Best-performing netbooks

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Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3
IdeaPad S10-3 Review, by Jon L. Jacobi March 29, 2010

Rating:

rating_icon_3_stars.gif
 

Pros:
Useful utility software
Excellent keyboard

Cons:
Sluggish performer
Pricey; no productivity software

Bottom Line: Superior input ergonomics will sell this comparatively overpriced netbook.

REVIEW:
Everything Lenovo sells, including the third-gen, 10.1-inch IdeaPad S10-3 netbook ($369, as of 3/29/10) appears to be intended for the board or meeting room--in this case, perhaps the meeting room imagined in Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil (the top or cover of the unit has a slightly psychedelic red checkerboard pattern)--but a meeting room nonetheless.

The 2.76-pound, business-oriented S10-3 netbook is a bit pricier per spec than the competition. Most other 10.1-inch, 1024-by-600-resolution netbooks sell for $10 to $50 less with the same 1GB Intel N450/3150 CPU/GPU combination, as well as a more-capacious 250GB hard drive compared with the S10-3's 150GB model. While 150GB is more than enough for most users, it means that you are getting a bit less of the basics and paying a bit extra for the business features and software.

Or is it the ergonomics you're paying for? Whoever is in charge of Lenovo's input devices deserves a raise and/or high praise. The innovative multitouch combination touchpad/rocker button on the S10-3 is a relief for anyone (including this writer) who hates inadvertently tapping while dragging, or hunting for buttons. Simply apply a little pressure to the bottom left or right corners of the device, and you have your click.

Another time-honored Lenovo strength is the keyboard, and the IdeaPad S10-3 doesn't disappoint in this area either. The typing feel is as good as you'll find on a netbook, and there are no scrunched or misplaced keys à la Fujitsu and Asus. Using this netbook feels less like using a netbook than any other 10.1-incher I've ever tried.

Lenovo also bundles some interesting software with the IdeaPad S10-3. Most of it, such as the VeriFace facial recognition security, is aimed squarely at business users. Lock down the system with a password, and VeriFace will log you on by scanning your mug using the Webcam. It works rather well, and seeing your eyes twinkle onscreen while VeriFace creates your profile... I don't care who you are, that's fun right there. But, alas, logging on this way gets tiring after a while and is considerably slower than simply typing in a password.

Other titles include DirectShare, which syncs files and folders across your network, and OneKey Recovery, which images your hard drive for disaster recovery--comparatively boring, but useful, utilities, though the latter program duplicates Windows functionality. Unfortunately, you don't get even Microsoft Works to perform basic office tasks with. Most likely, Lenovo feels the intended business audience will have its own productivity suite, or will activate the included 60-day Office 2007 trial.

The rest of the S10-3 specs are netbook-standard. You get three USB ports: one on the left with the VGA port and SDHC slot, and two on the right with the ethernet and audio input and output. The AC port's on the left, along with a wireless switch. The hard drive, memory, and free miniPCI Express slot are easily accessible via a single removable panel on the bottom of the machine. Not only that, but the screws are captive--so if you're trying to roll out a fleet of these puppies and want to upgrade them, you don't have to worry about tiny screws flying all over the place. Nice touch.

The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3 ran for 8 hours, 27 minutes in our battery tests, but its performance was drab to say the least. Its score of 31 on WorldBench 6 is subpar even for a netbook, and the overall feel to the Windows 7 Starter operating system is rather sluggish. Part of the problem is that Lenovo has a habit of piling on background processes via software that does little more than duplicate existing Windows capabilities. The ReadyComm 5 networking utility is one example. A few minutes with msconfig.exe and uninstalling unnecessary apps perked the machine up quite a bit.

Sadly, this tweaking didn't help the video performance much: 720 HD video, one of my standard hands-on tests, played smoothly only when transcoded to the very efficient Quicktime MP4 codec. WMV was a complete fail, and other MP4 implementations continually stuttered or stalled. On the other hand, audio through the speakers sounded better than on most netbooks.

Though it's pricier, slightly less well-configured, and slower out of the box than much of its competition, the S10-3 is more than the sum of its parts. Type and point with one before you grab something else just to save 50 bucks.

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