Lenovo IdeaPad U400 Review

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U400 is a fantastic combination of performance and design.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad U400 is a fantastic combination of performance and design.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad U400 is a fantastic combination of performance and design.

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

In the eyes of enthusiasts, Lenovo is still known primarily for its ThinkPad line which has carried on IBM’s legacy of rugged, affordable laptops. Lenovo has not neglected its consumer division, however. Instead, the company has aggressively pursued new designs and new products, one of which is the IdeaPad U series. Case in point is the Lenovo U400 which we are reviewing.

The U series is Lenovo’s take on the trendy, high-end laptop market that is dominated by Apple’s MacBook Pro. We reviewed a couple older models in this line over a year ago and found that design and build quality was lacking. Fortunately the tech world moves rather quickly. The entire line has moved on to new models, one of which is the Lenovo U400. While high-end models are priced at well over $1000, the mid-range model we received for review currently is sold on Amazon for $899.

For that reasonable chunk of change you’ll receive a Core i5 processor, Radeon HD 6470M discrete graphics, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. Not mind-blowing specifications, but certainly more than your average consumer laptop offers.

It’s not the hardware that will make or break the U400, however. Design and user interface is where the balance of the battle will be fought against Apple’s products as well as Windows laptops like the HP Envy line.

By the Book

The most interesting design decision made by Lenovo in recent U series models is the book-like appearance they’ve been given, which is accomplished by providing them with color-matching lids and bottoms that are rounded along the edge where the display hinge is located.

You’ll have to look at the photos to understand the effect in full, but I can say that it is impressive – though perhaps more sensible on the smaller U260 than on this larger U400 which ends up looking more like a hard-cover magazine. Still, the U400’s exterior is a portrait of elegance and nearly trumps the MacBook in exterior beauty. If only Lenovo’s logo, which is plastered on the lid, was something more interesting than the name of the company.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-rear-lid-up-2

Opening the U400 does nothing to end comparisons to the MacBook. Most of the chassis is metallic, which is cold and uninviting at first touch but warms quickly in response to your palms. All of the vertical corners are rounded, but there are hard horizontal edges that can (literally) be a pain.

Typing on the Chiclet keyboard quickly feels natural. It’s a little stiff, but there’s plenty of space between each key, which makes touch-typing a breeze. There’s a wealth of palm rest space as well, which means a comfortable long-term typing position isn’t hard to find. My only complaint is the layout which includes some rather small function keys. The right-side Backspace button is particularly small for example.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-keyboard

Touchpad quality is similar – almost perfect, but with a minor issue or two. Plenty of space is available, and the glass material used to coat it is pleasing. However, the typical Windows multi-touch skittishness is present and actually a bit worse than some other recent laptops; and at default settings I found the touchpad was so sensitive that it often registered minor movements as mouse input. A little tweaking of the settings largely eliminated this issue, however.

You won’t find many ports spoiling this laptop’s waistline. USB 3.0 is included, along with two more USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and a combo headphone/microphone jack. There’s no card reader, but there is an optical drive which, like a MacBook, ejects via a keyboard function key.

Should’ve Gone Semi-Gloss

At first glance the display seems colorful and bright, two qualities that are always a boon. Though the panel is very glossy, the backlight’s brightness is usually high enough (at maximum) to prevent reflections from being a serious annoyance. Watching several HD YouTube videos left me with a good impression of color reproduction.

However, closer inspection revealed that black level performance is poor. Though gradient test images were mostly smooth, a sudden drop-off in color levels near the extreme dark end of the image reinforced this impression. In most cases this isn’t noticeable, but in dark scenes of movies and dark photos it can be an issue.

lenovo-ideapad-u400-review-silver-display-windows

Viewing angles are limited on the vertical axis. That’s a normal characteristic of a laptop display, but it seemed more noticeable than is typical.

Audio quality, on the other hand, was solid for a laptop. There’s not much bass (of course) and this can cause distortion at high volume in tracks that use a lot of it. However, most music is at least tolerable and volume levels are high enough to fill an office or small bedroom. Long-term desktop use will be much improved by a pair of external speakers, but if you’re taking the U400 with you on a trip, its sound is adequate.

Computing

Adobe’s craziest new tools animate photos, convert recordings to music in a click

Adobe shared a glimpse behind the scenes at what's next and the Creative Cloud future is filled with crazy A.I.-powered tools, moving stills, and animation reacting to real-time tweets.
Product Review

Don't bother with any other 2-in-1. The Surface Pro 6 is still the best

The Surface Pro been updated to its sixth generation, now coming dressed in black and packing a quad-core processor. Outside of that, you’ll have to dig a little deeper to see where Microsoft has made some truly noteworthy improvements.
Computing

Which is best: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme or the 15-inch MacBook Pro?

To try and help nail down the best 15-inch laptops in the world, we compared the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. MacBook Pro 15 in a head to head that looked at their power, design, and portability.
Computing

Lenovo and Dell make great professional laptops, but who does it best?

Finding the best laptop for professional use at the office, on the move, and at home is no easy task. There's plenty to choose but to find the best of the best, we pitted the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. Dell XPS 15.
Product Review

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a love letter to PC geeks

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line-up is targeted at business use, but it’s long appealed to hardcore PC geeks as well. The new X1 Extreme, which combines a powerful processor and high-resolution screen with Nvidia graphics, seems built for them…
Computing

Problems with Microsoft’s Windows October 2018 Update aren’t over yet

Microsoft's Windows 10 October 2018 update is not having a great launch. More than two weeks after its debut and Microsoft is still putting out fires as new bugs are discovered and there's no sign of its re-release as of yet.
Computing

Chrome 70 is now available and won’t automatically log you in to the browser

Google has officially launched Chrome version 70 on Windows Mac and Linux. The update introduces some new Progressive Web App integrations on Windows 10 and also tweaks the much controversial auto login with Google Account feature.
Computing

Corsair’s latest SSD boasts extremely fast speeds at a more affordable price

Despite matching and besting the performance of competing solid-state drives from Samsung and WD, the Corsair Force Series MP510 comes in at a much more affordable price. Corsair boasts extremely fast read and write speeds.
Computing

New Windows 10 19H1 preview lets users remove more pre-installed Microsoft apps

With the release of the latest Windows 10 19H1 preview build on October 17, Microsoft is letting some consumers remove more of the pre-installed inbox app bloatware from their machines. 
Computing

Apple’s 2020 MacBooks could ditch Intel processors, arrive with ‘ARM Inside’

If you're buying a MacBook in 2020, be on the lookout for a new "ARM Inside" banner. Apple is reportedly working on transitioning away from Intel processors for its MacOS lineup in favor of new custom A-series ARM-based silicon.
Social Media

Tumblr promises it fixed a bug that left user data exposed

A bug on blogging site Tumblr left user data exposed. The company says that once it learned of the flaw, it acted quickly to fix it, adding that it's confident no data linked to its users' accounts was stolen.
Computing

Microsoft patent highlights a potential VR text input system

A new patent awarded to Microsoft could lead to a new typing method for virtual reality and on Xbox consoles. The virtual radial dial puts letters within easy reach of joystick commands and offers predictive typing, too.
Computing

Ryzen shine! AMD’s next CPUs could beat Intel at gaming in 2019

AMD's upcoming Zen 2-based Ryzen 3000 CPUs could offer as much as a 13-percent increase in instruction per clock. With clock speed or core count increases, that could gave them a huge performance boost.
Computing

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 packs Snapdragon 850 into Always Connected Windows 2-in-1

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 is set to go on sale at the start of November and should be a solid addition the collection of Always Connected Windows laptops. It packs a Snapdragon 850 and a 20-hour battery.