FIRST LOOK: Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook

Lenovo’s 10 inch netbook will reach local stores later this month but has been highly anticipated since its announcement in early August. APC broke that news and now we’re the first to get hands on with the product itself. While we work our way over the S10 to bring you a full review here’s an exclusive first look at the latest entrant in the Aussie netbook stakes.

Whiter than white

The S10’s design took us by surprise. The generally boxy shape is redeemed only by a slight curve at the leading edge and a subtle yet attractive grill along the very front of the unit behind which the speakers are sensibly placed.

At first glance it was almost toy-like although the squared-off slabette slowly grew on us. That’s more than we could say for the ‘white chocolate’ colour scheme on our review unit which is destined to be one of those like-or-loathe traits which comes down to individual taste.

At least the power cable and power brick are decked out in an identical colour and the S10’s chassis has a pleasing soft matte finish rather than a bothersome too-shiny sheen. But for our money it’s just a bit too cute compared to the S10’s overseas offerings in no-fills (and no risk) black or ‘a dash of daring’ red. We hope that the black model at the very least will be sold locally.

While the 2.3cm waistline and 1.2kg weight put the S10 on the heftier side of the netbook scale this is hard to avoid for a 10 inch model it’s still thinner and lighter than Asus’ equvalent Eee PC 1000H. If you want the big (for a netbook) screen size in a more svelte package your only option is the Asus S101 – slim (tapering to 18mm at its thinnest point) light (1kg) and costing $300 more than the S10’s $699 price tag.

Disappointing keyboard

The chassis itself boasts a solid look and feel although there was some noticeable flex under the upper deck casework and even under keypad as we typed. And the keyboard was to be honest a bit of a letdown. Maybe we’d been expecting too much given that Lenovo’s ThinkPad’s are largely considered to be the yardstick of excellence for notebook keyboards.

While we didn’t have another 10 inch netbook to do a side by side comparison the S10’s keyboard felt slightly smaller and subsequently more cramped than you’d expect from a netbook with a 10 inch screen. It’s less about less about the action of the keys although they’re a little on the soft and unresponsive side than that the entire keyboard felt a little too tightly packed.

We liked that the elongated trackpad supports Apple-style ‘multi-touch’ motions for zooming in on and out of photos and Web pages by pinching or spreading one’s fingers. We didn’t like that the two buttons beneath the trackpad require a firm press to activate and that action results in an incredibly noisy metallic ‘click’ which sounds like a robot cicada.

Sorta 3G-ready

Lenovo’s netbook recipe is the par for the course for these pint-sized portables: Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom 270 processor 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Happily there are a few features setting the S10 apart from the pack.

An ExpressCard/34 slot allows users to quickly slide in a 3G HSDPA modem card although this slot appears at the expense of a third USB port – of which the S10 has just two one on either side of the chassis. This could make the IdeaPad S10 a good choice if 3G is high on your list at least until the promised models with integrated 3G from Asus Acer Dell and MSI arrive early next year. We can see the S10 being happily married to one of the hot mobile broadband deals from Vodafone or Three both which include an ExpressCard modem in their appealingly low-cost contract deals.

Recovery software

There’s also a little extra software in the mix – and no we’re not talking about the preloaded 90 day trial version of Norton Internet Security 2009 which accompanies Adobe Reader as potentially unwelcome additions to your system.
Like its full-featured IdeaPad siblings the S10 comes with a system backup and recovery package called OneKey Recovery 6.0. This is a  highly stripped-down version of CyberLink’s PowerRecover software rather than Lenovo’s own Rescue & Recovery software with which any ThinkPad user would be familiar.

OneKey Recovery saves an image of the S10 to a partition on the hard drive from which the software can recover in times of dire need. (There’s also the option to create a bootable recovery disk from an existing backup image file which would be useful only if you’ve got a USB CD drive handy at all times.)

As a result the 160GB hard drive – which you may wish to know is a Western Digital ‘Scorpio Blue’ 2.5 inch drive spinning quickly yet very quietly at 5400rpm – has only 104GB available to the user allowing for XP’s footprint. The D drive is roped off at 30GB and contains all of the S10’s drivers plus the OneKey backup folder.

The software supports both full and incremental backups with light and heavy compression. A full backup of the S10’s factory fresh configuration using the light compression setting required 4.9GB of space and took just over 20 minutes. You can also store the backup image set to an external storage device.

Upgrade here…

An access panel on the netbook’s underside provides easy access to the hard drive and RAM bay should you wish to bump either above the factory spec. As a single 512MB module is mounted on the motherboard the S10 packs an additional 512MB wafer in the single DIMM slot. But as the Atom’s chipset won’t recognise any more than 2GB of RAM your options for boosting the S10’s memory will be to swap the 512MB wafer for 1GB in order to get 1.5GB up your sleeve or swap it for a 2GB wafer and still get just 2GB rather than the actual 2.5GB.

Due to technical issues we were unable to assess the two issues on which the S10 has been hammered in overseas reports: a too-short battery life (estimates are at best 2.5 hours on the three-cell battery) and excessive heat on the underside of the case. We’ll make a call on those in our full review.