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Lenovo IdeaPad U400 Review

Highs

  • Sturdy, attractive design
  • Large touchpad
  • Runs cool
  • Small for a 14” laptop
  • Excellent overall performance

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 1

Lows

  • Glossy, mediocre display
  • So-so battery life
  • Gaming performance could be better
Lenovo’s IdeaPad U400 is a fantastic combination of performance and design.

Smaller Than You Think

The U400 officially has a 14” display, and normally that’s a good indication of how large a laptop is overall. This laptop, however, has a very thin bezel – which means that the overall physical size is smaller than one might think before handling the laptop in person. In comparison to my 13” MacBook, the U400 is just a half-inch wider and virtually identical in all other dimensions.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-right-side-ports

Stuffing the U400 into a bag isn’t difficult thanks to its small chassis too. Though the 4.36 pound weight feels heavy in-hand, this laptop is actually lighter and thinner than Apple’s 13” MacBook Pro, and much lighter than the HP Envy 14” which weighs in at a scale-topping 5.69 pounds.

Battery life is an issue that can be a serious problem for any portable laptop. There’s a constant trade-off to be made. More battery life often means more weight. Lenovo in this case is using a 4-cell battery that is integrated into the chassis, but it manages a capacity of 54Wh, which is about average.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-left-side-ports

Official estimates put endurance at seven hours, but we didn’t manage that in our testing. In Battery Eater the laptop drained in one hour and eighteen minutes while the Battery Eater Reader’s Test sapped the battery in five hours and twenty minutes. Users can expect this laptop to provide about four to five hours of web browsing and document editing.

These results are probably fine for most consumers, but they’re behind some competitors like the Dell Inspiron 14z, ASUS U36 and, of course, the Apple MacBook Pro. If battery life is a high priority, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Keeping Cool

No matter where or how you use this laptop, it stays relatively cool and quiet. Lenovo boasts that it uses a breathable keyboard design that reduces temperatures where consumers are most likely to touch their laptop (the base and the keyboard). Overall, it does seem to have an effect. While temperatures can become uncomfortable while under heavy load, using this computer in your lap is comfortable in most situations.

Software, not Bloatware

There’s plenty of pre-installed software on the U400 including Lenovo YouCam, PowerDVD, Cyberlink Power2Go, and more. Although the icons on the deskop after first boot may seem intimidating, none of the pre-installed software is annoying and most of it doesn’t start at boot, either.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-front-display-angle-left-windowsIn fact, consumers thinking about this laptop should consider themselves blessed, as it came installed with Microsoft Security Essentials instead of a trial for a paid security solution like Norton or McAfee. I don’t doubt the effectiveness of such products, but the pop-ups they use to harass you until you buy or uninstall the software are not missed. Microsoft Security Essentials works well and rarely bugs you for input.

Performance

Our Lenovo U400 review unit came equipped with a Core i5-2430M processor with a base clock of 2.4 GHz, 6GB of RAM and ATI’s Radeon HD 6470M graphics. This is a beefy combination, but not the most powerful offered by Lenovo, as a dual-core Core i7 processor and up to 8GBs of RAM can be optioned.

We’ve tested Core i5 mobile processors in the past, so we had a good idea of what to expect. The U400 did not disappoint. SiSoft Sandra’s processor arithmetic test reported a combined score of 38.2 GOPS, which is among the highest results we’ve received from a dual-core laptop. 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark returned a combined score of 7662, which is also an excellent result.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-side-display-upPerformance in PCMark 7 was better still thanks to a score of 2301, besting the HP Envy’s score of 2053 and Acer Aspire S3’s score of 1711.

This success was not carried on to 3DMark 11 however, as the U400 scored only 594 while the HP Envy 14 managed a score of 954. This is due to the Radeon HD 6470M discrete GPU which, though better than Intel’s IGP 3000, is one of ATI’s most basic solutions.

Still, I was able to play Dawn of War 2: Retribution with detail settings at low, so gaming on this system isn’t hopeless. Just don’t expect to play demanding new titles without turning the detail settings and possibly the resolution way down.

Conclusion

Lenovo’s U400 is a fantastic combination of performance and design. Though the Radeon HD 6470M is a bit of a letdown, the laptop is otherwise a strong performer. There’s more than enough power here for most consumers, or even most enthusiasts.

You can buy a lot more bang for $899, however, so it’s clear that hardware value is not the goal. Instead, Lenovo is trying to win over consumers with design, and I think they might be on to something. Sturdy, elegant and functional, the Lenovo U400 is arguably more attractive than the MacBook Pro (if Lenovo removed its logo from the lid, I’d be able to remove the “arguably.”) And while there are many elements here that are reminiscent of Apple’s famous laptop line, Lenovo’s book-like design is recognizably different even from across the room.

Unfortunately, there are two flaws. One is the display, which is too glossy and offers only moderate image quality. Cheap displays are acceptable in cheap laptops, but once a company starts classing up the chassis, failing to also class up the display becomes more noticeable. Lenovo should consider offering a low-gloss or matte option, which currently is not available.

The other problem is battery endurance, which isn’t outstanding for a high-end ultraportable. Though most consumers will never need more, frequent fliers will likely prefer an Apple or ASUS product.

When the pros and cons are added, however, these issues can’t overwhelm the advantages. This is a beautiful laptop with a pleasurable user interface and excellent performance, all offered for under $1000. Though I’d personally pick the HP Envy 14 instead (because of better gaming performance) those less concerned with doing some pew-pew while on the go will prefer this laptop’s lighter, smaller, more attractive chassis.

Highs:

  • Sturdy, attractive design
  • Large touchpad
  • Runs cool
  • Small for a 14” laptop
  • Excellent overall performance

Lows:

  • Glossy, mediocre display
  • So-so battery life
  • Gaming performance could be better

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