Review: The Lenovo U260 UltraPortable Laptop
Toward the end of January 2011, Lenovo sent a review unit of its latest ultraportable, the U260. While it’s a solid machine, there are a few caveats that could be deal-breakers for the road warrior. Still, in both design and aesthetics, Lenovo is winning big points and hitting some high notes other PC makers just aren’t. Here are the details:
First, let’s talk about the palm rests and touchpad. It’s hard to describe what it’s like have your wrists cradled by leather palm rests. Okay, so it’s not real leather, but it feels welcoming and comfy and luxurious — much like driving a car with a leather steering wheel. Adding to that level of luxury is a glass touchpad with a smooth feel and two responsive mouse buttons. Lenovo has made this touchpad way more usable than touchpads of the past, and that’s important since there’s no trademark red nub for alternative navigation.
Overall, the machine’s build quality is excellent. The rubberized-aluminum casing doesn’t creak or warp in my hands and the hinge pulls open easily without the bottom of the laptop coming up. It runs quiet and for an ultra portable has a decent array of ports. HDMI out, USB, VGA and Ethernet adorn the sides of the laptop. Plus, the monitor includes a webcam.
The U260 has a 12.5-inch screen, which puts it squarely between my main computer — the MacBook Air 11.6-inch — and the general array of 13-inch to 14-inch notebooks that dominate the world. The screen resolution is 1366×768, which is the exact same resolution as the MacBook Air; but oddly, that extra inch of screen size made it feel like there was more room on the desktop.
The Clementine orange unit I was sent was outfitted with the following:
- Core i5 at 1.33 GHz
- 4GB RAM DDR3
- 320GB HDD
It’s perfect for Skype, working on the go and general web and word-shoveling activities. However, don’t expect this to play hardcore games. Not much bloatware lives on the U260, but McAfee Anti-Virus did keep popping up to ask whether an application was allowed to run and access the Internet. The video-chatting program Oovoo came pre-installed, as well as did a facial recognition software for logging into Windows. It works great if you’re sitting in a well-lit space, but if your face has just a bit of shadow, forget it. I suppose that’s to be expected, but don’t forget your backup password if you’re having a bad hair day.
But the U260 really falls short in two major areas: keyboard and battery life.
Just for reference, Apple was able to squeeze a full-sized keyboard on its 11.6-inch machine, and includes a full-sized trackpad. But even with an extra inch of space, Lenovo could not make its keyboard layout-friendly, and included buttons that easily could have been replaced with FN+ commands. I’m a righty, and as such, I use the right-shift key almost exclusively. Lenovo, for some reason, decided to include full-sized page up, down, home and end buttons vertically down the right side of the keyboard, making the shift, backspace, and arrow-keys a mess of shrunken chiclets. Reaching for the backspace key resulted in my cursor launching me to the top of the screen. Hitting shift frequently caused the opposite effect or resulted in pressing the up-arrow key, which would move my cursor around erratically, causing me to make far my typos than I ever would have normally. This was so frustrating that it felt like I was boxing with my computer. I don’t know who requires that much use of the page up, down, home and end keys, but Lenovo should have bundled them to the arrow keys with a function button or delegated them around the arrow keys like it did with the ThinkPad Edge, and give me back my shift key!
For an ultraportable, the battery life leaves something to be desired. At 75 percent charge, I had only 2 hours and 30 minutes of battery time. Even after dimming the screen, I could watch the percentage drop precipitously. After an hour of work, I was down to about 30 percent suddenly. I suppose the web browser and miscellaneous protection software (and maybe Flash) had chewed up some of the battery life.
(For reference, I have 63 percent battery life left on my MacBook Air as I write this, with an estimated time of 3 hours and 50 minutes left. That’s with the screen brightness on normal, a bunch of Safari tabs open, and a few miscellaneous applications running in the background.)
To be fair, the MacBook Air’s only moving part is a small singular fan that sits dead-center of the device to keep it cool. The U260, however, contains more standard drives and parts. It would have been great if Lenovo had hit or exceeded the four-hour battery life it boasts and hit that mark within what constitutes ‘regular use.’
The U260 does hold a decent charge when on standby and deep hibernation; however, I never was able to successful wake my U260 from hibernation without Windows giving me the blue screen and rebooting. I’m not sure if this is a Windows issue, or a hardware-related problem with Lenovo’s drivers, but it’s a bad quirk for a device that will likely be in hibernation mode for travel and more.
Bottom line? The U260 (at $999 for my version) is a decent mobile machine, but has some hiccups that make it difficult to recommend for someone who frequently works on the go. It seems best as the “around the house” laptop or maybe a laptop to take from home to work and back again. I just really can’t recommend this for travel (or righty-shifters).
For that, the IdeaPad U260 gets a 7/10.