It used to be difficult to find a worthwhile laptop for less than $300, but Lenovo makes it easier than ever to have an enjoyable user experience with its $270 IdeaPad 120S. Combining a chic design, long battery life and performance that beats that of similarly priced notebooks, the IdeaPad 120S offers great value for the money. The screen is a bit washed-out, but in this price range, the IdeaPad 120S is one of the best Windows laptops you can get.
Yes, Lenovo's IdeaPad 120S is affordable, but it doesn't look cheap. Sporting a mineral-gray chassis with a matte finish, the IdeaPad 120S could almost fool you into thinking it's made out of aluminum. However, the slight flex in the deck and keyboard give away the IdeaPad's polycarbonate and ABS plastic structure.
A silver Lenovo logo on the lid interrupts the seamless design. When you lift the IdeaPad's lid, you'll find an island-style keyboard with charcoal keys, a screen with moderately sized black bezels and a small Lenovo logo in the bottom-left corner and a matching gray touchpad. The hinge on the IdeaPad can flip back to nearly 180 degrees, but the support feels a little flimsy -- so I'd caution anyone with this model to refrain from applying pressure. The "subtle rubber" grips at the bottom of this laptop could be better; I found the IdeaPad slid across my desk easily.
The IdeaPad 120S measures 13.14 x 9.25 x 0.73 inches and 3.24 pounds, which is a typical size for a laptop in this category. The Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (0.7 inches thick, 3.2 pounds) and the HP Stream 14 (0.7 inches thick, 3.11 pounds) are slightly smaller, but the IdeaPad 120S is lighter and slimmer than the Asus L402SA (0.9 inches thick, 3.3 pounds).
For less than $300, you're not going to get all the fancy ports you see in premium laptops, but the IdeaPad 120S has enough to let you get some work done. On its left side, there's a proprietary charging port, a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI output and a USB Type-C connector (which can charge the laptop).The right side has another USB port, a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card reader.
Display: OK for the price
The IdeaPad 120S' 14-inch screen carries a 1366 x 768 resolution, so you're not getting the sharpest image. But keep in mind that this is a sub-$300 laptop. According to our colorimeter, the IdeaPad 120S reproduced 69 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is a rather lackluster score that doesn't meet the category average (100 percent). Lenovo's sub-$200 IdeaPad 100S-14 was more vibrant (84 percent). The Asus L402SA (92 percent) and HP Stream (81.5 percent) also had better showings.
The actual viewing experience on the IdeaPad 120S was a mixed bag. When I watched 2NE1's "Gotta Be You" music video, yellows and reds popped, but they weren't as vibrant as I've seen them on other screens; some lighter-colored items appeared washed out. In particular, the multicolored walls in the background were noticeably undersaturated, and CL's blue contact lenses appeared gray. Dark shades, like those in Park Bom's black and violet hair, were reproduced with no issue. I was also impressed by the IdeaPad's clarity, given that this is a lower-res screen. I could clearly make out the tufts of fur in Minzy's pink sweater and the Jeremy Scott print on Sandara's blue shirt.
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The IdeaPad 120S' screen performed better in our brightness test, registering 219 nits on our light meter. That score didn't surpass the category average (254 nits), but it's better than the showings we observed from the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (188 nits), the Asus L402SA (206 nits) and the HP Stream 14 (186 nits).
The panel on the IdeaPad 120S did not handle glare well in direct sunlight. It also has narrow viewing angles; image quality suffered whenever I deviated from 90 degrees, making the flip-back hinge almost pointless. Viewing angles were fine when I looked at the screen from the right and left.
Audio: As good as it gets
The IdeaPad 120S has dual bottom-facing speakers that provided adequate sound. The 2 x 1 watt stereo speakers reproduced semiaccurate audio that was loud enough to fill our small conference room. When I listened to "Call Me Baby" by EXO, I could hear the bass and synth all right. But the percussion sounded tinny, and the strings were barely audible. At least the vocals came through clearly, with little distortion.
The microphone on the IdeaPad 120S is built into the top bezel, along with its webcam. When I recorded a few voice memos to test how well the mic picked up audio, I was pleased to hear the playback sounded true to my voice.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard on the IdeaPad 120S is a little shallow, providing only 1.2 millimeters of travel (1.5 to 2 mm is typical). The keys require 69 grams of actuation force (65 to 70 grams is typical), which gave them a responsive feel, but our results were mixed. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, my average speed of 58 words per minute decreased by 22 percent (45 wpm). My editor found the keyboard a bit more pleasant and hit 95 wpm, which is about 5 percent below his typical score.
The IdeaPad's buttonless, 4.1 x 2.7-inch touchpad is so smooth it borders on slippery. The touchpad provided accurate navigation, and responded to pinch-to-zoom and three-finger-swipe gestures.
Lenovo's IdeaPad 120S comes with an Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC storage drive, all of which provided strong performance in our tests for a laptop of in this price range. When I had eight tabs open in Google Chrome -- including streams from YouTube, Pandora and Netflix -- I didn't experience lag.
The IdeaPad 120S' Intel Celeron N3350 CPU scored 2,626 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. That showing exceeded the scores we saw from the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (1,880), the Asus L402SA (1,934) and the HP Stream 14 (1,817), all of which have Intel Celeron N3060 CPUs.
The IdeaPad 120S copied a 4.97GB batch of multimedia files in 1 minute and 28 seconds, for a rate of 57.8 megabytes per second. That hard-drive speed is much faster than the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14's 43.5 MBps (1 minute and 47 seconds), the Asus L402SA's sluggish 14.1 MBps (6 minutes) and the HP Stream 14's 24.5 MBps (3 minutes and 28 seconds).
It took the IdeaPad 120S 9 minutes and 41 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses on our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test. That time is faster than the showings from the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (14 minutes and 33 seconds), the Asus L402SA (13 minutes and 15 seconds) and the HP Stream 14 (13 minutes and 04 seconds).
With an integrated Intel HD Graphics 500 processor, the IdeaPad 120S scored a solid 19,827 on the Ice Storm Unlimited test, a synthetic benchmark that measures graphics performance. This mark is better than the scores from the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (13,586), the Asus L402SA (19,784) and the HP Stream 14 (19,073).
Although the IdeaPad 120S performed better than its competitors in the graphics test, it's not a suitable laptop for gaming. The IdeaPad 120S didn't meet our 30-frames-per-second playability threshold in the Dirt 3 racing game test, earning a score of 24.5 fps.
Battery Life: Beats the competition
If you need the IdeaPad 120S for a full day of work or school, you may want to keep your charger handy. But for less than $300, the IdeaPad's battery life is excellent.
With a 2-cell (32 watt hours) battery supporting our review unit, the IdeaPad 120S lasted a decent 7 hours and 43 minutes in our Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That runtime is longer than those from the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 (5:51), the Asus L402SA (6:03) and the HP Stream 14 (7:04), but shorter than the category average (8:42).
Lenovo's IdeaPad 120S stayed cool during our heat test. After we played a full-screen video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 75 degrees Fahrenheit, its keyboard (G and H keys) registered 82 degrees and the underside hit 85 degrees. These results passed our heat test with flying colors, as we consider temperatures above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
Decent laptop webcams are hard to find even on premium models, so it's not surprising that Lenovo didn't invest in the IdeaPad's camera. With a 0.3-megapixel front camera, the IdeaPad 120S captured blurry and undersaturated photos that look like poor imitations of Snapchat filters.
When I took a selfie under the fluorescent lighting in my office, my features were hard to make out, with plenty of grain in the background. Colors were also off, making my chocolate-brown sweater appear black and my tan skin appeared washed out with a gray tinge.
All in all, if you need to use the IdeaPad 120S for a video call in a professional setting, you're better off using the money you saved with this sub-$300 laptop to buy an external webcam.
Software and Warranty
Running Windows 10 Home, the IdeaPad 120S comes with a minimal amount of preloaded software, including first-party utilities and third-party bloatware. Lenovo Companion tests your hardware for errors and searches for driver updates, while Lenovo Settings lets you tweak power, sound, camera, display and touchpad controls. The IdeaPad also comes with a few preinstalled games, such as Minecraft, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Bubble Witch Saga.
With a number of noteworthy features -- including a decent Intel Celeron N3350 CPU, USB Type-C support and solid battery life -- the $270 Lenovo IdeaPad 120S offers strong value. You still get what you pay for in some areas, though, as this laptop has a less-than-stellar display and sound system, and a body that flexes.
If you want the cheapest laptop money can buy, the $183 Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-14 is a good choice, especially when you take its colorful display into account, but trade-offs include shorter battery life and slower performance. The $248 Asus L402SA is another affordable option, offering a colorful display, strong audio, a wider variety of ports and a comfy keyboard. The $219 HP Stream 14 is a cheap but eye-catching alternative that also offers strong battery life.
However, if you simply want an affordable notebook with reasonable performance, the IdeaPad 120S is a reliable choice for web surfing and office tasks.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag