It's not very often that we come across hardware that is both good-looking and price-sensitive, so we’re more than happy to see Lenovo trying to change this. Don’t expect to see an ultrabook in the 300-400€ range just yet, but with most such notebooks gravitating in the 800-1000€ range, we’re more than interested to see what Lenovo have done to magically drop the price to the 600€ domain.
U310 really is gorgeous, there’s no going around it. It comes in three colour versions: sea blue, soft pink and graphite, so that everyone can pick to one’s own taste. All three colours are very well-suited and well-chosen, so whatever your choice, you’ll be satisfied with the quality. The dimensions are, quite expectedly, 13.3”, which seems to be the de facto standard in the ultrabook field. The lid and bottom are made of metal (aluminium, to be precise), while the display and keyboard frames are plastic, although adequately painted, so as not to spoil the visual presentation. As you can see from the pictures included in the article, the design is attractive and distances itself away from the “let’s copy MacBook Air” outlook. Lenovo’s designers have done their best to make U310 slightly larger than an A4 notebook, all the while avoiding cheap tricks such as narrowing the front edge in order to make the ultrabook visually thinner, so it’s equally wide (i.e. narrow) all over. We were pleasantly surprised by the large number of connectors, so you definitely won’t have trouble connecting (to) other devices. There was sufficient room for the LAN connector, as well as a card reader, but the optical drive was expectedly omitted. The ultrabook is somewhat heavier than its direct competitors, but some compromise had to be made to drop the price this much, it seems. Regardless, U310 remains sufficiently lightweight to set the bar for many last-year models.
The display resolution is the typical 1366x768, which is satisfactory for most users. Text and image display is crisp and clear, with good colour reproduction, although more brightness wouldn’t have hurt. If you try to use this ultrabook under direct sunlight, you’ll have trouble discerning on-screen activity. Weak vertical visibility is another average aspect of the display, which puts the overall impression at “decent” and nothing more.
If we have high expectations from Lenovo in any aspect, it’s got to be the keyboard. And we haven’t been disappointed, since the keyboard is comfortable, with a pleasant step, precise feeling and sufficient space in between keys so that you don’t press the wrong key too often. Longer typing sessions keep you very satisfied and cause no excessive strain. Top-level professionals that want the very best can always turn to the ThinkPad series, while the rest of us find this one more than adequate. Another critical part of user interaction is the touchpad, where we were in for a few surprises. Firstly, it’s made of glass, which requires some time to get used to, but still ends up as a very, very cool feature. When you’ve come to understand that it reacts to your slightest move, you’ll learn to appreciate the slippery feeling under your finger and the precision it gives you. In line with the latest trends, it has multitouch capabilities and is fully compatible with Windows 8 and its newly available gestures. Another feature typical of Lenovo is a well-suited cooling system, which has only been reconfirmed on this occasion – the usual “hot spots” were barely warm even with the ultrabook under maximum load.
The speakers contained in the ultrabook have the Dolby certificate and produce a surprisingly clear sound, lacking only the usual suspect – bass. Unfortunately, their clarity has conditioned a lower volume, so don’t count on using them in noisier ambiences. The installed webcam is sufficiently good for video calls and little else, and it’ll provide a decent Skype experience, together with the mic and speakers.
Tick or Tock?
The base of U310 consists of Intel’s ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) CPU from the Sandy Bridge family. And while we were a bit disappointed to see an older-generation CPU in our test model, a single look at the final price explains the fact. The decent amount of fast memory is a good companion to the CPU, and the familiar combo of SSD for caching and HDD for data storage rounds up the platform. As with many other ultrabook models, all these components (plus the battery) can’t be changed or upgraded as easily, which is a direction we can’t say we like, and one we’d prefer manufacturers to avoid. However, what’s really important is what’s at hand, and as you can see from the results charts, we can’t really complain.
|PCMark 7 Score||1561|
|7-Zip 9.20 x64 compression/decompression [KB/s]||3641 / 43693|
|AIDA64 2.5 EE memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||8964 / 8034 / 9454|
|AIDA64 2.5 EE memory latency [ns]||70,7|
|Cinebench R11.5 x64 OpenGL [fps]/CPU/CPU (Single Core) [pts]||7,52 / 1,35 / 0,56|
|HD Tune Pro 5.0 average read [MB/s]||86.2|
|Powermark Balanced / Productivity / Entertainment||230 / 403 / 149|
Performance is on par with our expectations, with U310 responding to most common tasks instantly. If your needs include web surfing, multimedia and office work, this ultrabook will do its job with ease. If you tamper with image or video editing, however, you might want to wait for a newer model with a stronger CPU, although you shouldn’t expect the price to remain the same. The situation is similar on the graphics end of things – the new generation of Ivy Bridge CPUs has much stronger integrated graphics, although it still wouldn’t make U310 a gaming model. The way it is, U310 will be sufficient for casual gaming, but if you’re after AA modes and fine textures in titles such as Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and World of Tanks, you’d better look elsewhere for a model with discreet graphics.
SSD and HDD
The combination of SSD and HDD is primarily there to enable quick system booting and wakeup. This bit works flawlessly, making booting very fast regardless of the sluggish HDD. Bear in mind, though, that the SSD has a low capacity and can’t be used for storing data or the OS, but only for caching the most frequently used data for quicker application and system startup. Lenovo have also included an automatic tool for system boot-up optimisation, which has proven to be excellent. During testing, we’ve been able to drop the initial value for system boot in seconds from 66, first to 55, and then to 39, which is a notable result. The wakeup from sleep mode takes as little as two seconds, making U310 fully operational, which is impressive.
The casing of this ultrabook hides a solid-capacity battery, which provides U310 with a decent autonomy, in cooperation with the power-saving components inside. If you have a look at the charts, you’ll see that the power-saving mode nears 7 hours of battery life, while the usual usage scenarios will, for instance, enable you to complete two films and spend some time on Facebook as well.
“Lovely” would probably be the best adjective to apply to Lenovo’s IdeaPad U310. It’s not flaw-free; some of the drawbacks are caused by the ultrabooks’ size requirements, some by the desired final price, but ultimately, U310 has sufficient pluses on its side to make for a bright future. It manages to bring ultrabooks to mortals with an extremely attractive price, offering a lot of value for the money invested. You get remarkable portability with an excellent design and high-quality materials, as well as a very good cooling system, all rolled into one.
|Lenovo IdeaPad U310|
|CPU||Intel i3 2367M 1,4 GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 @ 1600 MHZ|
|HDD [GB]||320GB + 32GB cache SSD|
|Screen||13.3" / 1366x768 pix / glare|
|Ports||USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, Card Reader, LAN, 3.5mm audio/mic|
|OS||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
Truth be told, its display is a bit weaker and the CPU could’ve been faster too, but overall performance is sufficient to make the ultrabook enjoyable, an impression backed by the excellent keyboard and advanced touchpad. Its lightweight properties and good battery life will be most useful on-the-go, while the HDD+SSD combo is fast, yet offering plenty of room for sizeable amounts of music and video.