics. The U260 is hardly the worst performing machine we've tested, but it's troublesome that this laptop delivers real world performance similar to laptops costing less than half the price.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (high scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The U260 has a single-fan cooling system with a heat exhaust at the rear of the chassis. At idle, the notebook feels warmer than most of the 11-inch and 13-inch notebooks we've tested in the last year. The fan noise is also louder than most notebooks at idle. The fan switches between off and on at idle and runs at full blast whenever the system is even slightly stressed. The exterior temperatures proved to be more of a concern than the fan noise during our synthetic benchmark tests. Few modern ultraportbales generate exterior temperatures above 100 degrees Fahreheit after 15 minutes of benchmark tests in our lab but the IdeaPad U260 reached a temperature of 110 degrees ... more than enough to be uncomfortable on your lap.
The U260 has a custom-formed 4-cell Li-Polymer battery. This is essentially the same battery tech used in the Apple MacBook Air but the battery in the IdeaPad U260 doesn't fare as well in terms of overall battery life. With the Windows 7 Balanced power profile active, 70% screen brightness, wireless active, and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds, the U260 lasted 3 hours and 27 minutes. This is a rather unimpressive amount of time considering the fact that we're starting to see more and more 11-inch and 13-inch notebooks that can last more than six or seven hours.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
I have to confess feeling a bit conflicted while writing this review. One one hand I honestly believe this is the most attractive consumer laptop that Lenovo has ever produced. More to the point, the IdeaPad U260 is one of the nicest feeling notebook PCs I've had the pleasure of using.
On the other hand, the U260 is plagued by design compomises, weak performance and a price tag that makes most average consumers ask, "Why not buy a MacBook instead?" The combination of the average Intel Core i5 processor with a slow hard drive and weak Intel integrated graphics translates into less than impressive performance across the board. The lack of high-speed ports, an expansion slot, or a media card reader means consumers can't take advantage of the newest, fastest external storage options and have to buy accessories like USB card readers to use this notebook with their digital cameras.
At the end of the day the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 is a gorgeous laptop that grabs your attention at first glance and then makes you lose interest after you take a closer look. For the current street price of $999-$1,199 it's hard to recommend this over a similarly priced MacBook Air or MacBook.