The 14-inch all-metal IdeaPad U400 is an impressive MacBook Pro competitor that offers good performance and six hours of battery life for $879. Keep reading to find out if Lenovo can deliver a killer premium notebook at a fair price.
Build and Design
The IdeaPad U400 is a departure from the standard Lenovo IdeaPad notebooks of the past; it has a metal exoskeleton instead of the plastic (albeit sturdy) shells that have dominated this line for a long time. As few pieces of metal as possible were used in the construction, lending the U400 a clean look. At less than an inch thick and 4.3 pounds the U400 is easy to carry around.
The actual design of the U400s is reminiscent of the Apple MacBook; it's a little too similar for my taste. It's clean but not sophisticated. The build quality is excellent overall; there is no chassis flex. The metal lid provides good protection; pressing in on the back doesn't yield any ripples on the screen. The lid can be opened with one hand and that is very convenient. Something I don't like about the design is the rather sharp edge around the display and bottom of the chassis; a more rounded-off design is preferred.
Those planning to upgrade the U400 should think again; this notebook has no user-accessible panels for changing out the memory or hard drive. Additionally the battery is not removable. If you're looking at this notebook as a Apple competitor then it makes sense: Most MacBook owners don't upgrade components.
Ports and Features
The U400 has a scant selection of ports; it has three USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), HDMI, and a slot-load DVD burner. It lacks VGA (remember this if you need to hook up to projectors), DisplayPort, and shockingly enough, there's no media card reader; I can't remember the last time I reviewed a notebook (or even a netbook) without one. Those of you with digital cameras – be prepared to carry around a USB adapter for your SD cards.
Lenovo is taking a gamble that most of its customer base will not need extra ports – it's a rather risky gamble in this reviewer’s opinion. Something else I'm not sold on is the lack of status lights; there is no hard drive or wireless indicator lights. There is a very faint power light on the front of the chassis; the power button itself is not illuminated. All picture descriptions shown below are listed from left to right.
Left: Cooling exhaust vent, Ethernet, USB 3.0 port
Right: Headphone/microphone combo jack, 2x USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, slot-load DVD drive, AC power jack
Screen and Speakers
The U400 has an anemic 14-inch display. It is no different than those found on budget notebooks; the picture quality is below average. Colors appear dull and washed out. I was surprised at the extremely narrow viewing angles; moving the display just 5 degrees off-center causes distortion. Another issue is the brightness; I found myself wanting a bit more.
Additionally the display suffers from usability issues due to the glossy surface; there are a lot of reflections in well-lit areas.
The speakers are hidden inside the chassis; the sound is muffled and tinny with no bass. This is an example of form over function; ideally the speakers would be behind grilles and project sound into the air. The U400 has a headphone jack; beware that it also functions as the microphone jack, so if you have a headset with two plugs you can only use one of them.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Lenovo recently switched most of its IdeaPad notebooks to a Chiclet or island-style keyboard. The design fits with the MacBook theme. I like how the keyboard is completely integrated and not simply a key tray sitting in a cutout.
What the keyboard has in design it lacks in feel; the feedback is quite linear. The key travel (distance between pressed and resting key positions) is not long enough to allow for a more sophisticated feel. What this all means is that the typing experience simply isn’t engaging. Traditionally-styled keyboards on past IdeaPads I’ve reviewed had a much better feel. Things I like about this keyboard include zero flex and its quietness. I wish the keyboard had backlighting.
The Cypress touchpad is nicely oversized and has an excellent matte surface. This is a clickpad; press down anywhere to produce a click. It's not perfect; clicks take more effort towards the top. For the most part I didn't have accuracy problems though this type of setup is still not as predictable as a standard touchpad with separate buttons. Sometimes my clicks would be slightly off from where I intended them.
Our Lenovo IdeaPad U400 review unit has the following specifications:
These are reasonable specifications for the money; the i5 dual-core processor is more than ample for everyday use including some more intensive work such as Photoshop. The included 750GB hard drive has a lot of space but runs at a pokey 5400RPM, slowing system performance; ideally a 7200RPM drive would be included. The AMD Radeon HD6470M graphics card is sufficient for the occasional 3D game but in no way should the U400 be confused for a gaming notebook.
Performance and Benchmarks
The U400 produced solid benchmark numbers. Not only is it a good performer compared to a MacBook Pro, it gives other premium notebooks a run for the money.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark which measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 is a newer benchmark which measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The single fan remains off most of the time. The fan noise at low speed (which is where it’s at nearly all of the time) is within the realm of "acceptable"; it can be dismissed as background noise. At maximum speed it has a slight whine; the noise can be picked out of background noise from across the room.
The notebook itself thankfully remains cool; no part of the chassis gets more than lukewarm.
The internal battery provided six hours and 15 minutes of life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is a great time for a 14-inch notebook and certainly one of the U400's high points.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
Lenovo is aiming the U400 at potential MacBook customers; it has a similar-looking metal design, gets six hours of battery and comes in nearly $250 cheaper with better specifications. On top of that it is one of the thinner and lighter 14-inch notebooks available today.
Notable downsides of this notebook include the lifeless, low-resolution display, lack of a backlit keyboard and media card reader and inability for users to upgrade components. The lack of a media card reader is unforgivable.
The U400 certainly offers some good looks and performance for the money but aside from the design it offers little over budget notebooks priced at several hundred less.