The IdeaPad U300s from Lenovo is a solidly-built ultrabook, that internally at least stays quite true to the Apple/Intel template.

It doesn't compete with the Apple MacBook Air or Asus Zenbook UX31E in terms of looks, although neither is it as unprepossesing as the Toshiba Z830.  

It is also slightly unusual (in ultrabook terms at least) by maintaining the same thickness from front edge to hinge. Most modern ultraportable notebooks are thicker at the hinge and come to a point at the front.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is one of the better performers from recently released ultraportables, achieving a WorldBench 6 score of 122. This is still some way short of the 13in MacBook Air, which sports exactly the same processor as the U300s. 

There's 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which puts it on a par or above most of its opponents, and the battery life of 399 minutes - more than six-and-a-half hours - is particularly impressive.

But we found the Lenovo to suffer one particularly galling problem – the keyboard is blighted with small right Shift, Return and Backspace buttons.

Even worse, the key to the right of the right Shift key is the Up arrow, which we frequently hit by accident. So when hoping to put a letter in uppercase, we moved the cursor up a row instead. This took some getting used to - in fact, we couldn’t, so we typed up this review of the Lenovo on a different laptop; normally we compile a review on the laptop under test.

We found other detractions too. There's no SD card reader and compared to some others – the Toshiba Z830 in particular – connectivity options are limited, although there is a full-sized HDMI port. 

The screen has a glossy finish and though the colours are rich and deep, definition seemed a little fuzzy and the viewing angles are even less impressive than other ultrabooks.

When you press the power button on the Lenovo IdeadPad U300s the only indicator that you've actually started the booting process is a small, faint light on the front edge that's easy to miss. As the screen stays blank for a few seconds you may be unsure that you've pressed the button hard enough and press it again, which is a nuisance.

NEXT PAGE: Original PCWorld review >>

If there's a laptop that deserves the moniker "Ultrabook" - a term that Intel introduced (and trademarked) earlier this year for a class of very slim and light laptops - it's the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s. Not because it's faster or beefier than the competition (it's not), but because it actually looks like a thin coffee-table book when closed. It's also the Ultrabook that many in our labs gravitated toward due to its luxuriously minimalist styling and superior input ergonomics. At least they did until they heard it cost £1,221 inc VAT, a price tag that reflects the expense of the U300s's large (256GB) solid-state drive, or SSD.

Despite an Intel Core i7-2677M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and that aforementioned 256GB SSD on board, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s performance lagged behind other thin and light laptops such as the Asus Zenbook UX31e. Still, a WorldBench score of 114 indicates plenty of power for everyday chores. Gaming frame rates delivered by the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 max out at 31 frames per second at 800 by 600 resolution - with the details turned way down low, which doesn't cut the mustard for modern games.

See also: Group test: what's the best ultraportable laptop?

On the other hand, battery life is 6 hours and 34 minutes, which compares nicely with the rest of the Ultrabook crowd. At 1.3kg the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is one of the lighter Ultrabooks, though you won't notice much difference between the heft of the U300s and the Zenbook or the Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook, all of which weigh only a little less.

Video playback at any resolution is smooth as can be, though you get the usual down-converting issues with 1080p playback on the 13.3-inch, 1366 by 768 display. The colours rendered by the display are rich, but the shiny surface is prone to glare - one of the few questionable design decisions on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s. Audio is stellar through headphones, but sounds slightly muffled through the speakers. Tweaking the included SRS sound enhancement software helps tremendously.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300s's keyboard is "breathable" (to use Lenovo's term), which is a friendly replacement word for "ventilated." This trick is now used on a number of laptops (notably Apple's) so that no ventilation holes are required on the bottom of the unit where they can be blocked while sitting on your lap. It also means that the unit feels quite cool on your thighs. A ventilation port is on the left edge of the laptop, though.

The keyboard itself has a very nice feel for having such a short stroke (a common problem with ultrathin laptops). That's partially a textural impression - the entire unit has a luxurious feel due to the fine grain on the aluminum case's paint job (available in Clementine Orange and Graphite Gray). The glass, buttonless touchpad is equally satisfying - in lieu of scroll areas, it uses two-finger swiping. So there's no inadvertent straying into the scroll area - nice.

Depending on your needs, you might find the port selection on the U300s lacking. It has a USB 3.0 port for quick data transfers and backup, an HDMI one for video output, plus an additional USB 2.0 port, but that's about it. There's no VGA for older displays, no SD/MMC card slot, no eSATA, and - probably most surprising - no ethernet. The lack of eSATA isn't remediable, but is ameliorated by the presence of USB 3.0. For VGA, SD, and ethernet you'll need USB adapters. Connectivity consists of 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0, as well as WiDi for wireless display.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is the first laptop I've handled that ships with Microsoft's free Microsoft Security Essentials in lieu of a trial of pay security software. MSE is just as effective for most users, but stays out of your way unless there's an issue, unlike most pay options. There's no array of junk software either; just Cyberlink's YouCam utility for the 1280 by 720 webcam, a free subscription to Absolute Data Protect for encrypting data and remote disabling of the laptop, Google Chrome, and Cyberlink's OneKey recovery for backing up your system. The latter works in conjunction with a button on the left rear of the U300s that initiates recovery if the bundled Windows 7 Professional operating system stops booting correctly.

PCWorld Verdict

No matter which way you cut it, the U300s is a pricey laptop, though only moderately more so than the similarly configured competition. It's available in a slower, less capacious configuration with a Core i5-2457M CPU and a 128GB SSD for around £900, and Lenovo's U260 and its recently released U400 are only slightly thicker and heavier, with cheaper configurations. The missing ports are a bit of puzzler, but otherwise the U300s delivers a very satisfying Ultrabook experience. 

Jon L Jacobi

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s: Specs

  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M
  • 13.3in glossy LED-backlit
  • 1366 x 768
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • 4GB DDR3-1333MHz 256GB SSD
  • Integrated Intel HD 3000
  • HDMI
  • stereo speakers, headphone jack, mic
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • webcam
  • 50Wh lithium polymer non-removable
  • 324 x 214 x 15.5mm
  • 1.35kg
  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M
  • 13.3in glossy LED-backlit
  • 1366 x 768
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • 4GB DDR3-1333MHz 256GB SSD
  • Integrated Intel HD 3000
  • HDMI
  • stereo speakers, headphone jack, mic
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • webcam
  • 50Wh lithium polymer non-removable
  • 324 x 214 x 15.5mm
  • 1.35kg

OUR VERDICT

Performance and specification are decent, but the author found the keyboard too awkward for comfortable use. There are a few too many problems with the Lenovo Idea Pad U300s for us to recommend it, not least of which is the high price tag.

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