A Little Laptop Goes a Long Way…
The Lenovo IdeaPad U110
The ultraportable notebook market has been growing by leaps and bounds as of late. Consumers and professionals alike are demanding light, compact computers that don't sacrifice functionality for the sake of form.
Lenovo had previously dipped their toes into the waters of this market with the ThinkPad X300. They more recently have revisited it in the form a the IdeaPad U110, a member of the company's line of consumer-oriented notebooks. This machine weighs less than 2.5 pounds, and features an extremely small footprint thanks to an 11.1" widescreen display.
Sporting an Intel 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 3GB RAM, 120GB of storage, an integrated webcam, 802.11abg Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, the svelte notebook comes preinstalled with the 32-bit edition of Windows Vista Home Premium. An external DVD burner and an additional high-capacity battery are included with the notebook; the larger battery adds a little bit of weight to the notebook, bringing it to 2.9 pounds when installed.
Form and Function
The unique design of the U110 is the first thing you'll notice. The computer's lid features an engraved pattern, which adds both physical and visual texture to the computer. While the system is available with both red and black lids, both share a piano-black finish for the keyboard and surrounding area. Even though this looks very nice when the notebook is immaculately clean, the finish picks up fingerprints and smudges very easily.
Despite the notebook's small form factor, it features a surprisingly functional keyboard. It's very comfortable to type on, allowing touch typists to bang away at decent speeds. Not only are the keys extremely responsive, each is slightly concave for more comfortable keying.
The computer also features a few dedicated switches and buttons. A toggle switch on the left side of the computer controls the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; turn it off for enhanced battery life when you don't need to use it. There is also a convenient "NOVO" button located above the keyboard's function keys. The button toggles between three power settings – maximum battery life, balanced performance, or maximum performance.
Touch-sensitive controls are a highlight of the computer. Located directly above the function keys, the controls are backlit with a pattern similar to that found on the lid of the notebook. In addition to standard audio controls, the touch-sensitive pad allows users to define two custom functions. These "self-defined keys" can be used to open a program, file, or Internet address.
Pointing is handled by a solid-state trackpad, common to the vast majority of notebooks. It functions as it should, and features two corresponding mouse buttons for clicking. You have the option of tapping the trackpad to click, but you cannot configure it to use two-finger scrolling or two-finger right click.
The extreme right edge of the trackpad can be used to scroll through web pages and documents. However, due to the small size of the trackpad, it can be difficult to effectively locate this position; you must ensure that your index finger is flush against the right edge of the trackpad for scrolling. While a larger trackpad would certainly be a welcome addition, the small size of notebook limits this. As it is, my wrists barely clear the trackpad when typing in a home-row position.
Lenovo includes two batteries in the box. The sleeker 4-cell can power the notebook for about an hour of normal use on the balanced power setting. The larger 7-cell battery gives you about two hours. Plan to carry the power adapter with you if you plan on using the computer for more than that amount of time.
Ports and Slots
The IdeaPad sneaks a fair amount of expansion ports and slots into its small form factor. It features three USB 2.0 ports for peripheral connectivity. A 4-pin FireWire-400 port is also present, ideal for faster hard drives and video camera connectivity. An Ethernet port is available for wired network connectivity.
The notebook also includes a 6-in-1 memory card reader. It supports standard digital camera memory card formats, including MMC, Memory Stick, MS Pro, SD, SD pro, and xD. Finally, an ExpressCard/34 slot is present for expansion cards. This is especially relevant given the notebook's small size; many cellular providers now offer broadband data cards with this interface. Adding one of these cards to the notebook would give you Internet access wherever you have cell phone service. Granted, your provider will be eager to increase your monthly bill for this privilege.
Life On the Small Screen
The notebook's 11.1" display features a rather ambitious native resolution of 1366 x 768. This makes normal text size a bit hard to read, so increasing fonts on web pages and documents may be a necessity for normal use. The screen is quite bright and crisp, and features enough pixels to present 720p video in full-resolution.
The screen does tend to pick up marks from the keyboard and trackpad pretty easily. And, as is the case with almost every surface of the notebook, the monitor bezel's glossy black finish picks up smudges and marks with enthusiasm and vigor. One thing that made me a little uneasy about the build of the notebook is the screen's hinge mechanism. The screen opens and closes via two hinges on the left and right base. Care should be taken to close the lid, as the screen can bow if pressure is applied to one side and not the other.
The U110 includes an integrated webcam and microphone, making it a great choice for video chat and web conferencing. The U110 also includes a rather innovative application called Veriface. This software leverages the webcam to use facial recognition to store and transmit passwords. While novel in concept, it requires fairly controlled conditions to work effectively. Due to its small size, it's very easy to use the notebook in odd positions. The webcamera doesn't always have a good view of ones face, and that leads to a bit of sluggishness as Veriface tries to work. This also happens in dim lighting conditions.
As novel a concept as facial recognition is, fingerprint scanning seems like a much more practical and effective biometric security model. Veriface can be bypassed by typing in a password traditionally. I found myself doing this often enough that I simply disabled the facial recognition feature.
Right Computer for the Right Job
A notebook this tiny isn't for everyone, or for every situation. The U110 works best as a secondary, or even tertiary, computer. It can easily be carried in a smaller bag, and at 2.4 pounds it won't strain your back. While this isn't an ideal machine for use in graphics or video applications, it delivers a balance of portability and usability for users who are always on the go.
Whether you are part of the corporate jet set, or dragging yourself to an early morning class to take notes on the intricacies of Hawthorne, the lightweight notebook is an attractive alternative to a larger and heavier computer.