Lenovo's new Ultrabook features a 13.3-inch display, Core i7 processor and 256GB SSD. Those are nice specs for a premium thin and light laptop, but are the build quality problems a deal breaker?
BUILD AND DESIGN
The U300s is thin as expected from an Ultrabook; it measures just 0.6 inches high and a tick less than three pounds.
The chassis relies not on an internal frame but on its external magnesium alloy shell for strength. While the metal feels solid, it doesn’t lend enough support; the chassis is easy to flex as is the lid. This isn’t a desirable characteristic in a well-traveled computer as it allows the internal circuit boards to flex; it can lead to premature failure down the line.
I like how the overall design of the notebook is somewhat understated. The gray metal has a matte finish and a quality look. When closed the U300s resembles a book, however those edges (around the lid and bottom of the chassis) are quite sharp. Is such a tradeoff worth the look? Not really.
Overall the design is pleasing though the chassis strength leaves something to be desired. As with most Ultrabooks, the U300s isn't easy to upgrade on your own; there are no access panels on the bottom to swap out RAM or the storage drive.
Ports and Features
Ultrabooks don't come with the a lot of ports but the U300s manages to do worse. Its lack of a media card reader is surprising and seems like an oversight on Lenovo's part. The U300s has just two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), HDMI, and a headphone/microphone combination jack; that’s it. It does not have a VGA port either.
Front: Power LED
Left: Recovery button, cooling exhaust vent, USB 2.0 port
Right: Headphone/microphone combination jack, USB 3.0 port, HDMI, AC power jack
Screen and Speakers
The 13.3-inch display is vanilla; it has a standard 1366x768 (720p) resolution and a glossy surface. The glossy surface has some usability issues since it reflects light which might be fine for a notebook that stays on the desk but for a notebook that’s used in a variety of lighting conditions, it’s not. The display has a washed-out look and the vertical viewing angles are too narrow as it quickly washes out when viewed more than a few degrees off-center. Despite that, I wish the display tilted back a bit further.
Two stereo speakers are located inside the chassis. They sound muffled and are rather tinny. The U300s' has a microphone/headphone combination jack which is a much better choice for audio-related activities.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard is quiet and has a good layout. Other Ultrabooks we have tested have compromised on the keyboard to some effect; the U300s, other than the key travel being a bit short (distance between pressed and un-pressed positions) does rather well. The keyboard is quiet and has sufficient tactile feedback. I wouldn’t have a problem using this keyboard every day. The only feature it lacks is backlighting (the Toshiba Z830/Z835 has backlighting but the feel isn’t as good as the U300s).
The Synaptics touchpad is actually a clickpad; press down anywhere to produce a click; there are no dedicated buttons. The anti-glare surface is easy to track on. This clickpad is reasonably accurate though the amount of pressure required to create a click varies (it’s harder to press down closer to the top). At the end of the day I would still prefer a traditional touchpad with separate buttons.
Our Lenovo IdeaPad U300s review unit has the following specifications:
These specifications are the best we've seen in an Ultrabook; the dual-core i7 processor is the fastest available and the 256GB SSD is the highest capacity model we have seen. Ultrabooks are not available with dedicated graphics cards though. Note the shockingly high price; other Ultrabooks we've tested including the ASUS UX31 and Toshiba Z835 have been around or under the $1,000 mark. The U300s includes an extra-large 256GB SSD and faster i7 processor but even then, it's questionable whether it's worth an extra few hundred dollars.
PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS
The U300s' has great performance for everyday use including office productivity and even more demanding tasks such as Photoshop. While the i7 dual-core processor is plenty fast, the difference between it and a comparable dual-core i3 or i5 will not be noticeable to most users.
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 performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The single fan on the left side of the U300s remains on most of the time but is quiet and non-intrusive. At maximum speed, it develops a slight whine but continues to be ignorable. The notebook chassis itself remains cool to the touch, even under benchmarking load.
The U300s delivered seven hours, 40 minutes of battery 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 in line with what we have come to expect from Ultrabooks.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
The IdeaPad U300s is a solid entry into the Ultrabook market; it's mostly successful but stumbles in a few noticeable areas. While I like the design, the chassis is too easy to flex, which leads to some concerns about long-term reliability. The screen is nothing special with barely adequate picture quality. Last but not least it lacks a media card reader.
On the plus side, the U300s has a great keyboard – the best we’ve seen on an Ultrabook thus far. It measures just 0.6 inches thin and is less than three pounds; combined with almost eight hours of battery life the U300s makes a great travel companion. Last but not least it has plenty of performance for everyday use.
Then there’s the matter of price; at $1,449.99, this fully loaded U300s is considered very expensive for an Ultrabook; the Toshiba Z835 we tested was just $800. The Toshiba had half the storage and a slower processor, but even with the beefy specs, the U300s' price is hard to justify. A few hundred dollars needs to be knocked off before "value" can be used in the same sentence.
Overall we can recommend the U300s if you can get it for the right price – and assuming you can deal without a media card reader.