Lenovo IdeaPad U350
The Lenovo IdeaPad U350 is one of those rare products where actually using it makes it seem much stronger than its test results and feature set might make it seem on paper. This first hits you when, after you fire up and start typing, you realize that the keyboard is actually--dare I say it?--usable for touch typists. The LED-backlit, 13.3-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel screen appears more than adequate for typical office use and even light-duty photo editing. What you get is a decent ultraportable machine at a pretty reasonable price (our unit, as configured sells for $749).
Performance is about what you should expect for a unit sporting the Intel U2700 ultra-low-voltage, single-core CPU. The WorldBench 6 score of 54 is just a tad under that of the slightly more expensive MSI X340, despite the latter's faster CPU. Certainly the 4GB of DDR3-1066 SDRAM helps overall performance--and is a step above what you get in netbooks and the AMD Athlon Neo-based tweener, the HP Pavilion dv2--but this IdeaPad is no barn-burner.
Battery life is par for its 2700-mAH (milli-Amp-Hour) battery, at 4 hours, 32 minutes. This compares favorably with the MSI X340, which has a 2150-mAH battery, and gets only 3 hours, 42 minutes on our battery life tests. The Acer Timeline we recently reviewed arrived with a 5160-mHz battery, so it ran for a full work day (8 hours, 21 minutes).
Despite the single-core processing, multitasking performance seemed snappy; the 4GB of RAM certainly helps. We had Firefox open with about a dozen tabs (some with performance-sapping flash video playing) and TweetDeck running in the background, all while scrolling through a large Adobe Acrobat document. Overall responsiveness appeared to hold up well in that environment.
Wi-Fi performance did seem a little slower on our 802.11n network than Wi-Fi on other, similar laptops. Transferring a 4.5GB video took a little longer than we'd normally expect. This didn't seem to affect Web browsing or normal Internet usage, however.
The IdeaPad isn't as thin as MSI's unit, though, nor is it as light. Yet the unit felt lighter than its 3.6 pounds (sans power brick.) It helps that the IdeaPad's weight distribution seems very even, so you can just grab it from any angle without awkwardness. Display output ports (VGA and HDMI) are on the left side, along with one USB 2.0 port, gigabit ethernet, and the Kensington lock slot. The right side houses the pair of audio ports (one in and one out), two more USB 2.0 parts and a slot that supports SD, xD, and Memory Stick flash memory cards.
While the Lenovo seems ideal for general office work and some photo editing, its multimedia capabilities seem more limited. We noticed visible aliasing with DVD-quality video scaled to the full resolution of the display. Vertical viewing angles are very poor--just a slight shift above or below the ideal viewing angle results in nearly unwatchable visual quality. The built-in speakers are pretty bad, too, so you'll want to use headphones.
The U350's software includes Adobe Acrobat Reader 9, Lenovo's own Webcam utilities, and RealNetworks game trialware, plus a trial version of Lenovo's own Carbonite online backup utility. No security or antivirus software is included, however. Documentation is adequate, if a little thin, but well written and easy to follow.
In the end, the Lenovo IdeaPad U350 offers a fairly standard feature set with average performance, but it's all built into a nicely integrated, slick-feeling package that makes it a real joy to use as an adjunct to an office desktop. Just don't expect to watch a lot of movies on it.