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Lenovo U110R IdeaPad
Review by Daniel P. Dern
Lenovo Personal Computers  ISBN/ITEM#: B0018R7UHK
Date: 14 July 2008 List Price $1,949.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Lenovo U110 IdeaPad Official Page / Show Official Info /

With its stylish etched-aluminum-alloy red or black case and multi-media features, Lenovo's under-three-pound IdeaPad U110 ultraportable notebook is intended for consumers and business users at home or on the road. If you're looking for a PC equivalent to the Mac Book Air, this comes close.

At 10.8" x 7.7" x 0.72" (0.88" with the extended-life battery), the IdeaPad U110 is eminently carryable. It isn't quite as thin as the MacBook Air, but it's smaller in the other two dimensions (sporting an 11.1" display versus the Air's 13.3"), and weighs a few ounces less.

Inside, the IdeaPad U110 sports an Intel Duo Core processor, 2 gigs of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, Dolby Home Theater audio, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth (on some models),Vista Home Premium, and enough graphics card power to handle the client program for Second Life.

Visible features include an 11.1" WXGA (wide-format) TFT screen, touch-sensitive user-definable controls for sound and other features that become visible when you touch the area above the keyboard, and a mini-webcam at the top of the screen that hooks into VeriFace face-recognition security, as well as being used in video chat.

Ports include three USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), VGA, a six-in-1 media card reader (SD/SD Pro, MS/MS Pro, MMC, XD), Mini-PCIe slot, Express Card slot, and microphone and headphone jacks. Security includes the Active Protection System, which stops the hard drive to avoid damage if the system is moving, e.g. falling, and also includes Lenovo's One-Touch Recovery button.

A Simple "Done In One" Purchase

Lenovo has very nicely made the IdeaPad U110 a "done in one" purchase. The box includes both regular (four-cell) and high-capacity (seven-cell) batteries, outboard USB Super Multi-Burner 24X Max optical drive and a short USB cable to connect it, and a remarkably small power supply, the size and half the thickness of a deck of cards.

With the six-ounce four-cell battery, the IdeaPad U110 weighs just under two-and-a-half pounds. Switching to the 12-ounce seven-cell extended-life battery adds another half pound and brings it up an ounce shy of three pounds.

The power supply and the optical drive each weigh about twelve ounces, bringing full-kit carry weight with the bigger battery up to about four-and-one-third pounds.

The base price (excluding extended coverage of other accessories) is under $2,000 (currently in the mid-$1,800s on the Lenovo site).

I've been trying the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 for the past few weeks. Like all the ultraportable machines I've tried lately, which include the Panasonic ToughBook W7 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X61s, the IdeaPad u110 has plenty of power and features. Here's what I do and don't like.

THINGS I LIKE ABOUT THE LENOVO IDEAPAD U110

Enough CPU/Graphics Power: Like any notebook today except the low-price-low-power ones (e.g., Asus Eee, HP MiniNote 2133), the IdeaPad U110 has more than enough for standard apps, e.g. Vista Home, Microsoft Office... and the graphics card has the horsepower to handle the Second Life client.

Good display: The display looks great. And it's also convinced me that, given a choice, the wide format is the way to go, rather than the classic screen size.

Nice "carry feel": The IdeaPad U110 feels solid without being too heavy, and it's got a nice compact shape, making it (inside a protective case of some sort) easy to (gently) toss into whatever briefcase, sidepack or other carry bag I'm using.

Fabulously Compact Power Supply: This is the smallest power supply I've seen for a notebook computer -- particularly important when the notebook itself is small. (Note, it's 90 watts.) Lenovo offers a version of this that includes a USB charging port as a general accessory for its notebook line, the ThinkPad and IdeaPad 90W Slim AC/DC Combo Adapter, list price $119.95.

THINGS I DON'T LIKE:

Flat Keyboard Leaves Me Flat: The keys on the IdeaPad U110 are flat, like on the Apple MacBook Air, HP 2133 Mini-Note, and many other of the "ultra-thin" notebooks, rather than the concave (depressed "valley" center) on all the IBM and Lenovo ThinkPads. While I'm able to touch-type on the keyboard well enough, the touch feels off to me -- I'd rather have those ThinkPad keys, even if it means the machine has to be, gasp, maybe not quite so thin.

Disappointing Battery Life: Lenovo claims the 4-cell will run about two hours and 7-cell around six hours. Granted, these numbers are often obtained by setting the machine for extreme electro-frugality, but I saw significantly less. With power settings on "balanced" (including the screen brightness turned down a lot), doing some application work and otherwise simply listening to streaming radio via WiFi, I got one to one-and-a-half hours on the four-cell, and around four hours with the extended-life.

And that's with the screen going dark a lot (which I was unable to defeat by tweaking the display-power time-out settings).

Hinges Don't Open Wide Enough: The hinges for the display do position the display slightly higher than other approaches -- but the display only opens to about 110°, no further, which can be limiting if you're using the machine on your lap.

Sound So-So: The speakers/sound on this machine don't grab me. I'm not sure how much better they could be in a machine this size, but it feels like I've heard better in other ultraportables I've tried over the past several months. I tried the audio listening to streaming radio over the Internet, watching video, and playing one of my CDs, and none of these sounded good -- or loud -- enough.

Face-Off: The IdeaPad includes a built-in facing-the-user mini-web-cam, which, in turn, automatically does face-recognition as biometric user authentication. I think this is part of Vista home (I won't call it a "feature"). Unfortunately, recognition is highly dependent on lighting, angle, etc....much more finicky than the fingerprint reader ID (which I tried on a Lenovo ThinkPad X61s). After a few days, I figured out how to disable the login authentication part, and am much happier for it.

Missing/Unavailable Features: The IdeaPad U110 doesn't offer embedded mobile (cellular) broadband. If you plan to use this, embedded is the way to go (particularly with the new QualComm Gobi chips, which will let you switch among providers in terms of technology support). The WiFi isn't Draft-n, which offers better bandwidth/distance and power management.

Conclusions: IdeaPad U110 May Or May Not Be For You

If you're looking for a stylish, ultraportable notebook computer with a great display and multi-media oriented features, and speaker sound isn't a high priority, Lenovo's IdeaPad U110 bears looking into.

Since my primary use for computers is in support of my business, which is writing, I need a great keyboard more than anything else, and the IdeaPad U110's doesn't do it for me. If you do a lot of keyboarding, be sure you try the U110 before you commit. (You may decide you like it enough.)

Within Lenovo offerings, you should also look at Lenovo's X61s ThinkPad, which has classic-ThinkPad keys and a few more security features (and a non-widescreen display)...and may cost somewhat less, depending on what configuration you get.

If you want to step up half a pound and another thousand dollars or so, take a look at Lenovo's ThinkPad X300, which has a 13.3" screen and built-in optical drive -- the same total weight as an IdeaPad U110 with outboard optical drive, and the X300 has the nice ThinkPad keyboard.

-- TechRevu contributing editor Daniel P. Dern (dern at pair dot com) is a freelance technology writer. His web site is www.dern.com, and his blogs are Trying Technology and Dern Near Everything Else.

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