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Lenovo IdeaPad U260: A Stylish Ultralight Notebook
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Date: Apr 04, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Julie Bart
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Introduction and Specifications
If you are in the market for an ultralight notebook with a gorgeous LED backlit LCD and don't want to spend more than $1,000, the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 should be on your short list. The U260's claim to fame is its 12.5-inch form-factor, making it larger than your average netbook--but at a mere 18mm thick and 3 lbs, it's almost as light as one. Lenovo claims the U260 is the first 12.5-inch ultralight machine on the market, and pricing starts at $899.


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What you'll notice first about the notebook is that is just plain good looking. We found people staring at the Mocha brown unit we tested, and we received a compliment or two on how nice it looked. It also comes in a color Lenovo calls clementine orange, both made from a tough-but-light one-piece magnesium aluminum cover. Many Windows 7 notebook users aren't used to such attention.  That kind of thing is usually reserved for the latest Macbook Air, the newest tablet, or the fanciest Lenovo touchscreen convertible. But Lenovo has been really trying to break out of the notebook design doldrums that came from its IBM ThinkPad roots.  We'd say the U260 does just that...

Lenovo IdeaPad U260
Specifications & Features
Processor Intel Core i5-560UM processor with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology* (1.33GHz, up to 2.13GHz, 3MB Cache)
Intel Core i5-470UM processor with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology* (1.33GHz, up to 1.86GHz, 3MB Cache) (Note: Used in test unit.)
Intel Core i3-380UM processor (1.33GHz, 3MB Cache)
Intel Pentium processor U5400 (1.20GHz, 3MB Cache)
Operating System Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium
Genuine Windows 7 Home Basic
Display / Resolution 12.5" High-definition (1366x768), 16:9 widescreen
Graphics Intel HD Graphics with dynamic frequency
Memory Up to 4GB DDR3 1066MHz
Hard Disk Drive 160GB/250GB/320GB 5400rpm, optional 128GB SSD
Optical Drive Optional external USB DVD drive (Note: not included with test unit)
Sound 2.0 speakers (2*1W) with Dolby® Advanced Audio™ surround sound
Integrated Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 10/100/1000M LAN, Bluetooth®
Connectors 2xUSB2.0, headphones, mic, VGA, HDMI, 1x Mini PCIe
Camera Integrated 3 megapixel Lenovo EasyCamera webcam
Other Features Multi-finger touchpad, Breathable chiclet keyboard
Weight Start from 3.04 lb (1.38kg)1
Dimensions 318x18x204.5 (mm) (WxHxD)
Battery Life Approx. 4hr with 4-cell battery
Included Software* McAfee VirusScan Plus, CyberLink YouCam 3.0, VeriFace 3.6, Lenovo ReadyComm 5.0, Lenovo DirectShare, OneKey Rescue System 7.0, Lenovo Energy Management Software 5.0, Windows Live Essentials, Adobe Reader 9.0, Microsoft Office Professional Hybrid 2010 and Active Protection System
*Software may vary by region, Lenovo says.


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As a 12.5-inch, roughly 3lb notebook, the U260 is comfortable enough to lug along for a whole day of work, or school or coffee shop-hopping, yet big enough to let you see your whole spreadsheet.

The HD screen was a pleasure to watch for hours of movies and television and its clarity was great for photo editing, or just showing photos off. (WXGA, HD 1366 x 768 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio.)

While the U260 is not overflowing with drool-worthy hardware, it does include many functional niceties such as a .3 megapixel front-facing Webcam, HDMI port, multitouch touchpad and a 4-cell battery that's good for over three hours of real-world battery life. Lenovo claims up to four hours.

Lenovo also packs its notebooks with a handful of custom applications for security, file sync, backup and restore.

In the pages to follow, we'll explore the U260's strengths -- and its flaws -- in depth.

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Design
As stylish as the U260 is from the outside, its interior is built for work, although it can handle some types of play, too. The notebook is advertised as being available with a number of different CPU options, although only two of them are readily available through the company's Web site currently (the rest are special orders): one is an Intel Core i3-380UM Processor (1.33GHz 800MHz 3MB ). It's list price is $1099 but it appears to be on a permanent sale of $899, which is another highly attractive attribute of this notebook. This model is available in the Mocha color only.  The other sports an Intel Core i5-470UM processor, which includes Intel Turbo Boost Technology (1.33GHz, up to 1.86GHz, 3MB Cache) available in the mocha and clementine orange colors. (Note: this was the model used as our test unit.) It's sale price is $999, and Lenovo says that's a discount from $1,199.

Lenovo also advertises in its marketing materials that the U260 can also be had in a 1.48GHz Intel Core i7-680UM processor flavor, but no information about that option is available on the website currently, not even the price. A call to the online chat/help person told us only "We are working to get that model in stock." and "I don't know the price." We interpreted all this to mean that the 1.4GHz model exists only in the press materials at this time.


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The U260's Core i CPUs are not to be confused with Intel's latest, greatest Sandy Bridge processors, released earlier this year (followed by an immediate kerfuffle that caused a recall). The i5 versions currently in the U260 are built on Intel's previous CPU architecture with integrated graphics, code-named Arrandale. They are dual-core machines that sip less battery juice than previous multi-core processors, hence the U260 performed as expected (if not exceptionally for its size and weight) in our battery life tests.

The U260 is Lenovo's middle entry in its U family of notebooks, which also include the 11.6" U160 (web prices starting at $749, up to 7 hours battery life, weighing in at 3 pounds) and the best-selling 14" U460 (up to 6 hours battery life, weighing in at 4.3 pounds and starting at $799 and includes the NVIDIA GeForce graphics processor).

The U260 offers 320GB of hard drive storage. Lenovo marketing also notes that the device can also be configured with 128GB of SSD flash-based storage, though we didn't see that option available during the web ordering process, and our queries with the chat-based sales help told us that if it wasn't on the web, it wasn't available.

Like the other models, the U260 also includes 4GB of DDR3 memory and that helps it perform well, whether multitasking up a storm with many applications and web pages open, or for unwinding at night streaming your favorite movie or TV show. The backlit, anti-glare LCD screen was truly a joy to watch for hours on end.

On the other hand, when it comes to audio, the default audio settings were painfully tinny. We were able to improve the sound quality of the integrated speakers a lot by increasing the Levels setting (we liked it at 70) and manually enabling the "Audio enhancer" option for them available in the drivers. (Control Panel/Hardware and Sound/Manage Audio devices/Properties/Levels ... and /Properties/Dolby/Audio Enhancer.)

However, if you really want to enjoy music or movie sound on this machine without wearing your headphones, be prepared to invest in a good pair of speakers. Lenovo boasts that sound quality is one of the U260's strong points thanks to its included Dolby Advanced Audio. When listening to audio via our headphones, we were impressed. But we like to lie in bed at night to watch American Idol untethered by the headphones, so we were disappointed that the native sound quality wasn't up to the unit's claims. Again, speakers solve the problem beautifully but in this size of notebooks, you simply can't expect much from integrated speakers.  Note that the unit also includes an HDMI port, so piping audio and video from the system to an HDMI-capable television is another attractive option for boosting audio and visual capability.


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One major drawback of the U260's integrated design is that the battery is not removable. This can pose a problem for road warriors who like to carry multiple batteries and remain untethered to a wall outlet as long as possible, but the design does make for a cleaner, more mobile device.


Guess what? Can't remove the battery on this baby.

In its favor, the device is very stable. It handled a major Windows update (the famous forced Windows 7 SP1 upgrade) with aplomb and behaved well throughout testing.

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User Experience

Overall, we enjoyed using the Lenovo U260. One thing we toyed with, was its slate of Lenovo applications. The unit includes the following custom applications: VeriFace, DirectShare, OneKey Rescue button system/Lenovo Security Suite, Lenov Smile Dock, and Cyberlink YouCam.

The unit also ships with 30-day trial version of McAfee antivirus software that boots up automatically, cannot be easily turned off and whose sole purpose is to pester you every 20 minutes to get you to upgrade, warning "Your computer is unsafe." It shows up in your browser, too. Although McAfee is a fine product, we are annoyed that Lenovo has integrated so tightly on one particular vendor. Notebook buyers should have a choice, perhaps even opting to use Microsoft's free basic anti-virus software, Microsoft Security Essentials.

VeriFace, which Lenovo bills as a "fun" way to log into your machine was more like a combination of fun and frustrating. It took two tries to get it to properly scan a face and it only worked when the face was well lit . As we tend to prefer to have the sun not shining directly into our eyes, but beyond our back, lighting our work space, using it required picking the notebook up and swiveling face to window. Once we did that, we found that it worked fine every time. It didn't get confused by a look-alike either (such as a daughter, who at 18 is the spittin' image of Mom at that age). We liked that it added a layer of protection against intruders who might try to get into the machine.

We can't, however, say that using it was easier than typing in a password. It wasn't. And if we held on the notebook much longer, we wouldn't have bothered with this gadget and would have typed our password every time.

DirectShare is an application that let's you sync your files with other PCs also on your local network. It doesn't use the Internet but your Wi-Fi connection. The downside is that the included app only works with other Windows machines (XP or up). It allows you to download the app to a USB device and install it on another Windows machine. It syncs photos, music and other files and it worked well. But its restriction to Windows made it far less useful than other sync and file sharing apps that free for the asking (with an Internet connection). It was a non-starter for syncing/sharing the a large music collection, stored on a Mac, for example.

Cyberlink YouCam is an application for operating the Webcam for taking videos and snapshops, adding special effects and uploading them to YouTube or Facebook (or e-mailing them). It is not a desktop videoconferencing tool. One nice feature it has is "desktop capture" that allows you to film a process on U260 desktop instead of filming your face on the Webcam.


We skulked in the shadows to focus attention on Lenovo's YouCam and Smile Doc apps.

Perhaps the most useful tool in the bunch is the OneKey Rescue button system for backup and restoring. It is used in conjunction with the Lenovo Security Suite and together they partition a portion of your hard drive to backup your data. In the event of a system crash, by pressing the OneKey button on the keyboard, your data is restored. The OneKey button requires the use of a pen or other small pointed object, so it can't be accidentally bumped. It doesn't, however, perform a hard reboot for you (we discovered first hand). It only works after the disaster occurs and the system is capable of being rebooted. 

By far the most useless tool in the bunch is the "Lenovo Smile Dock" which does nothing but try to sell you stuff and make ads pop up on your screen. It links to a shopping site, a site that showcases Lenovo items on sale and it even allows Lenovo to e-mail ads to you.

The U260 comes with an industry standard multi-touch touchpad. It supports two-finger pinch and zoom, swipe to scroll, and other multi-touch commands. We found the touchpad to be a little sluggish and easily confused. The multi-touch was easily activated, but getting it to perform the commands often took two or three tries. The touchpad often lagged a little when asking it to perform as a normal pointer, too. As we used the machine more, we adapted to its quirks and handled it better.  Overall, the multi-touch capabilities do enhance functionality and don't detract from the user experience too much.

      
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The final usability feature worth calling out is the U260's keyboard and rest pad. Lenovo bills it as a "Breathable Keyboard." It uses an Intel Advanced Cooling design that allows the PC to run cooler while still protect itself from the occasional light splash of coffee. The keys are nicely spaced for comfortable typing and the surrounding cushiony rest-pad was also quite comfortable; perfect for working on that novel while hanging at your favorite coffee shop.

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Futuremark 3DMark 06 & PCMark Vantage

With a 1.33GHz Intel Core i5-470 doing all the work (and no discrete graphics processor helping out), how does the IdeaPad U260 compare against others of its kind? We ran the system through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric PCMark Vantage to see.

PCMark Vantage
Full System Performance Testing

This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition video 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. The four bars below represent each of the individual tests: Productivity, Communications, Music, Gaming, TV & Movies and the overall PCMarks.

 

As you can see, the IdeaPad U260 didn't outperform the higher-end $1,500 Maingear Clutch (mainly due to the SSD that came equipped in the system), but did outperform the others in most areas. The Asus Eee 1215N performed slightly better when it came to the music test.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

Next we ran the IdeaPad U260 against the Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark. This is a series of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It, too, runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to push multiple processor cores. The CPU score is represented in the graph below, along with the GPU related tests as well.

 

Again, the $899 Lenovo IdeaPad U260 clocked respectable scores compared to most of the other multi-core lightweight notebooks/netbooks we recently tested. Competitors employing additional graphics processors (like the Asus Eee 1215N) showed their strength against the IdeaPad U260, which relies on its integrated Intel HD Graphics core for any and all of its graphics processing needs. This is something to keep in mind if this ultra light notebook will be frequently called upon to run 3D-intensive interactive multimedia presentations and of course for gaming.

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SiSoftware Sandra & Multimedia Benchmarks
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default speed.

SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Sub-System Performance Tests

First up we have the CPU Multimedia processor performance module. Higher scores equal better performance.


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Next up we have the Memory bandwidth performance module. Once again, higher scores are better.


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Here we have the Physical Disk performance test. And again, higher scores equate to better performance.


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Though not a complete power-house, from a processing and memory performance standpoint, the U260 offers reasonably good horsepower, especially for a machine its size.  The only shortcoming we would have rather seen a bit snappier, would be hard disk performance, where the U260's stock 5400RPM drive only offers about 62MB/sec of throughput on average.

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Gaming and Battery Performance
Gaming: Here we come to the Lenovo IdeaPad U260's true weak spot. You don't buy an ultra light notebook as a gaming machine obviously, and we wouldn't recommend this one for that purpose. But, if you're stuck in a hotel room and want to  knock out a few missions, you might want a machine to be able to handle some level of play.

To touch on gaming performance, we chose a couple of older games that draw moderately on system resources, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Half Life 2 Episode 2. We then ran a custom pre-recorded demo on each system at a resolution of 1280x720. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below.




Without a dedicated graphics processor, the U260 was one of the slowest in the bunch when it came to gaming performance. It's HD LCD does a good job of making the rendering look beautiful, but its native 1366x768 resolution isn't supported by some of the more popular 3D games.

Battery Life Tests
Unthethered Performance

The Lenovo IdeaPad U260's battery worked about as well as advertised. Lenovo promises up to 4 hours of battery life with its 4-cell battery and our Battery Eater test showed it died after 222 minutes, or 3.7 hours. The battery allowed us to continuously watch movies, unplugged, for over three hours as well.





The U260 performed reasonably well against other netbooks/ultralights we recently tested. But others also advertise longer battery life. Lenovo's own 11.6" U160 netbook sports a 6 cell battery for up to seven hours of life and the larger 14" U460 can last up to 6 hours with its 8 cell battery, Lenovo says. The sacrifice for weight had to come somewhere, and part of it came from battery size and life.
 
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Summary and Conclusion

Overall, we liked the ultra light Lenovo IdeaPad U260 for its stylish design, gorgeous LCD screen and respectable set of hardware features. We found little to really fault in the device. Our biggest complaint is that Lenovo sacrificed battery life to get to the U260's 3 lb. weight. And if you had to hard-reboot, the lack of a removable battery may (or may not) cause issues should the machine crash and leave you at the mercy of the power button alone. The sluggish touchpad was also a bit of a bummer, but not a showstopper, and was mitigated by additional functionality in the form of multitouch features, so we could live with that.

The unique 12.5" size is by far the notebook's biggest selling point, as it really does feel like a bigger machine when working on spreadsheets, or watching a movie. It's $899 price tag is also fair in this class of notebooks. If you have a serious need for gaming, this type of machine is not your best choice but you knew that. It is a good choice for someone who splits time between office work and light travel and wants a single device for both. It is also a nice home user mobile PC that can turn heads at the local coffee shop.  When it comes down to it, we would definitely recommend the Lenovo U260 and we're eager to see what can become of this model once infused with Intel's latest Sandy Bridge architecture.


  • Good Performance
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Great Styling
  • Thin and Light
  • Gorgeous Screen

  • Non-Removable Battery
  • Sluggish Multi-Touch Touchpad
  • Minimal Configuration Options
  • Bloatware Laden



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