Editor’s Note: Portions of this review were taken from our original review of the Lenovo IdeaPad S12.
We recently celebrated the second anniversary of the netbook, and in that relatively short period of time, the systems in this class have grown from cramped 7-inch machines with short battery life to 12-inch laptops that blur the lines between mini-notebooks and full size portables. Now the Lenovo IdeaPad S12, the second Nvidia Ion-powered netbook to hit the U.S. market, is continuing that evolution. Priced at $649, the S12 is more expensive than many other systems in the category, but with the premium you get ample graphics capable of playing HD video and mid-range games, 3GB of RAM, good ergonomics, an instant-on OS, and surprisingly loud speakers. We just wish that this version of the S12 was cheaper and could crank out longer battery life.
The S12 with Ion looks identical to the previously released S12. Featuring an 11.5 x 9.1 footprint that tapers from 0.9 to 1.4 inches with its six-cell battery (which juts out slightly from the back) and weighing 3.4 pounds, the S12 is easy to carry. We’re fans of the subtle dot pattern that graces the glossy black lid, but it picks up fingerprints quickly. The inside of the S12 has a matte black surface and a series of buttons above the keyboard, including one for system recovery, volume controls, and a button to launch Quick Start, Lenovo’s instant-on operating system. Overall, the HP Mini 311 is lighter (3.2 pounds) and sleeker, but the S12 has better ergonomics.
Keyboard and Touchpad
This 12-inch system accommodates a wide base with a spacious keyboard. Those accustomed to typing on 10-inch netbooks will immediately notice and appreciate the large Shift keys, and lion-pawed touch typists will especially appreciate the additional width that the extra 2 inches provides. We like that the keyboard on the S12 didn’t flex under rigorous typing, and feedback from the individual keys was satisfying.
The S12’s touchpad is decently sized at 2.6 x 1.5 inches, which is a hair smaller than the HP Mini 311’s 3.3 x 1.5 touchpad. We would’ve liked more space, but we didn’t have any problems whipping the cursor around the desktop while surfing the Web or checking e-mail. In fact, we prefer the S12’s touchpad overall because it doesn’t have as much friction as the Mini 311’s glossy touchpad. We like that the S12 has dedicated left and right mouse buttons, even if they are narrow.
The S12 proved to be a machine that may require a notebook cooler, depending on how you use it. We took the netbook’s temperature after streaming an episode of Community for 15 minutes and discovered that the space between the G and H keys measured 90 degrees Fahrenheit (warm but not unbearable), while the touchpad and palm rest held around 91 degrees. The only area that got hot was the middle of the underside, which registered a rather uncomfortable 105 degrees. However, as this section of the chassis is suspended in midair (due to the protruding battery), it’s unlikely to come in contact with your lap. Still, we could feel the warmth penetrate our jeans.
Display and Audio
We generally liked the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution display on the S12. While streaming Legend of The Seeker: Prophecy/Destiny, we were impressed with the crispness and rich colors, which were on a par with the HP Mini 311’s 11.6-inch (1366 x 768) display. The glossy screen kicked back a number of reflections (especially during dark scenes), but the viewing angles were better than average from the sides. We were able to watch the movie with a friend sitting next to us without complaints.
The resolution difference between the two netbooks’ screens was most evident when we visited The New York Times’ homepage. The S12 displayed slightly more vertical space, allowing us to read two extra lines of content before needing to scroll. The HP Mini 311, on the other hand, displayed fewer lines.
The stereo speakers on the bottom of the S12 were impressive for a system of this size. The vocals and energetic guitars in King Khan and The Shrines’ “Torture” were very loud and clear when we streamed the song from Slacker, but as is the case with many non-multimedia notebooks, the low-end sounds were weak.
The S12 includes Quick Start, a Lenovo-branded version of the Splashtop instant-on operating system that launches when you press the Quick Start button with the system off. The attractive Linux-based OS loads quickly: we arrived at the main menu in just 12 seconds, and connected to the Web using the included Firefox browser 23 seconds later. At 35 seconds to connect to the Web, it’s much faster than the 1 minute and 13 seconds that it took for the 32-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system to boot.
The Quick Start apps include a Flash games portal, IM client, music player, photo viewer, and Skype client. Each of these is useful, though not nearly as functional as Windows software. The Firefox-based Web browser, for example, supports Flash, but it cannot run add-ons or plug-ins of any kind. As Quick Start is designed as a preboot OS, you can’t install additional software or customize the embedded apps. In addition, Quick Start does not take advantage of Nvidia Ion graphics as Windows does, so you can’t enjoy hardware acceleration in Flash Player 10.1 for better performance on sites like Hulu in instant-on mode.
Ports and Webcam
For a netbook, the S12 has a pretty standard array of ports. On the left side of the system are two USB ports, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, and a 4-in-1 memory card slot. On the right side is a third USB port, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and headphone and mic ports.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam on the S12 delivered decent video, although colors appeared slightly washed out and the images a shade dark. Still, in a Skype chat, our caller said that the visuals were acceptable, and that the S12’s mic picked up our voice clearly. Using the bundled Lenovo VeriFace III 3.6 facial recognition software, we were able to log in just by staring into the webcam. The software also lets you leave video messages for other users of the same computer.
Powered by a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor and 3GB of RAM, the S12 performed fairly well on our benchmark tests. It notched a score of 1,306 in PCMark Vantage (a test that measures overall Windows performance), which is 79 points higher than the Windows 7-powered HP Mini 311 from Verizon Wireless. However, the S12 is not as speedy as the $399 Acer Aspire 1410 (2,475), which demonstrates the performance delta between netbooks and a 1.2-GHz Celeron-powered notebook. Still, we were able to easily listen to music streaming over the Web, play a video, and write this review in Microsoft Word without seeing a hit in performance.
The S12’s 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive was able to copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files at a rate of 21.1 MBps; that’s 5.8 MBps faster than the netbook average, and 5.5 MBps faster than the HP Mini 311. The S12 booted Windows 7 Premium in 1 minute and 13 seconds, which was faster than the HP Mini 311 (1 minute and 44 seconds) but falls short of the category average (57 seconds).
The S12’s Nvidia Ion graphics chip scored 1,377 in the 3DMark06 benchmark, which obliterated the netbook average (160) and ultraportable average (857). While it outperformed the Acer Aspire 1410 (595) and the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T (594), this showing was a bit lower than the HP Mini 311’s 1,386 mark. The S12 aced World of Warcraft, delivering 36 frames per second at 1024 x 768, and dipping to 14 fps when we bumped the resolution up to 1280 x 800 and effects to Ultra.
Like the Mini 311, the S12 choked on the graphically-demanding Far Cry 2, averaging an unplayable 10 fps with the game set to 1024 x 768, and dropping to just 6 fps at 1280 x 800 (the Mini 311 saw 12 fps at 1024 x 768).
When we downloaded and installed Flash 10.1 (which uses the GPU acceleration built into the Nvidia Ion platform), we saw terrific frame rate improvements when streaming video. A 480p episode of Heroes moved at a 26-fps clip, which was about 5 times faster than the 5 fps average notched by Flash 10. A 720p Legend of the Seeker: Prophecy/Destiny stream maintained a watchable 20 fps, which was 10 times faster than Flash 10’s 2-fps rate. The S12 was easily able to play the 1080p “The Magic of Flight” clip, which we downloaded from Microsoft’s WMV HD Content Showcase and exported to a 23-inch Acer monitor.
The Nvidia GPU also allowed for fast transcoding. Converting a 114MB video file from MPEG-4 to AVI took 31 minutes and 16 seconds without the GPU’s assistance—approximately one minute and thirty seconds longer than average—but with it (using the CUDA-enabled vReveal program), the time was sliced to just 10:58.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The S12’s 802.11g wireless radio was able to transfer data at a rate of 19.4 and 18.5 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively. While that’s not stellar, it was in line with the category averages of 20.8 and 17.1 Mbps. Both measurements were significantly lower than the HP Mini 311’s outstanding 22.3 and 22.0 Mbps scores, but we had no problems streaming a 30 Rock episode from Hulu or the latest installment of the Slash Film podcast.
The six-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 56 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), which fell short of the endurance displayed by the Windows 7 version of the HP Mini 311 (4:52) and the 6-cell category average (6:18). The original S12 (without Ion graphics) running Windows XP lasted 5:41 on a charge.
Lenovo offers a $429 version of the S12 outfitted with a 1.3-GHz VIA Nano ULV 2250 processor, Chrome9 HC3 graphics, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP, and 5,400-rpm, 160GB drive. Next up the ladder is a similarly priced model that replaces Via’s hardware with a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom 270 CPU and Intel GMA 950 GPU, and adds a white shell (a black one is available for an extra $20). A $599 model builds upon the previous system by adding Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit), a larger 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive, and the Nvidia Ion platform.
Software and Warranty
Aside from trial editions of Microsoft Office (60 days), and ID Vault (30 days), a program designed to guard against online identity theft, the S12 comes with a few Lenovo utilities. The OneKey recovery software allows you to make a perfect backup image of your operating system and software, either by clicking on the program’s shortcut icon in Windows or by hitting the dedicated OneKey recovery button.
The Lenovo Idea Central app acts as a portal to the netbook as well as to online content: the Dashboard gives users an overview of the hard drive, network, security, and peripherals; the News tab features sports, stories, weather, and even recipes; the Video tab pulls in AP and YouTube clips and organizes them by subject type. A more appropriate name for the Decision Center tab should be Online Shopping, as it only seems to link to online stores, from Netflix to Staples.
Lenovo covers the S12 comes with a standard one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. Click here to see how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
There’s certainly a lot to like about the Lenovo IdeaPad S12-29595GU, including Ion graphics, a relatively large keyboard, ample RAM, OneKey backup, and lots of storage. However, the $649 asking price for this netbook on steroids is considerably higher than the similarly configured $574 HP Mini 311, which offers an hour of additional battery life. The HP Mini 311 offers the most bang for the buck, but the S12 with Ion is worth a look if you want a better keyboard/touchpad combo and instant-on functionality.