Let's be honest, Lenovo isn't known for consumer laptops, nor is it really known for creating objects of desire. That is not to say that it's laptops aren't brilliant, because they often are. The problem is, unless you work for a business that gives you one for work, you'll probably never consider buying one.
For some time now, Lenovo has been keen to change that. It is using its expertise in business machines to woo a whole new set of customers. Arguably spearheading this is the new Ultrabook, the U300s, which is the reason we're gathered here today. But can the company persuade people to ditch their Dell and Toshiba machines for a shiny Lenovo?
This review is based on an i3 pre-production model that we've spent a little time with, ahead of production spec machines being available. As such, we're not rating performance here, but how we find the machine as something you might want to carry around with you. We'll review the U300s, in full, when we have a little more time with the unit.
As soon as we got the U300 out of the box it came in - not a final retail package, but the hardware is the same as will hit the streets shortly - we were impressed. Most laptop manufacturers take a quick peek at what Apple is doing, and then ape that. Not so here. There's no sloping design here, but a uniform depth all around, with some fine rounding at the edges. You'd hardly notice this, if you weren't looking for it, but it makes a massive difference to the look of the machine.
Weight-wise, the U300s sits between the Asus UX31 and the Toshiba Portege Z830. While the Toshiba is super-light, it is also not made with the same unbendable material as the Lenovo. That's no criticism of the Toshiba though, because it's still brilliantly made and super-light. We don't mind the weight of the Lenovo at all though, it's still lighter than every other normal laptop we've seen.
But, having seen all the ultrabooks now, we have to say the Lenovo is our favourite. It's not the most jaw-dropping, that accolade goes to the Asus UX31, but it seems to have struck the balance between style and practicality about right. It's thin, light enough to be portable and pretty cool-looking.
One area where the Lenovo does let itself down a little are the sockets. There are two USB ports, one 3.0 on the right, one 2.0 on the left and a full-size HDMI socket. And, erm, that's it.
Compare that to the Toshiba, and you see how poorly it comes off. The Tosh has VGA, HDMI, two USB sockets and an Ethernet port at the rear, then there are headphone and microphone jacks, as well as a full-size SD card slot. On the other side, there is USB 3.0 and even a SIM card socket for an optional 3G module.
You do get a headphone jack too, which is combined with a microphone input, for Skype and gaming headsets.
The one thing we think is a great shame is that there's no Ethernet socket. While we have no doubt that most people are happy to use wireless, we still prefer a wired connection. Of course, there's always the option to use a USB to Ethernet converter, but these take up a valuable USB socket - and the machine isn't exactly awash with these.
Keyboard and trackpad
When we first used the Lenovo, it was all we could do to avoid yelling "hallelujah" to the heavens. This is the first Ultrabook we've seen with both a decent keyboard and trackpad. Others have really made a mess of copying Apple's multi-touch surface. Say what you want about Apple, but it does those trackpads better than anyone.
Here, the island-style keyboard is well laid-out, and generously spaced. The keys have enough travel to make it feel like you're actually typing too, despite the fact that this laptop is incredibly thin.
And the trackpad works too. One of the biggest complaints we had about the Asus was that it suffers from a problematic multi-touch pointing device. While some issues have been addressed with driver updates, it's still a problem we see all too often with these new, multi-touch laptops. It's not a problem on the Lenovo though, which is a huge boost to the machine, especially if you're going to be using it out and about, where a mouse is less convenient.
The U300s screen is good in practice, although the 1366x768 display it's a lower resolution than the Asus and MacBook Air of the same size. This won't make any difference to most people, but the extra resolution can make a huge difference if you're using apps that require more screen real estate.
As with all Ultrabooks, the specification is quite strict, and tied to some specific requirements. All must use a second-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processor. They need to use Intel's integrated graphics and boot in 20 seconds.
There are also battery life expectations, that based on the short time we've spent with the U300s, the Lenovo will have no trouble meeting. Indeed, if the manufacturer specifications are to be believed, this is the best performing Ultrabook for battery, bettered only by the MacBook Air.
Aside from that, in the final hardware, you'll be able to chose a Core i5 or i7 and memory will be 4GB or more. This should make for very pleasant machine, that is more than capable of doing everything from writing, right up to video editing and maybe some light gaming.
Based on the time we've spent with the Lenovo, we're really big fans. It's a little more dull than, say, a MacBook Air or the Asus UX31, but it's still gorgeous and we like how it works.
The trackpad beats all we've seen so far, bar the Air, and Lenovo has got a nice smooth coating on it, which makes it a delight to use. The buttons work properly too, and it manages to look good doing it. The keyboard too is a delight for the digits, and the travel, shape and spacing just seem right somehow.
Of course, performance is a big issue. There's nothing in this early sample that worries us, but we can't properly judge it until we've seen a final review sample.
As far as we're concerned, this is one of the more exciting ultrabooks on the market. And, we really think it will sell well to both business and consumers. Well done Lenovo, mission accomplished.
Ultra Responsive. Ultra Sleek. Ultrabook ™ - www.intel.co.uk/ultrabook
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