Lenovo IdeaPad S10e - netbook

Can Lenovo transfer the quality of its ThinkPad range over to its netbooks? We examine the IdeaPad S10e.

Ideapad
Price
£256

It took a while for the more establish brands to jump aboard the netbook bandwagon, but jump aboard they have. And while it might not be owned by IBM anymore, there's still no greater business credentials for a portable computer than the ThinkPad brand. We loved last year's X300, so can Lenovo weave its magic, albeit in a efficient, business-like, tie wearing fashion, over a netbook?

Rip open the endearingly tiny Lenovo box and the first moments with the IdeaPad S10e are promising. It's a 10 inch netbook so its 250 x 183 x 28mm dimensions are appealingly petite and, what's more, it tips the scales at 1.1kg, placing it squarely amongst the rest of the 10in brigade. Light enough to carry in one hand? Check. Small enough to pop in even the most compact of satchels? Check.

The build quality and aesthetics evoke the more endearing traits of Lenovo's legendary ThinkPad range, too. Its looks are, for instance, typically plain, but that's no bad thing. The matte black lid sports a chunky silver Lenovo logo but otherwise there's very little attempt at injecting any sense of style. Cast your gaze around the rest of the chassis and it's enlivened only by the traditional ThinkPad red and green 3.5mm audio sockets. Looks might not be everything but set the IdeaPad S10e next to the Samsung NC10 and, if a laptop could blush, the Lenovo's cheeks would be ruby red.

There is a payoff for such a bland exterior, though, and that's sturdiness. The S10e's base feels reassuringly stiff and even the display, the weak point of so many netbooks, resists twisting and tugging motions with impressive resilience.

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One crushing disappointment, especially given Lenovo's history of superb keyboards and pointing devices for its 'proper' laptops, is the IdeaPad's ergonomics. The stiff base means that there's not too much flex in the keyboard panel but unlike the Samsung NC10's almost-full-size example the Lenovo's layout is just a bit too cramped. The relatively squat keys fall noticeably less easily under the finger, and we can't stand the half-height Enter key.

Fire up the S10e, however, and it has a trick up its sleeve or two. Before you find yourself greeted by the familiar Windows XP loading screen, for instance, you'll be presented with a more novel sight - Lenovo's Quick Start front end. This isn't a proprietary piece of software, though, rather a rebranded version of DeviceVM's instant-on software, called Splashtop. Its five main icons provide quick access to a web browser, media player, photo gallery, chat application and Skype, too.

There's a problem with this, however: it really isn't very quick. From pressing the on button to getting the web browser up and running took about 30 seconds - hardly what can be described as instantaneous - especially when booting Windows XP and loading Chrome takes just a smidgen under 40 seconds. Factor in the seeming inability to moderate the excessive trackpad sensitivity, and the "Quick Start" software soon begins to prove more of a hindrance than a help.

The hardware ticking away inside the S10e is a roster of familiar faces. An Intel Atom N270 processor squats alongside 1GB of memory and a capacious 160GB hard drive while wireless connectivity includes the netbook staples of 802.11g and Bluetooth. Performance, as you'd expect, is merely par for the course. A score of 0.41 in our application benchmarks is fast enough for the basic tasks you'd expect of a netbook, while the integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics preclude all but the lightest of gaming sessions.

Battery life, however, is disastrously poor. The tiny 2,800mAh battery helps maintain the S10e's clean, unfussy lines but it does very little for the IdeaPad's stamina; we struggled to get it to last a mere 2hrs 21mins with minimal use. Turn on the wireless networking and start using the IdeaPad in anger and you'll soon find battery life dipping below the two hour mark.

The final thorn in the Lenovo's side truly should have been its crowning glory - its display. Where other netbooks follow the formula with unerring rigidity, Lenovo's IdeaPad dares to be different. Not only does its 10in display boast an LED backlight, but it's also the first true 16:9 display we've seen on a netbook. Upon first glance, it's a stunner. Images spring from the screen with outstanding vivacity, and it's blessed with truly eye-popping levels of brightness.

It's not all good news however, because while other netbooks boast a cramped resolution of 1,024 x 600, the IdeaPad is even more vertically challenged with its native resolution of 1,024 x 576 pixels. The difference may be just 24 pixels, but it's enough to make the S10e's screen feel noticeably smaller. And, to add insult to injury, the panel's viewing angles are impossibly narrow. Get the screen and your head aligned just so and it looks pretty good, great even but move even slightly off axis and noticeable colour shifts and uneven brightness spoil the show.

We had high hopes for Lenovo's IdeaPad S10e. Just imagine: ThinkPad build quality, ThinkPad ergonomics, ThinkPad attention to fine detail and all for just a bit more than 250 exc VAT. On paper it sounds like a beauty, but the reality is far more beastly. Despite its workmanlike allure, the Lenovo finds itself trampled by the opposition.

Verdict

Lenovo's debut on the netbook scene isn't quite what we'd been hoping for.

Processor: 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 Memory: 1GB 667MHz DDR2 RAM Storage: 160GB hard disk Graphics: Intel GMA 950 graphics Display: 10.1in 1,024 x 576 TFT Connectivity: VGA, 2x USB, SD card reader, Expresscard/34, 802.11abg, 1.3mp, webcam OS: Windows XP Home Warranty: 1yr C&R warranty Dimensions: 250 x 183 x 28mm (WDH) Weight: 1.1kg.

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