Can the company that's synonymous with business notebooks create a machine that excites consumers? Yup, and the IdeaPad U260 is exhibit A. With its magnesium alloy chassis, orange lid and bottom, and soft leather palm rest, the world's first 12.5-inch ultraportable combines executive sleek with casual cool. Meanwhile, a low-voltage Intel Core i5 CPUs provides plenty of pep for $1,049. Just don't forget to pack the AC adapter along with this 3-pound head-turner.
The IdeaPad U260 has the kind of flair we wish ThinkPads had. The lid comes in Clementine orange (our version) or Mocha brown, and the design is made from a single piece of magnesium-aluminum alloy that lends the notebook a sense of smooth, minimal professionalism. Measuring just 0.7 inches thin and weighing one-tenth of a pound more than the most recent 2.9-pound Apple MacBook Air, the U260 slips so nicely into bags and backpacks, it's easy to forget the machine is there.
When the notebook is open, your eyes are quickly drawn to the LED status icons that are traced in illuminating dots, and your hands are drawn to the soft, leather-textured palm rest. The U260's left, right, and front sides, as well as the bezel around the display, are lined in a smart-looking, polished black plastic.
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Lenovo didn't skimp when it came to the notebook's base, either. Not only does the smooth chassis material extend all the way around the notebook, but the rubber stands on the bottom of the system give the U260 a slightly elevated and sloped footprint. Plus, the bottom air vents, cut in a fresh mosaic serpentine pattern, add some pizazz.
Lenovo's Breathable Keyboard gives the U260 air to let out heat. That, along with Intel Advanced Cooling technology, helped keep temperatures around the touchpad and keyboard to a respective 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The middle of the base registered a somewhat uncomfortable 95 degrees, but the real hot spot is the back vents just beneath the display hinge, where the temperature reached a sweaty 107.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The U260's chiclet keyboard sits in a slight basin that made typing comfortable, with plenty of space and travel. While some of the keys on the right side, such as Shift and Backspace, are smaller than what you'll find on a full-size layout, we still found them easy to find by feel. The keyboard is also water-resistant.
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The 3.2 x 1.7-inch glass touchpad was silky smooth when moving the cursors, as well as when using the touch scroll and tap-to-select options. However, multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom felt somewhat sluggish. The two discrete chrome mouse buttons were very responsive.
Ports and Webcam
Along the left edge, the U260 has a miniPCIe and USB ports, along with a dual headphone-and-microphone jack, Wi-Fi on/off switch, and a spare slot for a card reader (not included). The front and back edges of the device are clean, and on the right side are the remaining ports, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, and another USB slot.
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The 0.3-megapixel webcam didn't perform well. When we used it in our brightly lit office, the camera failed to pick up enough light to show our face. The webcam performed better when the light shone from a source in front of us, but in other cases, we couldn't even get Lenovo's facial recognition software to recognize the portrait we'd shot using the same camera just half an hour earlier.
Display and Audio
A first for consumer notebooks, the IdeaPad U260 features a unique 12.5-inch display. This panel gives the machine plenty of real estate to be your primary PC yet allows the design to be ultraportable. The screen has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels and includes an ambient light sensor that adjusts screen brightness automatically. An episode of "Lie To Me" watched on Netflix was bright with even whites and blacks. Tilted back about 110 degrees, though, the far edges darkened. The ambient sensor did a good job of adjusting the display's brightness in different environments.
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The U260 has single-watt stereo speakers backed by the Dolby Advanced Audio digital sound-processing suite. The speakers carried highs from french horn-filled jazz music well, but were less impressive on the low end. During dialogue-heavy scenes in "Lie to Me," we needed to turn volume to at least 90 percent, and bass in most music was nonexistent. Since the U260 is designed for portability, it's more likely to be used with headphones. That's a good thing because headphone listening was a pleasure. At just 40 percent, dialogue was loud and clear, and jazz, hip-hop, and rock music really popped.
The IdeaPad U260 packs a low-voltage Core i5 470UM CPU, integrated graphics, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive. That hardware combination notched 3,701 on PC Mark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. This score is way above machines such as the AMD-powered HP Pavilion dm1z (2,198). However, the Acer Aspire Timeline X1830T, an 11.6-inch ultraportable with a Core i7 CPU and an $899 price tag, scored 1,000 points higher. The sleek Dell Vostro V130, which sells for $928 with a low-voltage Core i5 CPU, notched 500 more points. The 11-inch MacBook Air beats all of the above notebooks (4,553).
In terms of real-world use, the U260 is an able multitasker. At one point, we were downloading Skype, editing a Word document, and playing an episode of Dexter in the background, all without any hiccups.
Lenovo touts its Enhanced Experience for Windows 7 for providing fast boots. Our unit took 52 seconds, a bit faster than average. The 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive duplicated a 4.976GB folder of multimedia files in 4 minutes and 3 seconds, about 30 seconds longer than the average 3 minutes and 34 seconds.
On the Oxelon benchmark, the U260 transcoded video in one minute and 51 seconds, faster than the category average of two minutes and 23 seconds, but not as fast the V130, which performed the same task in one minute and 26 seconds. On another video transcoding benchmark, this one using Cyberlink's Mediashow Espresso media converter, the U260 finished at 3 minutes and 11 seconds, more than one minute above the category average.
Because the IdeaPad U260 features Intel's last-generation integrated graphics, it's not a great performer. In 3DMark06, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics performance, the U260 scored 1,151. That showing is almost 300 points below the category average, and more than 1,000 points below the HP Pavilion dm1z (2,217).
In our World of Warcraft test, the U260 stuttered at 1366 x 768 resolution with an unimpressive 13 frames per second. Comparatively, the 11-inch MacBook Air, which packs an Nvidia GeForce 320M dedicated graphics card, sped through at 60 fps. The HP dm1z notched 24 fps.
Battery Life and Wireless
Lenovo rates the U260 for four hours of battery life, and that's almost exactly what the notebook turned in the LAPTOP Battery Test (4:08) which tests continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That runtime isn't terrible, but nearly an hour and a half shorter than the ultraportable average. The Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T (5:53) beat the U260 by nearly 120 minutes, and the 11-inch MacBook Air (5:18) also offers longer endurance. Unfortunately, the U260's sealed design means you can't swap in a fresh pack or upgrade to an extended capacity battery.
The U260's Atheros AR1851 802.11n Wi-Fi radio offered transfer speeds of 21.6 and 16.4 MBps, respectively, from 15 and 50 feet from our access point. The former score is below average, but the latter data rate is above average.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo includes a handful of its own utilities with the U260. There's Lenovo DirectShare to share media across PCs on the home network, Security Suite, the Smile Dock to help new users buy software and peripherals, and Veriface, a log-in tool that uses facial recognition to lock Windows. Other solutions include Energy Management and OneKey Recovery for backup. Last but not least is Oovoo, which lets users video conference with up to six people at once.
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The Lenovo IdeaPad U260 comes with a one-year warranty that includes parts and labor and 24/7 tech support. Click here to see how Lenovo did in our Tech Support Showdown.
Is the world ready for an ultraportable with a 12.5-inch display? Yes. Especially one that's as elegantly designed as the IdeaPad U260. This truly is one of the best-looking--and best feeling--ultraportables money can buy. The only significant trade-off is the limited battery life. For about $1,049, 4 hours is not enough endurance for us.
In this price range we prefer the 11-inch MacBook Air ($999), which pairs Nvidia graphics with longer battery life in a sleeker design. Or you could try the Acer Aspire Timeline X1830T, which doesn't hold a candle to the U260's design but provides a faster Core i7 CPU and more unplugged time. Nevertheless, the IdeaPad U260 makes a style statement and backs it up with plenty of speed and comfort.