Lenovo IdeaPad U110: fashion over function

Best known for its conservative ThinkPad range of laptops Lenovo has come up with an entirely different concept for the IdeaPad U1110. Rather than the blocky edges and matte black finishes that are readily associated with the ThinkPad – and many other laptops in fact – the IdeaPad looks like it’s tumbled off the pages of a fashion magazine with its fire-red aluminium lid glossy black interior and a super-sleek profile.

The floral pattern etched onto the cover – referred to by Lenovo as its ‘tendril texture’ – marks the IdeaPad U110 as an unmistakeably feminine laptop. The style comes across as more old-fashioned than contemporary but the same can’t be said for the interior which is coated entirely in a high-gloss black finish. Even the keyboard is glossy and while it looks stunning straight out of the box it gets greasy very quickly. Lenovo supplies a polishing cloth with the laptop but it’s a hassle to keep wiping it down when it starts to look grimy – which is basically after every time you use the keyboard or mousepad.

Whether you like the design or not there’s no denying the U110’s sex appeal. It makes most other laptops look positively beast-like with a thickness that’s just a hair over two centimetres (the MacBook Air measures 19.4 mm at its thickest point) and a weight of only 1.09kg with the standard four-cell battery – noticeably lighter than the MacBook Air’s 1.36kg weight

While we’re comparing it to Apple’s ultraportable the U110’s footprint is also more compact than the MacBook Air thanks to the 11.1-inch display (although it looks larger as it’s flush with the rest of the lid). This runs a higher-than-average resolution of 1366 x 768 so you’re not sacrificing anything in the way of viewing area. But the U110’s shiny veneer works against it here as the on-screen glare from ambient light is a big distraction while you’re using it.

Like every thin-and-light before it the IdeaPad U110 puts portability before performance. However it’s still got a decent set of specs for its size including a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo L7500 chip (with 800MHz FSB and 4MB cache) 2GB of RAM (upgradeable to 3GB) Intel X3100 integrated graphics chip and a 120GB 4200rpm hard drive. We would’ve liked to see an option for integrated WWAN like on the ThinkPad X300 but we’ll settle for the 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi and ExpressCard slot for adding an external wireless broadband card.

If your computing needs only extend to web surfing word processing and the occasional movie the IdeaPad is better equipped than most other ultraportables achieving an above-average score of 3069 PCMarks in PCMark05 (the MacBook Air scored 2509). Graphics performance is a more modest 595 in 3DMark06 however it runs Vista’s Aero interface smoothly.
The U110’s slim profile makes the lack of internal DVD drive forgivable and Lenovo includes an external one in the box for no extra charge. This uses up two of the three available USB 2.0 ports; other inputs include a 10/100Mb Ethernet port (not Gigabit surprisingly) FireWire 5-in-1 memory card reader and VGA. The standard biometric fingerprint reader has been omitted in favour of Lenovo’s VeriFace face recognition software which uses the 1.3-megapixel camera above the screen to log you into Windows. Unlike every other face recognition program we’ve tried this one actually works using your eyes as the calibration points for recognition.
Also in the box is an extra 7-cell extended battery -  a good thing as the standard 4-cell battery has limited stamina. Using our punishing DVD run-down test with the standard battery (with an external DVD drive attached and all the power saving and wireless features turned off) it only ran for 40 minutes before shutting down – a result that can be extended to roughly an hour and a half’s worth of regular usage.