Lenovo IdeaPad S300 £469.99
5th Nov 2012 | 11:15
A budget, pseudo-Ultrabook with plenty of power and good looks
Lenovo has been coming out with some really good Ultrabooks of late, with its IdeaPad U410 offering excellent performance and features for less than you would expect. The company's latest offering is the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 - a smaller and more portable 13.3-inch proposition than the U410, but with an equal amount of power.
It sports a third-generation Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U processor, a not-too-inconsiderable 4GB of memory and an AMD Radeon 7450M graphics card. It's more in line with the U310, but with a few differences - and it costs a lot less, at £469.99 (around AU$729/US$757).
Compared with similarly-sized rivals, such as the super-slim Asus Zenbook U32A, the Dell XPS 13 or the ridiculously light Toshiba Satellite Z930, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 is a little bit bigger. It weighs a rather hefty 1.8kg (4lbs), and 22mm (0.86 inches) at its thickest means it's some way off the skinny 14mm (0.55 inches) of the latest 13.3-inch Zenbook.
The thing is, technically the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 isn't actually an Ultrabook. It's actually a super-specced version of the existing Pentium S300 also available for a similar price.
On paper it has everything you might expect from an Ultrabook: performance, slimness and looks, but the lack of a fast-booting SSD drive - a 500GB HDD is all you get - prevents it from being able to sit in this category.
But don't let that little shortcoming get you down, because the Lenovo is capable of so much more, and it can do it for much less money than many of the other Ultrabooks out there.
It certainly looks like an Ultrabook. The MacBook-esque white keyboard surround/screen bezel and top side finished in metallic paint (in either silver or violet colours) gives the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 an understated but classy look, while the layout is very clean and minimalistic.
It's got excellent build quality as well. There are no gaps in the material spoiling the show, and it has a certain solidity to it that suggests it costs much more than it actually does.
While this laptop doesn't feature the fast-booting capability of an SSD drive, Lenovo has included a Quick Start feature that enables you to boot into an alternative operating system in seconds, offering access to many basic functions such as internet browsing or media playing.
The idea is sound, but the delivery could have been better. For starters there's no dedicated hardware button - instead you must use a shortcut key to access it, and - in all honesty - in use it feels a little clunky.
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You'd probably be better off just waiting an extra 30 seconds for the much more intuitive experience offered by Windows 7.
Despite the relatively low cost of the Lenovo IdeaPad S300, it features a pretty impressive array of connections, including three USB ports, although only one gets the privilege of the faster USB 3.0 standard.
There's a handy HDMI port for outputting the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 to a big screen TV, but gone is the legacy-style VGA port of old. Does anyone really use it any more?
Other useful features include 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth, which ticks all the wireless connectivity boxes.
A 720p HD camera also features in the Lenovo IdeaPad S300, so not only can you keep in touch with your friends with ease thanks to faster internet access, you can also beam your video conversations in high quality right to them.
Although the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 features a more consumer-friendly glossy screen, as opposed to a more business-like matt screen, it handles reflections outdoors quite well, unless of course it's in direct sunlight - there aren't many laptops that can deal with direct light, mind.
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The actual quality of the screen is quite good, although dark scenes in movies revealed the screen's shortcomings - it's much too dark in areas, even with the screen tilted at an extreme right angle, suggesting a poor contrast ratio. Under normal circumstances you won't really notice it, unless you spend a lot of time watching films.
The 1366 x 768 resolution screen is, of course, lacking in overall clarity, but you'll have to pay a lot more to get Full HD.
In everyday use, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 stacks up pretty well. The Chiclet keyboard is very easy to type on and has a decent level of feedback, although the travel of the keys is a little low, meaning that typing can feel a little harsh at times.
Overall, our satisfaction with the touchpad was also reasonably high, its large surface area providing easy control of the Windows 7 interface. And the built-in mouse, while tricky to begin with, was easy to handle thereafter.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S300 comes with a variety of extra software - some good, some bad and some average. The one-click rescue system (which has a dedicated hardware button on the chassis) is essentially just the Windows Backup and System Restore tools under one roof, but some people might find this handy if it's something they do often.
More useful - we thought - is the Boot Optimiser, which tells you how fast boot speed is. It then gives you the ability to optimise the startup if it's not performing as expected.
Hot on the heels of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, at its heart the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 features a brand new Ivy Bridge version of the mid-range Core i5 processor, which kicks out a decent 1.7GHz, making it perform admirably in most tasks.
Although the 4GB of memory is a little on the low side, Windows 7 happily runs on this, and with that processor calling the shots, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 can handle most things thrown at it.
You can happily have multiple browser tabs open, as well as an HD movie running in the background and a word document in another window for good measure. The Cinebench benchmarking software gave the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 a lower than usual score for this kind of hardware, but the real-life results prove that numbers don't always add up.
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While all laptops featuring Ivy Bridge Core i5 processors come with integrated HD 4000 graphics - as does the Lenovo IdeaPad S300, naturally - Lenovo has seen fit to also add an AMD Radeon HD 7450 graphics card with 1GB of video RAM.
This deals with the more demanding tasks when you want it, while the more battery-friendly HD 4000 integrated graphics takes over when you want to conserve juice.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S300 intelligently switches between the two graphics avenues when needed, although handily you can manually adjust it if need be.
Unusually, 3DMark gave an average score when put through its paces, and the end result was even less than other machines we've seen running just the HD 4000 integrated graphics.
Suffice to say, this laptop isn't capable of any sort of high-end gaming, but it will happily play slightly older games at lower settings.
Thankfully, however, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 does a great job when it comes to high definition video, no matter whether it's 720p or 1080p Blu-ray quality movies. Playback is wonderfully smooth, and the HDMI does its job of outputting them onto the big screen.
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The speakers, as standard, aren't quite as impressive. That's until the Dolby Advanced Audio software kicks in, which helps to enhance the performance of what is a fairly basic speaker setup. They do tend to get a little stressed at higher volumes, causing things to get harsh, but otherwise they do a very good job.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S300's biggest struggle in performance is its battery life.
These days we've come to expect a lot from an Ultrabook. They're designed with portability in mind, so they have to be able to operate for as long as possible.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S300 managed a pretty paltry 122 minutes when we put it through the Battery Eater test. Even the lesser among the Ultrabook brigade can easily better that.
It's likely that the regular mechanical drive found under the hood is contributing to this poor battery life, or it could just be down to a small capacity battery. Lenovo claims five hours from the Lenovo IdeaPad S300, which is probably not far off the truth under mixed use.
Cinebench 10 - 7,466
3DMark - 4579
Battery Eater - 122 mins
While the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 doesn't quite have the technical ability to rival other Ultrabooks, in the end you're paying a lot less money.
Admittedly, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 isn't actually an Ultrabook, so perhaps it's unfair to compare. But - aside from its lack of a fast drive - the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 has much the same appeal that any expensive Ultrabook does.
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Ignoring the raw figures, which reveal the Lenovo IdeaPad S300's performance, it handled pretty much everything we could throw at it, which is surely a testament to that current generation processor producing the goods.
Its £469.99 (around AU$729/US$757) price tag might be low, but Lenovo hasn't scrimped on the important things, so It has a pretty good range of connections, including a handy USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out and the latest generation Wi-Fi adaptor for faster wireless speeds.
In the fashion stakes, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 takes on the Ultrabooks and makes a pretty good case for itself. It certainly looks the business, and that build quality looks as if it came from a laptop costing over £1,000 (around AU$1,545/US$1,603).
Although it looks great, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 is actually pretty heavy - for an Ultrabook at least. This isn't a big laptop by any means, so you expect it to be much lighter.
Heavier than expected, it affects the Lenovo IdeaPad S300's portability credentials, and this is further blighted by a poor battery performance. 122 minutes of looped HD video might seem pretty decent, and real-life use will probably see more than that, but it's still not really acceptable in this day and age.
Had Lenovo promised more battery capacity, we would have happily let the additional AMD graphics go in return for some added juice. It doesn't appear to really offer any benefit over the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, so what's the point?
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The Lenovo IdeaPad S300 isn't exactly the slimmest, nor is it definitely the lightest, but it is very attractive, well-built, very nice to use for long periods of time and it does have a decent amount of lick underneath the hood, thanks to its Ivy Bridge processor.
Its only real downside is the lack of a strong battery life compared to the 'all-day' boasts made by many of the Ultrabook manufacturers.
Lenovo has been consistently coming up with the goods recently, especially for those on a budget. While its Ultrabooks haven't completely set the world on fire, the Lenovo IdeaPad S300 shows that being the best isn't always the name of the game.
It offers a lot of real-world performance, looks and connectivity. If you want outright performance and portability, you might be better off forking out a little more cash for something better.