Editor’s note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2.
After two years, netbook designs have evolved from a 7-inch screen to a 10-inch screen, currently the industry standard. Now, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12, the third 12.1-inch netbook to hit the market, is helping to augur in the next generation of netbooks. With a list price of $499, the S12 is an attractive machine for consumers who want a highly portable netbook, but with a larger screen and keyboard. Its good ergonomics, long battery life, instant-on OS, and surprisingly loud speakers make it an Editors’ Choice pick.
The S12 has similar design features common to other models in the IdeaPad line; not only does it share traits with the smaller S10-2, but its keyboard is also reminiscent of the larger IdeaPad Y450. While it has the same polarizing pattern on its lid (which is either a subliminal advertisement for Target or misplaced nostalgia for 70s-era wallpaper), we like the S12’s design a bit more than the S10-2, mainly owing to its larger size. While its edges are still beveled like the S10-2, they’re not as pronounced, making the S12 seem more like the original S10, whose boxier design we admired. Still, the chrome-wrapped edges of the Samsung NC20, and the fact that it better conceals its six-cell battery (the S12’s protrudes out the back) give the Samsung a slicker look.
With an 11.5 x 9.0 inch footprint, and tapering from 1.4 to 1.0 inch with its six-cell battery, the IdeaPad S12 is nearly the same size as the NC20 and the Acer Aspire One AO751h. Weighing in at 3.4 pounds, the S12 is the same weight as the NC20, and about half a pound heavier than most other 10-inch netbooks. The bottom line is that this system is easy to carry.
Keyboard and Touchpad
At 10.6 x 4.3 inches, the S12’s keyboard is larger than similarly-sized netbooks, including those on the Samsung NC20 (10.2 x 4.0 inches) and the Acer Aspire One AO751h (10.5 x 4.3 inches). On the S12, several of the keys—including the left and right Shift keys—were larger than those on the NC20. However, we were slightly less accurate on it than the Samsung NC20. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we averaged 74 words per minute with a 4 percent error rate; on the NC20, we averaged 80 wpm with a 3 percent error rate. Nevertheless, the S12 is a good netbook for touch typists.
The S12’s touchpad was decently sized, measuring 2.6 x 1.5 inches. That’s a little smaller than the NC20 (2.8 x 1.7 inches), but a little larger than the Aspire One AO751h (2.5 x 1.6 inches). Unlike its two competitors, we were pleased to see that the S12 has two discrete mouse buttons, as opposed to a single bar.
Display and Audio
We generally liked the 12.1-inch display on the S12; its 1280 x 800 resolution was plenty crisp when watching videos from Hulu. However, while the S12 had better contrast, the NC20 presented more accurate colors; when watching a trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we could more easily make out details in clouds on the S12’s screen, but the NC20 better displayed the green in the rolling seas. Also, owing to the slightly glossier screen on the S12, viewing angles were a bit worse than on the NC20.
The stereo speakers on the bottom of the S12 were positively booming, and impressive for a system of this size. The funky bass line in Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” came through as clearly as the vocals when we streamed the song from Pandora. Using the equalizer in the Realtek HD Audio Manager, we were able to tweak the settings further, creating an even more enjoyable listening experience.
Quick Start Operating System
Like some later editions of the S10 and the S10-2, the S12 includes Quick Start, a Lenovo-branded version of the Splashtop instant-on operating system. The attractive Linux-based OS loads quickly, and is easy to use. However, because it is designed as a preboot-OS, you can’t install additional software or customize the embedded apps.
The Quick Start apps include a Web browser, music player, photo viewer, IM client, Skype client, and flash games portal. 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 take add-ons or plug-ins of any kind.
Unlike some previous IdeaPads, which made you choose between Quick Start and Windows XP every time you powered up, the S12 has a dedicated QS button, located to the right of the volume controls above the keyboard. If you hit the QS button instead of the power button when the system is off, it will boot into Quick Start.
After hitting the QS button, it takes about 10 seconds to reach a splash screen where you can choose which application you wish to launch. Once you launch an app, the OS places a dock at the bottom of the screen, which you can use to launch the other apps. The Web browser took 20 seconds to load and another several seconds to connect to Wi-Fi; while it’s a little more convenient than loading Windows XP for quick Web browsing, at 30-plus seconds to get started, it’s not that much faster.
Ports and Webcam
For a netbook, the S12 has pretty much the 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, Ethernet, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and headphone and mic ports. We especially like having an ExpressCard slot on board for adding a mobile broadband card; although you can easily use a USB device, we favor ExpressCard modems because they protrude a bit less and are less likely to snap off.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam on the S12 delivered decent video, although colors appeared slightly more washed out than on the NC20. Still, in a Skype chat, our caller said that the visuals were more than acceptable, and that the S12’s mic picked up our voice clearly.
Powered by a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, the S12 performed fairly well on our benchmark tests, notching a score of 1,389 in PCMark05, which is almost exactly the average for netbooks; the Samsung NC20, which has a VIA Nano processor, scored about 50 points higher. That difference is negligible, even for netbooks; 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.
Its 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive was able to copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files at a rate of 17.9 MBps; that’s about 2 MBps faster than the netbook average, and 3 MBps faster than the NC20.
For the most part, the S12 stayed downright cool; while running our transcoding test, the temperature between the G and H keys never exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the touchpad held around 81 degrees. The only area that got hot was the middle of the underside, which registered a rather warm 101 degrees. However, as this section of the chassis is suspended mid-air (owing to the protruding battery), it’s unlikely to come in contact with your lap.
The S12’s Intel GMA 950 graphics chip scored 707 in 3Dmark03 and 71 in 3Dmark06; those scores, too, are right in line with category averages. By contrast, the NC20’s GPU was able to attain a score of 131 in 3Dmark06. However, the S12 was able to complete our transcoding test (converting a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI using Handbrake) in 28:57, almost 2 minutes faster than the NC20, and about 10 seconds faster than the netbook average.
The S12 was easily able to play a 720p video (Super Speedway from the Windows Media Video HD Content Showcase), but choked on a 1080p video: The Magic of Flight paused every few seconds while the netbook’s processor caught up. Those looking for 1080p playback and better gameplay will want to hold out for the Nvidia Ion-powered version of the S12, launching this fall.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The S12’s 802.11b/g wireless radio was able to transfer data at a rate of 18.6 and 17.2 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively. While that’s not stellar, it was in line with the category averages.
The S12’s 6-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 41 minutes, the same time as the NC20; while that’s about 40 minutes below the netbook average for batteries of this size, keep in mind that most of those systems have smaller 10-inch screens.
As of this writing, Lenovo offers this configuration of the S12 in either a black or white chassis. The company also offers a $449 version outfitted with a 1.3-GHz VIA Nano ULV 2250 processor, Chrome9 HC3 graphics, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB, 5,400-rpm drive. As we mentioned above, the S12 will also be available with Nvidia’s Ion platform, which promises increased graphics performance by pairing the Atom N270 chip with Nvidia’s GeForce 9400M GPU. The pricing for that model has not yet been finalized.
Software and Warranty
Aside from trial editions of Norton Internet Security, Microsoft Office, and ID Vault, a program designed to guard against online identity theft, the IdeaPad 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 stories, weather, sports, and even recipes; the Video tab pulls in YouTube clips and organizes them by subject type. However, the content is rather limited. Under the Pets and Animals category, there was only one video, Maru and the Big Box. While it was entertaining to watch a cat jump in and out of a large cardboard box, there’s much more variety on YouTube itself. 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.
Using the bundled VeriFace III 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.
The S12 comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor. The warranty can be extended to three years for an additional $129. Accidental damage protection can be added at rates ranging from $39 for one year to $219 for three years. Click here to see how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
As 12-inch netbooks go, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and the Samsung NC20 are fairly evenly matched in terms of ergonomics, performance, and endurance. While the NC20’s list price is $549, it can be found online for $499, the same as the S12. We slightly prefer the design of the NC20—it does a better job at concealing its battery and feels a more sturdy—but the S12 is better in other ways. The Lenovo has much better audio quality, and the fact that it comes with the Quick Start OS is a nice perk.
If you’d like a little more graphics oomph and can hold out for a couple of months, it might be worth waiting for the Nvidia Ion version of the S12. But, if you just want to get online and prefer the more comfortable computing experience that comes with a 12-inch netbook, today’s IdeaPad S12 is a great choice.
Editor's Note: Since shooting the video with the Lenovo S12 some of the specs have been changed, including the available processors.