capsule review

Lenovo IdeaPad U150: A Remarkably Stylish Slimline

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At a Glance
  • Lenovo IdeaPad U150

With the IdeaPad U150, Lenovo continues stepping gradually from the bookish land of ThinkPads into the world of cool ultraportables. Weighing less than 3 pounds, and stylish to boot, the U150 is an eye-catching little thing. Performance is right around the median for an ultraportable, and at $749, the pricing is a little bit higher than I'd like, but the U150 is so darned cool-looking that it just about justifies its cost with sheer style.

The U150 ships with either a red or a black lid, both of which have a distinctive design laid into them. Check out the image gallery above to see how you feel about it--it's sort of an array of crystal lattice spiderwebs woven into each other. Lenovo refers to it as "Sky Star." I love it, but it's very distinct. You'll probably love it or hate it, and if you hate it, you'll be staring unhappily at it for a while. A silvery "Lenovo" label in one corner ensures that everyone knows your brand choice.

On the interior, the screen's bezel is a shiny plastic setting that matches up with the top inch of the interior body. That is, the F keys and above are all a glossy black, while the rest of the keyboard area is a matte silver with the same Sky Star design as the exterior. The machine weighs in at a delightful 2.97 pounds and measures 11.4 inches long, 7.5 inches across, and from 0.5 to 1.35 inches deep. It's not much more weight or size than carrying a large paper notepad, and the Sky Star design looks like the sort of cover an art student's notebook would have. Overall, the U150 is sleek and good-looking, although a bit too pointedly hip for some business environments.

The black version comes with a bit more muscle than the red one: The black review unit Lenovo sent out come with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor clocked to 1.30GHz, Intel's GMA X4500 on video duty, 4GB of DD3 SDRAM, and a 320GB hard drive spinning at 5400 rpm. That's a bump over the red model's Pentium Dual-Core SU4100, 3GB of DD3 SDRAM, and 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive. Both ship with an 11.6-inch, 1366-by-768 screen and identical layouts. The black unit we reviewed had just enough muscle for core tasks like editing spreadsheets, writing documents, streaming music and movies online, and playing Plants versus Zombies. That's reflected in our Worldbench score of 66, as middle-of-the-road a score for an ultraportable as you'll ever see.

Watching media on the U150 is a pleasure, as long as you're realistic about what a 1366 by 768 screen can do. The colors are sharp, and the LED backlit screen performs admirably. One thing to look out for is that the screen is very glossy, making working under almost any bright light a chore. If your personal taste runs towards glossy screens, consider that a benefit.

Unfortunately, the U150 might as well be a paperweight when it comes to graphically intensive gaming; it simply doesn't have the muscle to move modern games past slideshow speeds. And your audio needs are best served with headphones, plugged in as fast as you can. The U150's speakers are incredibly tinny, which is especially disappointing when compared to the overall quality of the rest of the machine. With two powerful speakers mounted on the front of the U150, you can pump up the volume, but what you'll get is just louder awful sound.

Physically, the U150 is easy to work with. The keyboard is bigger than those on most ultraportables, which makes working on text-intensive items much more comfortable than I expected. I've got big hands but still had plenty of room to type comfortably. The trackpad sits just above the bottom edge of the machine, with two raised buttons below it. However, the keyboard feels a bit mushy to the touch, it's got a slight flex in the center that I'd rather not see, the <Ctrl> and <Fn> key positions are inverted compared with those on any non-Lenovo machine out there, and the touchpad can jitter your pointer just a little. The big takeaway, though, is that I spent a lot of time slamming out copy on the U150, and really liked the overall comfort of the machine.

The left side of the laptop houses a VGA out, an HDMI jack, and an eSATA/USB 2.0 port; the right has two more USB jacks, mic and headphone jacks, an ethernet plug, the power plug, and the external wireless on/off switch. Status lights along the bottom and top of the keyboard area keep you informed about things like hard-drive status and power. It's also easy to open up the bottom of the machine and swap out parts. However, there is no DVD drive; you'll have to pick up something external or get your media on Hulu.

Lenovo ships the U150 with a nice assortment of proprietary software, but the whole bundle is a lot less impressive on a Windows 7 machine. OneKey Recovery does an admirable job of setting restore points, creating backups, and creating recovery disks, but so does Windows 7. Lenovo's Idea Central does a great job of putting a variety of system tools in one place, including drive management, network setup, PC security, printer configuration, and windows update, but again, Windows 7 does all that just as well. Worse: Idea Central comes chock-full of ads, serving more as an ad portal for Lenovo than as a value-added tool for the consumer. Lenovo's Veriface and Active Protection System are two exceptions to the rule, providing truly unique value.

Whether you get much mileage out of Veriface's Webcam facial-recognition log-in system depends on whether you usually log into your machine with decent lighting or not. Under decent lighting, it's a quick and easy way to sign in. Unfortunately, signing in often required circling until the light was just so, positioning my face relative to the Webcam on top of the bezel just right, and then waiting until the system let me in. I'd rather just use a password. The Active Protection System is a no-brainer, though. It measures the motion your laptop is undergoing, and stops the hard drive platter from spinning if it detects too much motion--as when you've just dropped the machine, say. Active Protection is one of my favorite Lenovo features, and it's great to see it on the U150. But for the most part, I could do without most of what Lenovo includes with this machine, given how much I can get done just through the OS (which the U150 runs snappily).

With an average of 6.25 hours of battery life, the U150 will last long enough for just about any engagement. That's about 45 minutes longer than our ultraportable average, which makes the U150's satisfactory Worldbench performance more impressive. Some credit must go to the oversized battery, which juts out from the back of the machine. It's not great-looking there, but it provides a nice rest for the keyboard when you set to work. Really, it's hard to argue with that six-and-a-quarter hour battery life.

The U150 isn't going to shatter any speed records, but it performs on a par with other ultraportables. There's plenty of space to work, a nice-looking screen to work off of, and the machine itself looks very sharp. At $749 as tested, it's a little pricier than some of the competition, but it's still a great-looking machine that performs well for less than a thousand bucks. Lenovo is one step closer to the cool kid club.

--Patrick Joynt

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At a Glance
  • A nice looking-machine that sits in the dead center of our performance benchmarks.


    • Reasonable performance
    • Great looks


    • Unsuitable for gaming
    • Keyboard feels very cheap
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