Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3 Review

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Pros: Top-notch keyboard ; Excellent instant-on operating system ; Useful bundled utilities ; Loud speakers

Cons: Finicky touchpad with stiff integrated buttons ; Small hard drive for the price ; Shorter battery life than competition

Verdict: While this machine offers the best keyboard on any netbook and a great instant-on OS, its touchpad is a bit finicky.

The last time we played with Lenovo's 10-inch netbook, the S10-2, we praised its bright screen and instant-on operating system, but disliked its keyboard and so-so battery life. We also found its design to be a bit polarizing. With the next iteration, the S10-3, Lenovo has fixed some of these issues: the keyboard is one of the most comfortable we've ever used on a netbook, and its design is slick. For $369, however, its battery life and storage capacity aren't as robust as similarly priced competitors, and its touchpad could be better.

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Design

It seems that netbook makers have been redesigning their wares in the last month, and Lenovo is no exception. Gone is the bulbous hinge, as well as the battery extending out the back of the system. At 10.6 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches, the S10-3 is about an inch narrower than its predecessor, the S10-2. Weighing in at 2.6 pounds, the S10-3 is also a hair lighter than most netbooks, which typically weigh 2.8 pounds.

The lid has a very slick checkered pattern of matte and glossy black squares. Not only does it look cool--and remind us somewhat of the ASUS Eee PC 1001P's lid--but it was also excellent at hiding fingerprints. On the inside, the deck is a gray plastic, but it's painted to look like brushed metal. Even though it's not the real McCoy, it looks good enough, and doesn't show fingerprints. Lenovo has also made good use of the bezel: to the left is the power button and a Caps Lock indicator light, and on the right are buttons for Lenovo's OneKey Recovery 7.0 utility and for its Quick Start instant-on Linux operating system.

Heat

The S10-3 got somewhat hot, but not uncomfortably so. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys reached 96 degrees. The middle of the chassis' underside measured 104 degrees. As we consider anything over 100 degrees to be too hot, the S10-3's battery was too toasty to come in contact with our legs.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The S10-3 has an island-style keyboard like that on the ThinkPad Edge 13, but Lenovo adds its own twist: the top and sides of each key are flat, but the bottom edges are curved. Lenovo also makes very good use of the deck so that the keyboard extends to the edges of the chassis. Typing was a real pleasure; our fingers never missed the keys, and the buttons themselves were snappy and responsive. In fact, the S10-3 is now our favorite keyboard netbook, edging out the Toshiba mini NB305-N410 and HP Mini 5102.

The touchpad was another matter. Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, Lenovo elected to integrate the buttons into the touchpad itself. While it's fairly large (2.6 x 1.4 inches) and smooth enough to speed across the desktop, it was also somewhat finicky. The cursor jumped around at times, especially when trying to select a block of text. Also, the buttons are somewhat stiff. The touchpad, which uses a Synaptics driver, is also capable of multitouch gestures such as pinch and zoom (these are turned off by default).

Display and Audio

The 10.1-inch display on the S10-3 has a glossy finish, but it didn't prove too distracting when watching videos and surfing the web. Its resolution of 1024 x 600, typical of most netbooks, was fine for reading articles online and updating Facebook. Plus, there was plenty of contrast and detail in an episode of 24 streamed from Hulu.

The Dolby-powered speakers on the S10-3 are better than what we've come to expect on most netbooks. Not only were they very powerful, filling a medium-sized room well, but their fidelity was quite good. Alicia Keys' voice rang like a bell when we streamed "No One" from Pandora; while bass was a little weak and higher tones were slightly tinny, it was generally better than the typical mini-notebook experience.

Ports and Webcam

As with most netbooks, the S10-3 has three USB ports: one on the left, and two on the right. Also on the left is a VGA port and an SD Card slot. On the right is an Ethernet port, as well as headphone and mic ports.

The webcam served up acceptable images when chatting via Skype. While we appeared somewhat washed out and grainy to one caller, he was able to make us out well, and the S10-3's microphone did a good job of picking up our voice.

Instant-On

The S10-3 is the first netbook to feature version 2.0 of the SplashTop instant-on operating system. Lenovo has branded it Quick Start, but the name is unimportant: it is now arguably the most sophisticated-looking instant-on OS. At the bottom of the screen are several iPod-like icons for CNN, Games, Email, Facebook, Flickr, Pandora, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and web. Users can customize what icons appear; there are 51 from which to choose, and they range from Amazon.com to The Weather Channel. The bulk of the page is taken up with a search box, thumbnails of most-visited websites, and your browsing history.

Launching Quick Start took 15 seconds and, once configured, it took about 26 seconds to launch the browser. All told, that's 15 seconds longer than the ASUS 1001P took to complete the same task. Still, those who do use it will appreciate the updated interface. Unfortunately, the touchpad was even more temperamental in Quick Start modethan it was running Windows 7 Starter.

Performance

Powered by the second-generation 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM, the S10-3 performed somewhat under other netbooks of its ilk. Its score of 1,193 on PCMark05 is more than 270 points lower than the netbook category average, and about 200 points behind the ASUS Eee PC 1001P. While the S10-3's Geekbench score of 880 is about 30 points higher than the average, it's still about 30 points below the Eee PC 1001P and 45 points less than the Toshiba mini NB305.



These low scores should only be cause for mild concern; in most tasks netbooks are used for--surfing the web, streaming videos, and listening to music--the S10-3 was more than capable. When we transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 to AVI using Oxelon Media Converter, the S10-3 took 6 minutes and 17 seconds, about 25 seconds longer than average, and 14 seconds longer than the mini NB305.

The S10-3 comes with a 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive; that's probably more than enough for most netbook users, but it's the same size and speed as the Eee PC 1001P, which costs $70 less. Moreover, many netbooks in the same price range as the S10-3 have 250GB hard drives. Regardless, on the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying 4.97GB of multimedia files) the S10-3 achieved a speed of 17.6 MBps--1.4 MBps faster than the average.

Also like most netbooks, the S10-3 has an integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics card, which scored 147 on 3DMark06. This is about 10 points less than similarly equipped netbooks, such as the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 (157) and Toshiba mini NB305 (159). Videos streamed from Hulu were respectable but choppy at full screen, while audio and video weren't always in sync. If you want a better quality video experience, including HD support, you're better off with a netbook armed with Broadcom's video accelerator (like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10) or a machine with Nvidia's Ion graphics.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

Our unit came with an 802.11b/g/n wireless radio card. We saw very good throughput of 28.1 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 24.8 Mbps at 50 feet--well above the averages of 21.0 and 17.4 Mbps, respectively.

The six-cell battery in the S10-3 lasted 6 hours and 55 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test; that's about 40 minutes longer than the netbook average for six-cell batteries, but it's on the short side for netbooks we've recently tested. The Eee PC 1001P, for example, lasted 8:23, while the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 hung in there for 9:03.

Configurations

While Lenovo doesn't offer the S10-3 in any configurations other than one with a red lid, do-it-yourselfers have easy access to the RAM and hard drive through a removable panel on the underside. Lenovo has a tablet version of the netbook, the S10-3t ($549), which otherwise has all the same specs as the non-touchscreen version.

Software and Warranty

In addition to trials of McAfee SecurityCenter and Microsoft Office 2007, Lenovo bundles some of its own utilities: DirectShare lets you sync files between computers and USB drives on a network; ReadyComm 5 is a networking utility that not only lets you connect to Wi-Fi hotspots, but has a Load Avg. feature, which can distribute data over several connections to increase network speed. Finally, Maplife is a map-based search engine powered by Bing; type in an address, and the app can show you food, lodging, and entertainment options around your location. You can also use the app to plot directions to a location. It's a nice tool, but without GPS embedded in the S10-3, it won't be that useful on the road.

The S10-3 comes with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support. To see how Lenovo fared on our Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Verdict

Lenovo did a lot of things right with the S10-3. Its design and keyboard are much improved over the previous generation, the speakers are positively booming (for a netbook), and its instant-on environment is easily the most attractive among netbooks. However, like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, we're not enamored with the touchpad and integrated buttons. So far, the only company that has gotten this right is Apple, although they have a lot more real estate to work with. Also, for $369, we would expect the S10-3 to have a larger hard drive, not to mention longer battery life. If storage is not a concern to you, then the $299 ASUS Eee PC 1001P is a better bargain; otherwise, the Toshiba mini NB305-N410 offers a larger hard drive and greater endurance for just $30 more.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450
Operating System MS Windows 7 Starter Edition
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 1 GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 10.1
Native Resolution 1024x600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA 3150
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots SD memory reader
Warranty/Support One-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 10.6 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
Weight 2.6 pounds
Company Website http://www.lenovo.com/us