capsule review

Lenovo IdeaPad S12

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At a Glance
  • Lenovo IdeaPad S12

The Lenovo S12 is a portable, affordable, and multimedia-minded netbook with a full-size keyboard and decent battery life. Its 12.1-inch screen makes the S12 big enough for those who lament the tininess of a 9- or 10-inch screen, yet it still retains its netbook status.

What should be the shining gem in the Lenovo S12's crown is an embedded nVidia Ion chipset--a netbook wunderkind that will be able to run 1080p video and games (see more about that here) with relative ease compared with just about every other netbook. Unfortunately, this is not that netbook. Lenovo sent us a $499 teaser that packs only an integrated GMA 950.

Considering that the S12 comes from the same factory where chunky, no-nonsense ThinkPads are regularly produced, its design is surprisingly sleek and sexy. It comes in either shiny black or shiny white (ours was black), with a subtle circle design. Even advocates of Mac-sexiness have to admit to its sense of style.

The S12's sizable keyboard is definitely pleasant to see on a netbook, though not exactly groundbreaking on a netbook of this size. For the most part, the keyboard was decent and easy to get around. But the Ctrl and Fn keys are switched (the Fn key is the lower-left-corner key), which made keyboard shortcuts a pain. After all, if I want to contort my hand in unnatural positions just so I can open up a new tab on Firefox, I'll get a Mac.

The trackpad is neither textured nor indented, which adds to the sleek design--and some problems. It was sometimes hard to distinguish from the rest of the laptop; still, that took just a few days to overcome. The mouse buttons were another story--they felt cheap and were already starting to lose some of their press after only a few days of testing.

The screen, a 1280-by-800-resolution LED back-lit glossy panel, is surprisingly easy on the eyes: After several hours of staring at it, I didn't feel I was straining too much. The colors were crisp and bright, with very little glare, even when I was outside. The higher resolution was a definite plus for a netbook and, compared to most netbooks, this machine has a nice, "large" screen--like HP's tweener-class Pavilion dv2. The only real drawback is that the highest brightness level, whose use is pretty much a prerequisite for testing, saps battery life pretty quickly.

The S12 touts specs similar to other netbooks: three USB 2.0 ports, an ethernet port, a 4-in-1 card reader, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, an ExpressCard slot, and either a three- or six-cell battery. The six-cell battery on our unit ran 7 hours, 41 minutes in our lab tests--great but still short of the record-holding Toshiba Mini NB205-310. That netbook's battery lasts for nearly 10 hours! As for performance, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that it scores right in the range of other netbooks, earning a 38 in PC WorldBench 6 tests (slightly above average).

That's because the S12 runs Windows XP Home with a 1.6GHz Z270 Atom CPU and 1GB of memory. The hard drive comes in 160, 250, or 320GB capacities. (Our test unit came with 160GB).

The S12 has a few nifty novelty features, which are pretty exciting for about the first 5 minutes--or if you plan to back up your computer every 5 minutes. First is the "one-step back-up key," which is located above the keyboard and allows the user to back up important files. Also included is a "quick-start key," which lets the user get online and check e-mail, surf the Web, and look at photos without starting up the entire operating system. While such a key is tantalizing in theory, I didn't find it to be much quicker than just starting up the OS.

The S12 also has a "face-recognition" feature, which uses the Webcam to protect user logins--with the user's face. This feature worked a lot better than I expected it would; after a brief set-up, the camera was able to recognize my face about five seconds after I sat down to the computer, and logged me in. This feature can be used instead of a password for the regular XP login screen, which is pretty handy--if you don't have hands. Considering that the 5 seconds it took to scan my face could also have been used in typing my password, this feature is really only useful if you want to feel like Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible.

If you're looking for a netbook with decent battery life, a bigger screen, and the ability to recognize your face, then the Lenovo S12 is a solid choice. It packs a punch in a little netbook package. With its big hard drive, better-than-average battery life, and stylish exterior, it's great for your basic netbook user on the go. It's cheaper and lasts longer than HP's Pavilion dv2--another 12-incher. However, this S12 is a taste of things to come. If you wait a little longer, an Ion-powered model with an nVidia GPU on board will come out, selling for $50 more. That's where the smart money's at.

--Sarah Jacobsson

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At a Glance
  • Larger than your average netbook, the S12 provides average performance at a fairly high netbook price.


    • Crisp screen
    • Sleek design


    • Cheap mouse buttons
    • Pricey for a netbook
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