If you are in the shopping mood, but want to avoid Black Friday hysteria, Lenovo is hoping you will take a look its way with the newly introduced Ideapad s400 being sold at Best Buy this holiday season. At $399 retail, the unit falls fully into budget laptop territory. Below are my initial impressions of the device.
Hardware: Before purchasing the Ideapad, I played with the retail display model at Best Buy, not once, or twice – but three times. The unit from all angles looked well styled and a screaming bargain – but the moment I lifted the device, the amount of keyboard flex was enough to scare myself away, even at such an impulsive price.
Starting with the screen, the Ideapad dons a bright 1366×768 14” LED backlit touch-panel. Although an IPS display will be had nowhere near this price category, the screen on the Ideapad is above average for the budget class with good color and brightness. Viewing angles however remain poor however. Another highlight of the device is the keyboard, which uses Lenovo’s current curved key design. The keys are well spaced and provide good feedback – a class above its other components. The trackpad on the other hand was one of the worst I have used. I did not understand fully what it meant to have a ‘bad’ trackpad until I used the one on the Ideapad and witnessed it jump across the screen during scrolling.
The Best Buy retail version of the S400 ships with a 1.8Ghz Core i3, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB HDD. It also included the requisite built in webcam, which provided very poor video and image quality. It is rated at 720p.
Along the outside of the device are 3 USB ports ( 1 USB 3), HDMI, ethernet, and SD card slot. At roughly 4 lbs, the device is lightweight for a 14” budget laptop. Special mention should be given to upgradability on the device. RAM and HDD were easy to swap, being replaced with an existing SSD and 8GB RAM stick that was on-hand. It should be noted however that the laptop only has 1 RAM slot and cannot have its budget WiFi card upgraded due to vendor restrictions imposed by the BIOS. The included WiFi card is a dog, supporting only single band 2.4 Ghz N-wireless. No 5 Ghz support, no Bluetooth radio, no dual-band …no frills. Battery life comes in at a paltry 1.5 hrs in performance mode, but an acceptable 3 hrs when using the power saver mode within Windows 8.
Software: Software on the device is standard Windows 8 fair. It was remarkable how little bloatware was included. These additional sponsored trials usually help subsidize the pricing of cheaper retail models. At the time of writing, the device ships with Windows 8, and not the newer 8.1 release. Performance in Windows 8 was snappy, but lagged if putting the device into battery saver mode in the power settings. I turned this saver mode off, as the difference was noticeable. No additional full release software is included, outside of Lenovo branded apps for support and web cam. Given the devices lower screen resolution,
I expected to be bothered with pixelation, but sitting at typing distance, Windows 8 still seemed to be stuck in a time where icons, graphics, and other visual elements were intended to be viewed on a screen with this pixel scale. Items ranging from the Windows task bar, to the Google Chrome tile icon were suddenly in focus and sized correctly – in a way that was missing on the 1080p screen-ed Acer R7.
Conclusion: I like the Lenovo S400. After pouring over the many vices of a laptop built with a touchscreen at a $399 price, I am typing the review on the machine and still find using the device a good experience. Mostly this is due to the aesthetic of the chassis, as well as the above average keyboard and screen. I could sit and use the machine for a few hours, without feeling punished of severely compromised. In an age where so much computing is taking place on mobile phones and tablets – it can feel wasteful to spend $1000 for a premium laptop that will be used in turn to surf the web. For any student, or any person on a budget, the Ideapad S400 can be recommended, flaws and all. Users just shouldn’t expect miracles – or batch editing files in photoshop.
Score: 7 of 10