If you sometimes have difficulty sorting out Lenovo's ultraportable and netbook options, that's not surprising. Take the Lenovo IdeaPad S205: it has an 11.6-inch, 1366-by-768-resolution LED-backlit display and integrated webcam, configured with the AMD Fusion E-350 CPU running at 1.6GHz and up to 8GGB of SDRAM (our test model has 4GB). Its scores on our performance benchmark, as described below, are good for a netbook, as are the battery life test results (5 hours 21 minutes in use for the S205.
Pricing reflects this, being at the top end of what you'd pay for a netbook. The Lenovo IdeaPad S205, configured as our review unit was, goes for anywhere between £280 and £360 if you shop around online.
See also: Group test: what's the best netbook?
Look a bit more closely, and you can see that the S205 sits squarely in netbook territory, however, but also that netbooks have come a long way in terms of performance. For example, the Lenovo IdeaPad S205's DDR3 SDRAM runs at only 1066MHz. Our S205 came with a 250GB hard drive running at 5400RPM; not dreadful for a netbook, but no ultraportable. And the S205 comes with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, while on a full-spec ultraportable Windows 7 Professional. These differences may account for the S205's more netbook-like PC WorldBench 6 score (55), but you certainly won't have any problems while running general business applications.
This is, however, significantly slower than just about any laptop with a current-generation Intel Core CPU. And the AMD integrated graphics don't really cut it for serious gaming: The IdeaPad S205 frame rates for Far Cry 2 topped out at about 20 frames per second at the low-quality, 800 by 600 setting and sunk to slightly under 9 frames per second at the high-quality, 1024 by 768 setting. In other words, AMD netbooks are a lot faster than those with Intel Atom processors, but still too slow for modern 3D gaming and slower than a low-cost Core i5 or the like.
But these numbers are pretty much in line with or even better than those of other top current netbooks, which, after all, aren't meant for hard-core gamers or serious number crunchers. And for more routine multimedia tasks such as watching YouTube videos or video chat, the Lenovo IdeaPad S205 works just fine. The display is bright, and off-axis viewing is very good from side to side; not that shabby from above or below, either. Audio was unexpectedly robust for such a small portable, and the integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam delivers adequate, if not outstandingly sharp, images.
What's particularly impressive about the Lenovo IdeaPad S205 is how well Lenovo manages to fit a very usable keyboard into an admittedly cramped space. The sculpted keys and spacing all reflect Lenovo's continued excellence in the art of keyboard design. The small matte Synaptics touchpad feels responsive and reasonably precise.
The IdeaPad brand was created to give consumers an alternative to the ThinkPad's longtime corporate image, and this is most clearly reflected in the Lenovo IdeaPad S205's industrial design. The shiny black case has a subtle pattern of differently sized squares that you can best see by holding the laptop at an angle under bright light. Inside, the matte surface is lightly engraved with fine lines, and a hard matte surface on the underside doesn't get too warm even after several hours of use.
The port array is pretty typical for a netbook. On the left edge, from front to back, you get an SD/MMC/Memory Stick card reader, a USB 2.0 port, and a VGA out port; on the right edge, the headphone and microphone jacks are conveniently placed toward the front, followed by a Wi-Fi on-off switch (a nice touch not routinely found in netbooks), an HDMI port, two more USB 2.0 ports, a security lock slot and a 10/100 ethernet port. The S205 supports 802.11n Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band, no 5GHz or mobile broadband support, even as an option.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S205 comes preloaded with more software than you find on Lenovo's business models. Some seems useful, including the AMD Catalyst Control center, which, in addition to offering easy access to some graphics options, includes several system presets for various tasks and environments, for example, the air travel option turns off Wi-Fi and optimizes power settings to conserve battery life. Lenovo's OneKey rescue and recovery utility helps you create backup discs and restore your system using a special button on the right side above the keyboard.
I'm less enthusiastic about much of the other software. Lenovo Smile Dock places a taskbar containing nonessential buttons (most of them apparently linking to partner websites) on top of the already small desktop. I wouldn't want to depend on the VeriFace facial recognition software for logging in (especially without typing), and it seems Lenovo also preinstalls a couple of lesser-known communication services, PolkTalk for voice-over-IP calls and Oovoo for video chat (why not Skype?), and a games link powered by Oberon. What's most annoying about some of these apps is that they present a licence agreement without really telling you what exactly they are. There's nothing about them in the online user manual or printed setup documentation, either.