Lenovo's Bright Idea: The IdeaPad U110

Lenovo's Bright Idea: The IdeaPad U110

Business notebook maker, Lenovo, finally releases a laptop with some sex appeal. In fact, the supersvelte IdeaPad U110 is about as flashy as ultraportable PCs get. Somewhere between the fire engine red, laser-etched lid and rugged rubbery base coating of our review model, the U110 becomes a bonafide MacBook Air rival.

Just like the Mac maker, Lenovo forges a fashion-forward design that'll fit in just about any bag. It weighs 2.9 pounds with the 7-cell battery. It measures 10.8 by 7.7 by 0.72 inches. It also packs in a reasonable offering under the hood -- well, reasonable by an ultraportable's standards.

A 1.6-GHz L7500 Core 2 Duo Intel CPU and 2GB of RAM run the show a little faster than Apple's Air. In WorldBench tests, the U110 scored in the middle of the pack with a performance rating of 65 while the thin-and-light MacBook lagged with a 57. The reasonably roomy 120GB hard drive in the U110 spins at a pokey 4200RPM. If Lenovo ponied up for a faster hard disk, I can only imagine what that would've done for its performance score. On the bright side, it scored a respectable (if average) battery life -- lasting four hours, 38 minutes on a charge.

Interestingly, the ThinkPad X300 also beat the Air by the same margin in our performance tests. The difference being that Lenovo's business-class offering also manages to squeeze in optical and solid state drives (and, yes, it's also more expensive as a result).

The IdeaPad, on the other hand, follows Apple's lead by eschewing an internal optical drive. The rugged, rubberized sidekick matches the durability and design of its laptop mate. It plugs into one of the three USB 2.0 ports. Yep, the easy knock against the Air: The IdeaPad also makes room for a FireWire port, PC Express and SD card slots, Ethernet jack and VGA out.

As alluded to up top, you can't help but covet the machine's stylish layout. With an 11.1-inch screen at 1366 by 768 resolution (I'll get back to that in a second), I'd expect a scrunched-up keyboard with inhumanly small buttons. Not the case. In fact, the buttons are huge by ultraportable standards. The wide, flat keys take a little getting used to, but. I had no problem tapping out this review on the U110. Trying to get all those fingerprint smudges off, though, is another story.

Good thing this lacks a fingerprint scanner because any CSI fans could lift the smudgy prints. Oh, sure, the unit ships with a chamois, but do you really want to continually swab down the deck? I don't think so. Thanks to that glossy coating, you might not even notice the four shortcut keys. Run your fingers along the top of the keyboard for the faintly-lit -- and stylized buttons -- to appear. Good luck seeing 'em in broad daylight, though.

Like the IdeaPad Y510, that glossy treatment creates a lousy glare. Even with the brightness set all the way up, I could fix my hair (and maybe shave) with the reflection. At least you'll be fine indoors. Lenovo, if you're listening, please ditch the glossy screens and go for a backlit LED!

I'm also wondering why there is such a disparity between the software in the ThinkPad and IdeaPad lines from the same company. The ThinkPad's ThinkVantage Suite is smartly executed while the U110's Shuttle Center II entertainment hub borders on useless bloatware. It's slow and groups together the entertainment programs that are on the start menu (photos, music, video -- you get the idea). It'd be nice to see Lenovo's different departments share some of that software.

Y'know, the U110 does have one more thing in common with the MacBook Air: despite all the flaws, I still feel myself compelled to pick it up and check it out. The keyboard takes a little getting used to and it's reasonably powerful for its size. But considering how difficult it is to see the screen in some lighting conditions, make sure that it's worth the US$1900 (as of 5/30/08) asking price for your needs.

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