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Lenovo U300s Ultrabook Review
Lenovo’s U300s marks the official launch of Ultrabooks in India. A new segment coined by Intel, Ultrabooks can be thought of as a more powerful and portable version of a netbook. Apple first made inroads with this segment when they first announced the MacBook Air, a stunningly slim notebook designed for someone who simply wanted ultra-portability and basic computing needs, a perfect companion for the jet-set businessman. Now, with tablets eating their way into the netbook space, Intel had to create another niche where they could be the dominant suppliers of processors and here we are today.
Right now, we just have a handful of Ultrabooks launched. Apart from Lenovo, we have Asus’s UX31 and Acer’s Aspire S3 in this space. Something tells me we are going to see a lot more at CES, next month. Coming back to the U300s, is it really worth the premium? Does spending more than 50K on a high- powered netbook vs a regular notebook make sense? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
The U300s is crafted from a single piece of aluminum, which lends it an extremely classy look. Dressed in graphite grey, instead of silver, the U300s avoids being classified as yet another MacBook Air clone. Having said that, it does bear a striking resemblance to the Air from it’s tapering design and unibody finish. There aren’t any screws or any other eyesores visible, just the plain smooth aluminium finish, which Lenovo have managed to pull off very well.
Slim and sexy
The ports on the side are limited to two USB ports, one of them being 3.0, a headphone and mic combo, HDMI and a one-touch backup button. Notice the lack of a LAN jack or a memory card reader. There is a sizable exhaust vent on the side whereas the intake vents are moved in front of the hinge, so you can place it wherever without the worry of blocking the intake vents.
The Ultrabook stays cool for the most part
The U300s is fitted with a 13.3-inch LED backlit display with a slight glossy finish making images rich and vibrant. There’s a rubber lining all round the edge of the bezel to seal off the notebook when closed, so that no dirt and grime can get in. The best part about this Ultrabook is the keyboard, which is very well laid out with a giant trackpad sitting smack center. The chiclet-styled keyboard is very comfortable and the keys have a good feedback when pressed. The trackpad is reminiscent of the ones used on MacBooks, except that this is not glass. The surface is smooth, however allowing you to easily perform two-finger scrolling or pinch-to-zoom. The Cypress trackpad software also lets you use the entire surface for scrolling instead of just the sides, but for mouse clicks, you’ll have to perform these in the designated areas.
Beautifully large trackpad with good multi-touch gestures
There’s more MacBook emulation with a 3-finger and 4-finger gestures built-in. Swiping four fingers upwards takes you to the desktop, whereas downwards takes you to the Alt + Tab screen showing you the open applications. I have to say, it works well, but it does lack the finesse of the trackpads in the MacBook. Even the scrolling action is a bit jerky most of the times as it's not smooth and effortless as Apple’s devices.
Overall, we are mighty impressed with the build and finish of the U300s. It looks and feels like a premium product (which it is) and Lenovo has done a great job with the aesthetics and ergonomics of the Ultrabook, so kudos to them on that.
Intel has sort of set guidelines to what components can be used, for a notebook to be classified as an Ultrabook. Three phases have been planned keeping in mind the upcoming Ivy Bridge CPUs as well. All current Ultrabooks are in phase one, which means they should be less than 20mm thick, weigh less than 1.4kg, should use flash-based storage and the CPU would be any Core i5 or Core i7 from their new CULV range. This is something similar to what Microsoft did with WP7, they made sure manufacturers stuck with a pre-determined set of components, so the experience is even. The U300s falls well within these guidelines with a thickness of just 14.9mm and weight of 1.36kg.
Very neatly designed power and battery status lights
Powering the U300s is the Core i5 2467M CPU, running at 1.6GHz with a Turbo frequency of up to 2.3GHz. This is based on the same Sandy Bridge architecture and feature HyperThreading with a low TDP of 17W. Other components include 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 128GB SSD for storage. Lenovo bundles the Ultrabook with Windows 7 Home Premium along with Google Chrome and a trial version of Office 2010. Thankfully, they’ve kept the bloatware to a bare minimum this time and haven’t installed any silly anti-virus software or other unwanted junkware. There’s just the program for the One Key recovery button and YouCam, which is a software for the webcam.
Thanks to the solid state drive, Windows in general, is very responsive and so are the applications. You could easily be doing multiple tasks like streaming a video, working on a document with music playing in the background, with no problem at all. We’ve compared the U300s to the MSI GE620, simply to see the performance difference with the new CULV CPU and the standard Core i5. The raw number crunching capabilities of Sandy Bridge takes a backseat, albeit slightly with this model and even though it seems like a slouch on paper, you won’t notice this difference in the real world. We didn’t bother with 3DMark Vantage, since this doesn’t have a dedicated GPU.
Lacks a bit of raw power but nothing too noticeable
The 13.3-inch screen is perfect for work or watching a video and with a decent 1366 x 768 resolution, the picture quality is fairly sharp and vivid with no major banding noticeable. The Utrabook also runs quite cool and silently thanks to the ‘Breathable Keyboard’, which packs in the patented cooling technology from Intel. The grooves for the keys are a tiny bit larger than the keys themselves, so cool air can be sucked in. When stressed, though, the bottom portion does tend to heat up quickly, which can get a bit uncomfortable. Speaking of uncomfortable, the edges of the notebook are quite sharp as well so, not so much as to cut you, but it’s noticeable especially near your wrists while typing. We also wish Lenovo would have added a back-lit keyboard at the premium they are charging, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. One particular annoyance that we came across was that the large trackpad got in the way of typing every once in a while, causing the cursor to jump around.
Very comfortable keyboard, shame it's not backlit
Surprisingly, the audio quality is pretty good considering it’s coming from such a small enclosure. This is mostly due to the SRS effects, which help enhance the sound. This means it’s good for multimedia, if you ever wanted to watch a movie with a bunch of friends.
With the unibody aluminum chassis, we have lost the privilege of removing the battery ourselves. Although Lenovo claims 8hrs of battery life, the max we could push it to be 5hrs and 30min. Battery Eater Pro recorded about 2hrs and 50min, which is strictly average. This should be just about enough for a full days worth of work or a one way plane journey, given you use it carefully.
At Rs.67,990, it is a little bit cheaper than a similarly spec’d MacBook Air, but overall, it’s still pretty steep. If Lenovo dropped the price to about 45-50K, then it would make a very good buy. Sure it may not have a LAN jack, but honestly, I didn’t find the lack of it to be a problem, mostly because you’ll be on Wi-Fi all the time. The omission of a memory card reader could be a problem if you use it a lot. For this price, Lenovo could have at least thrown in back-lit keys to sweeten the deal a bit.
The U300s being the first Ultrabook we tested, we can’t help, but be quite impressed with what Intel has envisioned. It’s perfect for carrying around and has everything one would typically need in a notebook, minus the extra bulk and unnecessary features. The all-aluminum chassis is a welcome change. We have to give props to Lenovo for doing a really good job with the design and aesthetics of the notebook. Currently, the pricing may be one of the main factors holding this notebook back. You can certainly get a more powerful notebook for this money, but then that’s missing the point. The audience for this niche segment already exists, all we need now are more options and cheaper prices.