Lenovo Ideapad U410
When Lenovo got in touch to see if we'd like to review a U410, it was pitched very much as a low-budget, but super-powerful laptop. The range, it was pointed out, starts at £600 for the 13-inch and £650 for the 14-inch model. Interesting, we thought, that's a good price for a desktop replacement machine, let's have a look.
It turns out that the spec we received - a Core i5 machine with 8GB of RAM and a GeForce 610M with 1GB of its own ultra-fast memory - costs a bit more. In fact it's a bit more than £700. This still isn't a bad price, especially when compared to a MacBook Pro, but it's not what you'd describe as "budget" either. You can spend more too: there are i7 machines that cost £800.
But in theory, there's a lot to love here.
We love the looks
If we judged things on looks alone, the U410 would get full marks. We think it's a really stunning -device. And, that's saying something for a Lenovo product, because - let's be honest - while its computers are always rock solid, they aren't always inspiring to look at.
Here though, you get a beautiful red case. The Lenovo logo is the only thing that punctuates that glossy sea of red, and the aluminum construction gives it a shine that you just can't get with cheap - and admittedly light - plastic.
Pop that lid open, and you'll see something that will remind you of a MacBook Pro. From the power button on the left side - now gone on the real Mac - to the massive trackpad and black island keys
The Lenovo attitude shines through
One of the advantages of having a Lenovo is that the firm doesn't mess about when it comes to the important parts of building a laptop. The keyboard here is quite excellent, which is something that isn't as common as we would like on laptops.
The island keys seem perfect for our fingers: they have a shape that reminds us a little of a small shield, but that works. This means that at the point where your fingers are hitting the keys, you have a little bit more key to hit. We think it might help with typing accuracy, but it's certainly comfortable and we got virtually no errors on our short test.
The trackpad too is a bright spot. Generally, these Apple-style affairs are never as good as those on a Mac. But this trackpad is very close indeed and we liked it. Most notable was the way pressing the "buttons" were so easy. Usually with these trackpads that are also a big button, it's hard to press it fully, especially when your fingers are at the top of the pad. Here, that works well and the low-friction pad makes for a really nice scrolling experience.
The most absurd button in the world
On the left-hand side of the computer, near the screen, is a button. When you press it, it brings up the Lenovo's backup software. It's provided by Cyberlink, and is called OneKey Recovery. The software itself is reasonable, and we certainly want people to have a proactive approach to backups, but we honestly can't see the point of a dedicated button.
What's more, when you press the button, Windows does its tedious and user-unfriendly User Account Control shenanigans, which means you press a button on the side, then confirm a dialogue box on the screen. That really defeats the one-touch concept.
If you want a machine that can handle a more intense workload, then U410 gets off to an impressive start with a wealth of connections.
There are two USB 3 sockets, and another two USB 2 ports - more than enough for most. You also get Ethernet, which we always love to see because Wi-Fi just simply isn't up to the task of proper work, and there's HDMI too.
A full-size SD card slot means you can grab photos from many digital cameras and get working on them straight away. There's also a combined headphone and microphone jack.
Our review sample was supplied with virtually no useless software installed. The usual suspects are here though, including Office 2010 Starter - you can purchase the full version of Office, if you want to, and be up-and-running very quickly.
On the downside, McAfee is installed. We say this in every laptop review now, but there's just no excuse for this bloated nonsenseware. If you want sturdy, hassle-free virus scanning, then we'd say go for Microsoft's own Windows Defender. It's a lightweight bit of software that is sent regular updates and new definitions. McAfee, on the other hand, will hassle you about registering and subscribing constantly, given half a chance.
Also included is a 90-day trial of Absolute Data Protect. This is a little more useful, and allows you to recover data from a laptop that has been stolen, as well as track its location and prevent anyone else from using it. We like the idea of this, but it's worth noting there are some free options out there that do similar tasks.
Aside from the above, there's software for the webcam as well as a chat client called ooVoo, which offers group video chat for free and the usual messaging opportunities. It's fine, but we don't really see why it needs to be factory-installed.
Overall, Lenovo has done a pretty good job keeping the clutter to a minimum. All we need now is for people to demand that McAfee doesn't come bundled with their computers, and the world would be a better place.
The Lenovo also has another interesting feature in its Smart Update service. Here, even when the laptop is asleep, certain applications can monitor for updates. This means that when you turn your laptop back on, Outlook, Windows Live Mail and social networks like Twitter and Facebook will be updated.
It has to be said though, the software that manages this is a little weird, and works in a very odd way. We honestly don't know how much use this will be to anyone, and it's likely that the reduction in battery life will be more annoying than not having all your updates available when you switch the computer on.
Screen and sound
The Dolby-powered sound system is impressive. The speakers can put out an enormous amount of volume and still stay in control of their sound. We liked the audio, and it's certainly powerful enough to satisy people watching alone. More people, in a bigger room, might struggle, but it doesn't disgrace itself.
The screen is also good, although it's let down by a modest 1366 x 768 resolution. But, for most things, that's enough. If you need more, there's always the built-in HDMI port to connect to an external monitor. You could also argue that at this screen size even a higher-resolution screen wouldn't add a huge amount. If you're watching a lot of videos, or playing games, it's more than enough.
What isn't enough though, is the brightness, which isn't sufficiently strong to use the laptop outside in the sun. We found this annoying, as the reflective screen doesn't help at all here, and just made us cross.
We think you'll see at least three hours from the battery in the U410. Lenovo claims nine, but we think that's ambitious. We used ours with the screen brightness up, and found that the battery discharged quite quickly.
That said, flick it over to power-saving mode, turn down the brightness and avoid very intensive activity such as gaming or video, and you should see somewhere in the region of six hours.
We also found a weird bug. At one point the battery meter told us there was 23 per cent charge, then then the next the whole thing jumped down to nearly nothing at all. We aren't sure why, and as this is a new laptop the battery might need some conditioning through charge/discharge cycles. We certainly don't think this is a problem with the machine itself.
We like the U410 a lot. It's well-designed, sturdy and has plenty of power. We have some slight concerns about the battery, and you certainly won't see Lenovo's quoted maximum of nine hours, not unless you cast some sort of power saving spell over it anyway.
As a multimedia machine, it's solid. You'll also be able to play games, as the discrete graphics have sufficient punch to drive this laptop at its reasonably modest display resolution.
It's also one of the best-connected machines we've used of late, with bundles of USB sockets, and the old favourite - Ethernet - to keep our broadband speeds up to their maximums.
All in all, we like this machine a lot. But do yourself a favour, get it in red, because it's fabulous!