Lenovo IdeaPad U410 14in Ultrabook review
Cheaper by design
As a MacBook Pro owner, and yet a fan of the ThinkPad range since the early IBM days, it would be easy for me to assume Lenovo's new IdeaPad U410 Ultrabook fills the gap as the ultimate middle ground model. Indeed, it's a ThinkPad descendant that looks like Lenovo desperately wants an Apple lawsuit.
Lenovo's IdeaPad U410 Ultrabook – looks familiar
However, this is unlikely to be the case as, to be blunt, it feels cheap. Perhaps if it weren’t trying to be a MacBook clone I wouldn't care about the lifeless grey plastic feel to what's supposed to be aluminium – or the non-backlit keyboard with its undersized keys. At first use this seems a bit like a knockoff product that I would hesitate to buy.
When you actually get down to the hardware though, for the £650 this review model costs, there's actually some decent kit included. Here I have a dual-core 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U (which TurboBoosts up to 2.6GHz), 8GB of DDR3 and a 1GB NVidia 610m GPU. This makes for a decent performer with a PCMark 7 score of 2977 PCMarks.
SSD and HDD combo on board
One feature that I do very much like is the inclusion of a 32GB SSD which, although it can't be used for storage, does vastly improve the system responsiveness. Lenovo has nicely streamlined this cache, making it invisible to the user, but when I ran Crystal DiskMark on the 750GB HDD, it returned 285MB/s reads! Admittedly I only got 80MB/s when writing, but considering that 750GB of SSD storage alone would cost as much as the entire U410...
Perky performer which would benefit from a higher resolution display
From a performance perspective I find the U410 surprisingly powerful for a 14in machine, but the user experience is still letting me down a bit. A 1366 x 768 screen may well be described as HD of sorts, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of working area and overall image quality. With the U410 on my lap, I can easily see pixellated edges and the 'fly-screen' effect. I also find the screen to be excessively glossy and reflective.
Lenovo claims that you'll eke out 9hrs from the battery in this model, but I don't see how that is realistically possible. Tests with the admittedly aggressive PowerMark 1.2 benchmark showed 3hrs 43mins of battery life and from using it for the last week I have seen no more than 5hrs in a real-world scenario.
Battery life claims appear wishful thinking in everyday use
Yet the biggest problem I encountered relates to the power adapter and its apparent distaste for charging. I found that if you so much as shuffle the U410 on your lap the power adapter will worm its way out and stop charging. Unless you plug it in and leave it alone in another corner of the room, it won't charge at all. This makes it impossible to use if the battery is flat. I expect that this is simply a result of the use and abuse this review unit has seen, however, this is the kind of flaw that might manifest in a retail unit later in its life.
As for software, Windows 7 Home Premium comes as standard and there is delightfully little bloatware, with the exception of McAfee AV. Lenovo has included ooVoo for video conferencing and OneKey Recovery from CyberLink. OneKey is so integrated into the system that Lenovo actually put a physical button for it on the left side of the U410, next to the power button. So much for its name though; pressing the button brings up the dreaded Windows 7 UAC dialog before you can actually use the program.
If you want a decent bit of hardware at a not-unreasonable cost, then you might consider the IdeaPad U410. However, despite the good features like the SSD cache I, feel that Lenovo has not delivered on what it claims, specifically in the battery department. Also, if you are spending more than £500 on a laptop, you'd expect it to actually feel worth the money. Alas, as a low cost Ultrabook, the build of the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 rather disappoints in this respect. ®
More Ultrabook Reviews
Timeline M3 Ultra