Top 10 ultraportable laptops

With screen sizes under 14 inches and weight under 4 pounds, ultraportable laptops strike an appealing balance between portability and performance

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Best-of-breed input ergonomics
Super stylish

Median performance

Bottom Line: This ultraportable achieves only median performance, but its style, keyboard,and touchpad will wow you.

Despite generations of sober-looking, utilitarian forebears and a name that conjures up memories of a bad Matthew McConaughey WWII submarine movie, Lenovo's IdeaPad U260 ($1199 as of January 21, 2011) goes somewhere the company's laptops never went before--into the queue for this year's style and design awards.

Not only is the U260 is stylish for a Lenovo laptop, but it gives Apple and Sony something to think about. When closed and viewed from the back, with its dark copper shell (Lenovo calls the color "mocha brown") protruding ever so slightly beyond the black main body, this 0.75-inch-thick ultraportable laptop resembles an extravagantly bound book or pad-holder.

When opened, the IdeaPad U260 presents you with an all-black, minimally populated keyboard deck consisting of a smallish power button, an ambient light sensor that the laptop uses to adjust display brightness automatically, a tiny OneKey system recovery button (accessible only by means of a pointy object), the best Chiclet-style keyboard I've ever typed on, and an equally elegant touchpad with wonderfully smooth-operating buttons. In a major break with tradition, Lenovo does not include an eraserhead or nubbin pointing device.

Its striking style aside, the U260 earned mixed results in our PCWorld Labs' tests. Strengths of the configuration we looked at included an Intel Core i5 470UM CPU, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and a 12.5-inch color display with 1388 by 766 resolution. However, the 320GB hard drive spins at just 5400 rpm, which undoubtedly played a major restraining role in the U260's pedestrian WorldBench 6 score of 75. If Lenovo offers an update later this spring when Intel ships its dual-core and ultra-low-voltage Sandy Bridge CPUs, the laptop's performance should get a nice boost.

Gaming frame rates on our test machine were in the teens (or worse), owing to Intel's integrated graphics. On the other hand, every video we threw at the system played smoothly, even at 1080p, so you can count on pleasant movie viewing with this model. Sound is so-so, and rather quiet through the speaker.

The U260's array of ports consists of two USB 2.0, VGA and HDMI video outputs, an AC jack, a gigabit ethernet port, and a single combination microphone/headphone jack. This last spec means that you'll have to rely on the laptop's integrated Bluetooth if you want to use a headset with it, but you can use the mic built into the 640-by-480-pixel Webcam in lieu of an add-in microphone. There's no internal optical drive, and the wireless is 802.11n.

You can get the U260 with a lesser Core i3-380UM processor for $1099 and in "Clementine orange" for $1249. All models were on sale at $200 off list price at the time of this writing--a bargain.

Though the U260 is thin, it's not particularly light for an ultraportable. It weighs 3 pounds without AC adapter or external optical drive.It also has an unusually solid feel for a laptop of its class.

Lenovo includes 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium as the operating system and throws in a couple of nice utilities but no productivity software. The VeriFace facial recognition software is quite cool, as is the shock sensor and the Cyberlink Webcam utility.

The U260 combines Lenovo's traditional strengths with a new-found sense of style. It's an average performer for overall, but its lack of distinction in that respect is more than compensated for by top-of-the-line ergonomics. My main disappointment is that Lenovo doesn't offer an option for a faster hard-disk drive or solid-state drive, which would do much to improve performance. Otherwise, this ultraportable just feels right to me. I recommend that you put the IdeaPad U260 to the test before buying something else.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review, by Jason Cross May 26, 2011

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