|Introduction and Specifications|
Lenovo's IdeaPad line is somewhat unpredictable. In our estimation, it's the company's "fun" line of products; in other words, it's the range of notebooks that they can tinker with, while the ThinkPad caters to business-class users. The IdeaPad S10 line of netbooks has been going for a few years now, obviously with a good deal of success. But as netbooks become more and more popular, the risk of creating another "also-ran" increases. Lenovo is hoping to set its newest netbook apart from the crowd by doing a couple of things: dressing it up, and providing a multi-touch, swivel screen that few others will include.
The S10-3t ("t" is for touch) is the latest iteration of the S10 netbook, and it's also one of the first IdeaPad machines to incorporate Intel's newest Atom processor. The 1.83GHz Atom N470 should improve performance somewhat, and the inclusion of Windows 7 Home Premium also gives a fresh face to a line that was previously saddled with Windows XP. The design here has also been stepped way up, with gorgeous (and funky) overlays splattered about and a swivel display that can pivot 180-degrees in either direction or be flipped entirely to "iPad mode." We made that last bit up, but it can definitely become a full-on tablet with just a swing and a click.
This is one of the first Atom N470 machines that we have been able to test, and we have very high expectations for the chip. With AMD's Athlon Neo performing very well in low cost, small machines, Intel has no excuse for not cranking things up a notch with Atom. And thankfully, we now have competition to turn to in the market. Lenovo managed to include 2GB of RAM as well as integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics, which should be plenty for the average tablet task. Have a look at the actual hardware specs below:
Here's something you don't see on a netbook too often: a price tag well above the $600 mark. Right from the get go, Lenovo has a lot to prove. Why would we pick a netbook at a price point like this, when the company's excellent ThinkPad X100e is available for less with a larger screen and a more robust build quality? The multi-touch panel is great, but Asus' own Eee PC T91 offers the same for under $400 in some configurations. Can the IdeaPad S10-3t prove that it is worth its asking price? Join us in the pages to come to find out why we think the netbook/tablet combo doesn't quite hit the mark, and leaves some things to be desired as both a netbook and a tablet.
|Design and Build Quality|
We had one thought when we unwrapped the S10-3t: Impressive. There's no question that the newest IdeaPad looks fantastic. We have to give Lenovo's designers credit, as this netbook looks far superior to any other that we've seen. It's sleek, stylish and well-appointed. Some consumers may not like the additional flash, but we think Lenovo did a tasteful job of fancying things up without making it look chintzy.
It's also highly portable. It's more like a digital clutch than a full-on netbook, and the atypically wide form factor is what makes that so. The screen's resolution is 1024x600, so you'll be giving up some vertical resolution in order to get the slim, tablet-friendly shape. The 'Cosmic Black' paint that coated our test unit was sparkly under the sun and just beautiful in every regard. We loved how Lenovo also mixed it up with a checkerboard print on the bottom and a white keyboard/palm rest.
Along the front edge, you'll see the SD card slot, which is covered by a rather flimsy plastic pull-out cover. On the right side, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a TV output (an optional accessory not included on our test unit), a VGA output and a wireless on/off switch. There's no ports along the back, but there's an Ethernet jack, power input and audio in/out sockets along the left edge.
Open it up, and things begin to look pretty crazy compared to a traditional netbook. There's a predominantly white keyboard, palm rest and trackpad, though Lenovo has ditched the increasingly popular "chicklet-style" keyboard in favor of a more traditional one; probably to best take advantage of the limited amount of space available. There are a full row of Fx keys, and the center LCD hinge allows the 10.1" panel to swivel 180-degrees in either direction. The LCD can also fold completely back, and on the panel you'll find speakers at the bottom along with hot keys for Mute, Switch Screen Orientation, Lock/Unlock and Power On/Off. Interestingly, a webcam is positioned on the right side of the bezel, which shows that Lenovo intends for you to enter video chats while using this machine in an upright "tablet mode."
The trackpad is the most unique we have ever seen; it's a solid pad (just like Apple's new trackpads on the latest MacBook Pro machines), but it's highly textured and requires you to mash the lower left/right corners to left/right click. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well in practice (more on that later), and it's entirely too small for the average grown-up finger to use. There's also no multi-touch gesture support, which is a real bummer in our estimation. The white keyboard is highly plastic and feels flimsier than the keyboard on the ThinkPad X100e.
The 10.1" LCD can easily double as a mirror. It's one of the most glossy LCDs we've seen in years, and the coating on the touch screen is nearly impossible to see in sunlight. Which is really a shame, given that most people will try to take their tablets and netbooks out and about with them. We have to commend Lenovo on the swivel design, though. The LCD flips around beautifully and easily, and when it clicks into place, it's astoundingly easy to hold. It fits perfectly in your hands as a tablet, and you'd never know that it doubles as a netbook if you viewed it sitting in tablet mode first. The panel is rather sturdy (not flexible like some cheaper touch screens), and it had no trouble recognizing our finger inputs. We very rarely had to tap twice in order to get a command recognized, and by and large we found the touch response to be fantastic. There's also an integrated accelerometer that flips the screen orientation as you flip the device; no extra button presses are needed.
|Software and Accessories|
Would you expect some extras within the box of a $600+ netbook? Maybe, but you won't find any bonus accessories or peripherals bundled in with the S10-3t. The small box holds just the unit itself, a 6-cell battery, an AC power brick and an AC power cord. There's not even a stylus for those who prefer to doodle or draw, so you'll either be using your fingernails or the blunt end of a pen. Not exactly an ideal scenario, but we get the impression that Lenovo expects most buyers to use the multi-touch capabilities for entertainment and not necessarily for work.
Speaking of which, the primary addition (in terms of software) to this machine is Lenovo's own touch-based user interface. It's really a full-screen overlay that puts large icons front and center, and it allows users to swipe around in order to find more shortcuts.
Other software that's included is a 32-bit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, Lenovo's VeriFace 3.6 (which allows you to login via webcam), BumpTop (yet another touch-based way to look at your desktop), Adobe Reader 9, OneKey Backup Recovery, Lenovo VeriTouch, Lenovo ReadyComm connection manager, Lenovo NaturalTouch, ID Vault and McAfee Security Center. That's a pretty robust lineup, though most of it is relevant only because this is a touch panel machine. The McAfee security center was a real nag, and honestly we wish most of this software came seperately on a CD. Instead, everything is thrown on and boot-up is slowed because of it. There's too much bloatware, and while we know Lenovo is assuming you'll be eager to use every bit of touch panel software available, that's a risky bet to make when you only have an Atom CPU powering things.
Our experience with the S10-3t was mixed. As pretty as the S10-3t is, and as portable as the form factor is, we're of the opinion that spending $549 or more on a netbook should mean the user experience is next to flawless. Unfortunately for Lenovo, it's not. Using the S10-3t has its ups and downs, but as we used it more and more, we found it to be more frustrating than fun, particularly when considering its relatively high MSRP.
We had high hopes for the machine in terms of performance. We know it's a netbook, so we didn't expect it to run Adobe Premiere or anything, but the 1.83GHz Atom N470 is more powerful than the Atom CPUs of last year, and the inclusion of 2GB of RAM and Windows 7, should have resulted in somewhat better real-world performance. Unfortunately, little has changed. The Atom platform still feels slow, and even doing simple tasks requires far too much time. We tried to open Firefox, and it took 5 to 10 seconds to load. We tried to load Microsoft Paint (one of the lightest apps out there) and it took around 3 seconds to load. These exact same tasks were loaded nearly instantly on the ThinkPad X100e, which has a lower clocked 1.6GHz Athlon Neo CPU.
The slowness permeated throughout the machine. The only thing that responded well was the touch inputs, but all of our tinkering felt like we were using an older machine from years back, not a brand new machine. Even switching the screen orientation took 5 to 10 seconds; on a far less powerful iPhone, this transition happens almost instantly. We've seen Windows 7 run great on other netbooks that cost far less, so we expected more. Put side-by-side with the (less expensive) X100e, the S10-3t simply felt slow.
We couldn't look past this machine's speed issues, but if you are able to, there's the issue of the lackluster keyboard. It feels large enough, but the key travel wasn't ideal and the keys didn't exude the typical Lenovo quality. Again, this would be fine on a $199 bargain-bin netbook, but Lenovo is asking over $600 for this machine. The trackpad may as well not even be on the machine; it's about as large as two postage stamps, and there's no dedicated left/right click. You're supposed to mash the corners down (like Apple's trackpad on the MacBook Pro), but the issue is that this pad cannot accurately support one finger pressing down a corner while another drags an icon. You're left with a pad that supports just one action at a time, which is a productivity killer.
On a positive note, the 10.1" panel responds very well to touch inputs. We found that input was very natural, but we're still wondering why someone would invest so much money in a machine with a touch panel when these touch-based UIs don't really save you that much time. Throw in the fact that no stylus is included for taking manual notes, and you're left wondering what Lenovo actually intends you to do with the touch panel. Using your finger to open IE is cute the first time, but is it really worth the multi-hundred dollar investment in the touch panel upgrade over a non-touch netbook elsewhere? The panel, however, is extremely glossy. This means that it's very difficult to view outdoors--next to impossible, really. It gets washed out very quickly, so you'll need to use this machine primarily in indoors/shaded environments.
We did think that the swivel function worked well, and the form factor was perfect for using as a vertical tablet. This has a few uses, but most are negated by the inability to use the screen outdoors and the fact that no stylus is included. If you'd like to load up a photo slideshow to show clients outside (think realtor), you won't be able to due to the panel choice. If you'd like to use this machine as a note-taking device in class, you'll have to find your own stylus.
We also noticed the machine getting rather warm after a few hours of use, and that's without forcing it to do any heavy lifting. It definitely got hotter than we expected, and having just two USB 2.0 ports could also be a deal-breaking limit for some. A killer inclusion would've been Intel's Wireless High-Definition link, enabling it to beam presentations and the like wirelessly; unfortunately, nothing of the sort is included, which is a real shame. This tablet could've become a lot more useful with wireless display capabilities built in.
|Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU|
The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.
The numbers say it all. This machine is just barely quicker in all of these tests than the Atom N450 processor. With Intel having well over a year to revamp the Atom, this minor bump in performance is somewhat of a letdown. To say that these increases cannot be felt in real-world use would be understating things, and it's pretty clear to us that the Athlon Neo MV-40 is the superior netbook chip for the moment, at least in terms of performance. The unit's full 3D Mark 06 benchmark is below:
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
We ran the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.
Pay close attention to the scores of the IdeaPad S10-3t in comparison to the Wind U135; those machines are very similar, with the Wind having a slightly slower Atom and Windows 7 Starter instead of Windows 7 Home Premium. You'll again notice very small bumps in performance. The increases are real, but they aren't exactly Earth-shattering. More importantly, we can't really feel the extra horsepower in daily use, and for a machine that costs hundreds more than the U135 (granted, with a touch panel), we simply expected more. The full PCMark score is below:
|SiSoftware Sandra Benchmarks and Multimedia|
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic,
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge
CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge
Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge
Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge
The most telling statistic here is the comparison with the 1.66GHz Atom N280; the N470 is just a touch faster, and while we appreciate the increase in speed, we hope Intel does more with future iterations. We feel like Intel is holding back on us since they know the existing Atom lineup will sell just fine, but it's clear from the benchmarks that we're just getting small bumps in performance where we should be seeing larger leaps.
To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.
Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264
Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD
Click To Enlarge; 1080p
Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion
The iPad may not be able to handle Hulu (or any Flash), but the IdeaPad S10-3t can't either. The weak CPU and weak GPU combination left it hobbled when it came time to test out the multi-media playback capabilities, and both 720p and 1080p files heavily taxed the machine. Light YouTube playback and VGA-quality clips should be fine, but you'll have a tough time playing back high-res files. It's a shame too, since the machine loses some luster when you realize that you can't even watch a 720p movie trailer without noticeable lag.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life|
Up until now, we've been fairly critical on the IdeaPad S10-3t, largely because of how out of proportion the MSRP is compared to similar machines in this category. But will battery life be the saving grace? Sadly, no. The included 4-cell battery only lasted 2 hours and 38 minutes in our real-world rundown test, and that was with the screen at 65% brightness and Wi-Fi active and online. That's not awful for a 4-cell battery, but it's not stellar for a netbook or tablet. Apple is saying that their iPad will get between 8 and 10 hours while on, and this only gets 2.5. That's a pretty big gap, and while the iPad lacks a keyboard and a full OS, it's still cheaper.
There isn't much room underneath to play with, so we understand why Lenovo chose a 4-cell battery, but it doesn't make this figure any easier to swallow. Saying that your netbook gets 2.5 hours while others from Asus are seeing well above 4 and 5 hours is somewhat disappointing, and it's certainly a tough sell.
Click To Enlarge
If you really tried, you could probably get 3 or 3.5 hours from this machine, but you'd have to use some serious energy conversation efforts. We suspect that using the touch panel would degrade the battery even further, and remember, our battery test didn't use the touch screen at all. You'll also notice that this battery life figure is far less than the numbers we saw while testing the original IdeaPad S10 and S10-2 (which saw 210 and 331 minutes, respectively). The S10-3t mustered only 158 minutes of use before hibernating.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t managed to beat out the older Atom N280, but only by a hair. The S10-3t showed well in the other tests, but it only competed with similar netbooks, all of which cost far less. It also couldn't handle HD multi-media playback very well, whereas the ThinkPad X100e could. The 2.5 hours of battery life was somewhat of a let down, but the touch panel response was outstanding.
We were very excited about the ThinkPad X100e we evaluated a couple of weeks back, but we're somewhat underwhelmed with the IdeaPad S10-3t. We expected this machine to be so much more, particularly considering its price, which is far higher than most other netbooks and/ or entry-level tablets. Using the touch screen on this netbook doesn't have enough utility. We're not really sure it's worth the extra investment. It's not great as a netbook nor as a tablet, and in today's competitive market place, you need to be excellent in at least one area or the other if you're going to wear both hats.
We like the concept here, and we love the design. We're also keen on how portable the machine is, and the LCD swivel was top-notch. Unfortunately, everything else was average or sub-par. The trackpad is a real turn off, the screen is way too glossy to be used outdoors, the keyboard keycaps weren't great, and performance left something to be desired--we constantly found ourselves waiting for the machine. If you really need a touch panel equipped machine look into a full-blown ThinkPad, and if not, the cheaper Eee PC T91 should do for less money. The bottom line? The IdeaPad S10-3t is a good looking machine with an interesting set of features, but in practice it left us wanting more in terms of usability and performance.